"Alan, are you rich
or what" began the e-mail from a random
visitor to the web site ... Two years in row to go on a two month
expedition. How can this be? This story is primarily from my experiences
in 2002 and 2003.
"What happens if something goes wrong while
you are away?" my boss asked with the attitude of a scorned spouse. "I have
confidence in my team and they can handle anything that may occur
during my trip." I replied looking him straight in the eye. As my German
boss considers his next move, I made mine. "I'll resign if something happens
that they cannot handle." He looked at me with a mixture of fear and hope
as he moved his eyes to the table. With the crisis over, we enjoyed a conversation
about New Zealand and my three week trip. Thus an American's breakthrough
in vacations, European style!
That 1994 event changed the way I look at time away from work. If
you let it happen, you will never take your time off. And in the
end not only will you suffer, but your work will as well. We often
become so involved in 'important' projects that we view ourselves
as indispensable and the critical path. What a mistake. People quit their
jobs every day. They get sick. They die on the highway. And work goes on.
How is it that we, especially Americans, have developed this attitude?
Living in Europe, I learned that it is not
only acceptable, but also encouraged to take time off. Really take
the time. A two week holiday is like a long weekend in the US. Europeans
have learned to balance the demands of work with the opportunity of life.
By the way, my direct experience is that Europeans have an extremely strong
work ethic that is second to none. They live the saying of 'work hard, play
Ever since New
Zealand, I have taken annual holidays of three to seven weeks -
at one time. And my career? Well it has been good but I am
sure I paid a price. However, my personal life has never been better.
So, my strong belief is that you must take care of yourself AND
your work. Actually, I live my life trying to balance
three areas: family, work, and myself. If I put too much into one
of these at the expense of the others, then I soon have problems.
For the "myself" part, this includes religion, community,
children, parents, career, and other specific interests.
So, back to Everest. I was very nervous about taking TWO
MONTHS off - even with my experience and confidence. Two months
is a lifetime in my industry of high tech. I hold a Senior position
where I am expected to manage a business and make serious decisions
daily. But I also have a life outside of work. I guess that I could have
ignored the call of Everest and focused on shorter trips. Or I guess that
I could have selected another interest outside of work that would be more
conducive to my work demands. Or I can answer the call from within to do
what I need to do and accept the consequences.
"I have three topics
to cover." I said to my Boss. "Two business and one very personal." He looked
at me with interest, wanting to get the third topic quickly. I covered
the first two and took a deep breath. "I have been working towards Everest
for several years and have a slot on a team next Spring." With relief, he
relaxed now knowing the subject and interrupted me with: "Go."
But I wasn't
finished. I needed to tell him that I had a great team that could
handle anything. He needed to know about my planning and backups
and who would be in charge. He needed to know ... Actually all he
needed to know was when I would leave because he trusted me knew
my team and believed, as I did, that we are put on Earth to do more
than work. I smiled with relief at his response and we moved on to
another topic. I will always remember this exchange as a moment of
personal courage at some level.
Now for money - the
question everyone wants to ask but few actually do. I remember when
it was an insult to ask how much you paid for a car or a house,
but times have changed. The short answer is: (drum roll ...) the
same price as a really nice car.
can climb Everest with a 'commercial expedition' or on your
own. I have seen prices quoted between $15K and $100K. You
have to be careful about what is included in the price: food, oxygen,
Sherpas. Climbing any big
mountain is expensive. In Nepal, Everest climbing permits are around
$10,000 per climber. Oxygen bottles cost $300 each plus another $250
for the regulator and mask. There is food for 2 months and while
the wages for Sherpas, porters and yak herders are not high, there
are a whole bunch of them! On many top notch expeditions what you
are really paying for is logistical expertise. Someone to plan the
menus, buy the food, arrange the yaks, bring the group equipment
(tents, stoves, etc.). Often this is the difference between success
and failure in that the climber is allowed to focus on the climb.
Professional climbers like Ed Viesturs climb alone or with another
person but never in a big team like ours. He is very experienced
and does this for a living. It is really apples and oranges. There are also
small teams that are often arranged by one individual. I don't know the success
rate of these teams, but I bet they have fun since often they are friends
who climb together all the time. Still someone has to handle the details.
Finally, in my experience, and those of people I know, is that as with most
things in life, you get what you pay for.
2003, a year later,
I went back to Everest to try to complete what I started,
you know "unfinished business". So the question I often get is how can
you take two months off two years in a row and the other question
I don't get but people want to ask is how can you afford it? Let's
once again start with time.
Working in corporate America has become an amazing challenge of
politics, personalities and pressure. While on Everest in 2002,
my company underwent a major reorganization. I got caught up in
it and was replaced. I didn't lose my job but I definitely took
a step down. I sent emails from Base Camp, made phone calls via the satellite
and lobbied my best to a decision maker who didn't even know me. I can only
surmise that he felt I was somehow not committed to my work or didn't have
the energy, ambition or skills to lead the business. He will never know how
far off he was.
I returned to my
new position and focused on learning the new rules, new players
and how to make the best contribution possible. After a few months
it became obvious that I was being grossly under-utilized and had
limited prospects of turning it around. As life often does, at least for
me, another door opened as that one closed. A new opportunity became available
that was more exciting, required less travel and captured my imagination
like no other job I have had in 20+ years.
months after my return from Everest in 2002, I found myself discussing
the job offer with my new Manager. After a couple of items, I nervously
brought up my return to Everest. "You know that this year I got close to
the summit of Everest but turned back. Now I have a spot on an expedition
to try to summit Everest in 2003." Silence was the response. Damn, I thought,
am I blowing a great opportunity just to climb a mountain? Is it that important?
How could I ask for two months off in the first six months of a
new job? I waited.
"How long would you be gone?" he asked. "About seven weeks." I
answered. After a brief silence he said in a relaxed voice "I guess I can
cover for you." And it was done. Once again, life worked out. Once again,
a Boss who supported my dreams. If I hadn't asked, I would have
never known. If I didn't go back, I would never know.
I am not rich by any means.
What Cathy and I do is manage our money the best way possible. We
pay cash for cars and keep them longer than average. We refinance
the house for the lowest interest rate. We don't carry credit card
balances. We don't waste money eating out at expensive restaurants
every week. We buy reasonable clothes when we need them. We are blessed
with excellent health. We live within our means.
I have come to appreciate
what I have and to take advantage of open windows in my life.
I am extremely grateful when the 'stars align' for me for any
big climb: health, sufficient vacation, money,
support from my employer, support from my wife and
family and an intense desire to succeed on the mountain.
Yes, spending enough money to buy a really, really nice car
is a choice we make. But the key is living a life that allows those
choices to be available. I often hear people say that they wished they
could do one thing or another. I believe you can, if you focus on making
it happen. Money is the enabler, your choices throughout your life are