Monday, May 16, 2016

Stepping to Success

Someone I know, who had enough time and focus, once decided to count the number of steps it takes from the time one starts walking from Lukla, climbs to the top of Mt Everest and then walks back to Lukla to catch the return flight to Kathmandu. On an average this entire journey takes 45 days, give or take few. When my friend shared his idea to me of counting his steps, I took it as a joke. It seemed absolutely impossible to me that someone could do it, even keep a track of steps, especially when gasping for breath above Camp 2 walking into thin air and then into the death zone. It takes all energy and focus to just breathe and climb and keep our sanity, who could keep counting steps! But then my friend did it. He counted each and every step, irrespective of the length, or speed, or place. He counted even the steps he took from his tent each day to go to the toilet and back, or to the dining tent and back. He counted the steps that ferried him to his other friend’s camps or for the holy ceremonies that Sherpas offered to the mountain. If he stirred as much as one step out of his tent or sleeping bag, he counted. And each day he maintained a diary of the steps taken for the day. And for the counting he didn’t use any modern fitness band or pedometer. He simply relied on the most accurate and reliable step counter designed by nature; his own head. So as he walked along side, he would keep muttering to himself the steps. It was amazing his focus, determination and perseverance into recording something that seemed ridiculous at the time he did it.

We climbed all the way to the top and returned to Lukla. Out came his calculator and he totalled the steps that he had taken during all the 48 days. The sum total came to a staggering value of 999,689 nearly a million steps at an average of 20,800 steps each day. When he triumphantly showed me his discovery, grinning like an overfed baby baboon, I wondered if this has any significance at all other than the ‘wow’ factor that it takes nearly a million steps to climb Everest and return, walking to and back all the way from Lukla. I patted his back, congratulated him on his earth shattering discovery that would now change the course of history and Everest climbing. And once I bid him goodbye at Kathmandu I forgot all about it. I think he tried to publish his finding in couple of climbing journals but wasn’t taken seriously. People were more interested in his experience of climbing than counting the steps. Soon his discovery dropped below the radar and the world at large forgot about it.

As a motivational speaker and life coach, I often talk about achieving big goals with small steps and illustrate how important each of our steps are, no matter how big or small, the only way to reach the top of any mountain or life is to take one step at a time. If we think of the entirety of our endeavour it could look daunting and impossible but the moment we break down the climb into each of its individual steps and then focus on each of the tiny steps and start taking them one by one, one after another, we see that the task or the climb doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. Climbing Everest could be difficult but taking one little step isn’t. And that’s the key to success in anything that we wish to achieve in life or upon a mountain. I have used this methodology countless times while training or guiding and leading people up on challenging climbs or in corporate offices or in academic institutions and in life coaching. This formula has never failed. Breakdown everything into its tiniest manageable steps and then just take them one after another and sooner or later you would be on the top.

As I was talking about this step by step formula to a friend recently, I suddenly recalled my crazy friend, who many years back had counted the steps to Everest. I searched for our old correspondence on the subject and discovered the exact number of days we had spent and the number of steps my friend had taken and recorded and realized that I must have taken a similar number of steps as I was with him most of the time. Suddenly the figures hit me like thunderbolt. And I understood the significance of this momentous discovery and how well it fits into my formula for stepping towards success. My friend wasn’t crazy at all; in fact he was a pioneer. He was applying my formula towards a practical outcome. If I was theorizing he was proving.

So I sat down and jotted down the days that a typical Everest expedition member goes through. She lands at Lukla, then walks to the Everest BC in about 7 or 8 days, and then spends the next 30 to 35 days to reach the summit and return to BC. Another 3 to 5 days to walk back to Lukla. The trail from Lukla meanders through lower Khumbu valley of green paddy fields along rushing gurgling gorges and finally into the high alpine zone of rock, glaciers and some of the world’s highest peaks. The trail to BC is arduous and after that the route is suicidal through the infamous Khumbu Icefall, leading into the Western cwm, snaking its way across and up through sheer rocky-icy Lhotse face, over yellow band and Geneva Spur to the South Col. From there the climber makes a beeline along the ridge to the Balcony, South Summit, Hillary Steps and eventually collapsing upon the summit of Everest; the highest geographical spot on our planet. Those attempting for the first time have absolutely no idea what they would endure on their journey to the top of the world and that they would need to take nearly a million steps in doing so.

Now imagine if my friend, who counted his steps, had taken even one step wrong; where he might have ended then! The tiny hop he made while alighting the plane at Lukla or the one he took to climb up to the restaurant to take his tea, or the one he extended while clicking the morning sun. The most insignificant and basic of steps that he took, which I wouldn’t even consider steps to climb Everest, which anyone takes every day of our lives, which we don’t think has any relevance to our summit; yet if he had taken even one single of those steps wrong then he wouldn’t be on top of Everest. I am working on a retrospective theory here: to see the path from the end of the road. When we reach the end of our journey and achieve our goal, we can look back and justify each and every one of our steps and actions, and realize that yes each one of them were necessary for us to be where we find ourselves today at this moment.

My friend’s step counting enterprise serves as a sobering thought that there’s no short cut to success, we have to work hard and consistently and keep stepping in the right direction, no matter even if we have to take a million steps. Like someone said once that the journey of a million miles must start with one single tiny step.

No matter how far or how big or how seemingly impossible your goal is, please take that first step and then follow it with the second then third and so on and so forth. Million steps will take you to the top of Everest, imagine where you could be if you never stop stepping. 


  1. I think often Lao Tzu is quoted as saying, a journey of thousand steps begins with the first,..not the exact quote, but something like this.

  2. Hi Satya, this is a fantastic perspective! Am glad that you wrote about it. Kudos to your friend who executed this project, especially without any tech gizmos - his focus is laudable and reminds me of the Pilgrim Surveyors of the Survey of India who of course had a different goal in mind, and which has benefited all of us. This is probably the best and most graphic illustration of the concept of taking that first step, taking it step by step, and focusing only on the next step as a way to achieve your goals. Thank you for sharing this! By the way you have been rather quiet on your blog...whassup dude?