Learning through disappointment

It was July 2019 and I was about to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the world’s largest free-standing mountain at 5,895 metres above sea level.

I had just handed in my Masters thesis, packed my bags and high-tailed it to the airport.

I had done the training: trekking, work at the gym and yoga. I was ready.

Ahead of the climb, I got up close to some of the most incredible wildlife, met a few locals, and generally hung out. And then it was time for me to join my trekking group.

We all assembled and were briefed. The next morning, we were off. Seven days of trekking lay ahead of us, with the fifth day assigned to climbing the summit.

As a trekking team, we were committed and focused, with a decent dose of humour, singing and comradery in the mix. Part of our briefing included information on mountain or altitude sickness, with signage at various junctions along the trek.

One thing that I love about trekking is the bonds I make. During such a short space of time, these people become an extension of your family. You support and encourage each other. You laugh, cry and have the most profound conversations. It’s like the clarity of the atmosphere at that height cuts through the clutter of everyday life, and you really get to the heart of what matters. These meaningful connections speak to my soul, and I continue to be friends with all the different trek buddies I have made over the years. They continue to inspire me today.

The trek went smoothly. Marker by marker we made our way further towards summit basecamp at 4315 metres. Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, was the next-day climb. 

We arrived at Mawenzi Tarn Hut at 7pm. We were to depart for the summit the next morning at 3am, so needed to be up at 2am. We spent the time eating, hydrating and resting. 

And then it came…

My mind began to swim.

I started vomiting, and I couldn’t stop.

My tent-mate called the main guide, and we waited to see if it would pass.

One hour later it hadn’t subsided. I was becoming dehydrated and weak.

I wanted so badly for it to come right, but as time lapsed, it became more apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to do the final summit climb.

The decision was made for me to be taken down the mountain by two of the guides. With brief goodbyes to my fellow trekkers, the guides (with haste) supported me to make my way down the mountain. Half carrying, half supporting me, they quickly brought me to an altitude where the vomiting stopped, and I was able to hold fluids. After an hour of their support, we then trekked 3 hours to the nearest hut where I was able to rest and replenish.

Waking the next morning, I peered out of my tin hut to see the sun cresting over Kilimanjaro. Like tiny backpacked ants in the distance, I could see trekkers winding their way towards the summit. It was then that I shed a few tears; as I silently wished them well, and also lamented at the fact that I wasn’t there with them. 

There are moments in our lives and mahi when we are faced with disappointment. People can let us down, things out of our control affect our plans, and we can also let ourselves down through our decisions. 

We can, however, choose whether we see it as a disappointment or a learning. We get to choose whether we wish to reframe our experiences and use them as fuel to move forward. We choose whether we wish to sit in a cycle of disappointment and self-sabotage, or pick the precious learnings and rise above the mire to become even better versions of ourselves.

This is called resilience. 

The term resilience was introduced into the English language in the early 17th Century from the Latin verb resilire, meaning to rebound or recoil (Concise Oxford Dictionary, Tenth Edition). 

I believe that learning through disappointment requires that we not only rebound, but we take the learnings and bound forward to a new space or knowing. 

And so, I may not have actually summited Kilimanjaro, but the gains from my adventure far outweigh any disappointment.

How have you turned your disappointments into diamonds?

What are the gems within disappointments that you may currently be navigating?

Go with aroha this week.

MA 🙂

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