30 Jul Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest
All the guests we’ve had on the show have given us some kind of leadership lessons. However, our today’s guest undoubtedly gave us the most diverse leadership lesson one could ever get.
In this week’s Manufacturing Ecommerce Success Series episode, our guest speaker was Alison Levine. Alison is the Keynote Speaker at Kepler Speakers Bureau and the Author of ON THE EDGE: Leadership Lessons from Everest and Other Extreme Environments. Alison is one of the select few people to have completed the adventurers grand slam by climbing the highest peaks on all 7 continents and skiing to both poles.
The conversation started with Alison introducing herself. After this, she shared how she got into mountaineering. She said that she had a heart condition since childhood and she had three heart surgeries to recover it.
Her first surgery went wrong and then after her second surgery at 30 y/o, she realized that she wanted to do something big and climb bigger heights as well. This is how she climbed her first mountain at the age of 32.
Further, into the conversation, Alison talked about how she trained while doing her Wall Street job. At first, she used to train during the night and work during the day. However, after some time she decided to train on the weekends and work on the weekdays.
After this, Alison talked about her Coach K. from Duke University. She said that once she took some leadership lessons from Coach K. about how he recruits teammates. To this, her coach said that when he recruits players, he looks for two types of egos.
One is the performance ego. This means that the team player must know he is good at something and be confident about it. The other ego that Coach K. mentioned was team ego. This meant that the people in a team are proud and confident to be a part of something collective as a team.
Moving on, Curt asked Alison that what are the components are important leadership lessons according to her. To this, she said that for her it’s important for people to know that leadership is being brave and scared at the same time.
She also explained her stance with an example from her journey of mountaineering. By the end of the conversation, Alison said that when she was about to be the first Captain of the Women Team of the South Pole Expedition, she said that she was really skeptical about the role. However, after much consideration she thought, if she didn’t do it, someone else will take the opportunity.
Therefore, she took the chance and is here now. The conversation ended with Curt and Damon thanking her for her time.
Alison Levine is the Keynote Speaker at Keppler Speakers Bureau. Moreover, she is also a Board Member at Duke University – The Fuqua School of Business and the Faculty and Board Member at Thayer Leader Development Group at WestPoint.
Apart from this, Alison is also the author of ON THE EDGE: Leadership Lessons from Everest and Other Extreme Environments. She is also the Executive Producer of “The Glass Ceiling” and the President of Climb High Foundation. Alison also serves as the Consultant at Dare Devil Strategies.
Before this, Alison holds a number of other prestigious experiences in multiple fields. As for her education, she has an MBA, Finance from Duke University and a BA in Communications from the University of Arizona.
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Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest
people, book, thought, climb, team, allison, teammates, feel, antarctica, mountain, sled, trained, women, coach, summit, mount everest, talk, eric, sleep, fundraise
Damon Pistulka, Alison Levine, Curt Anderson
Damon Pistulka 00:00
We’re here we’re gonna let the video play for a second. We will be ready.
Curt Anderson 00:04
Well, Happy Friday everybody. Yeah, the videos playing.
Damon Pistulka 00:07
Alright everyone, Welcome once again to the manufacturing ecommerce Success Series. We are so excited today. I’m your one of your host Damon Pistulka. With me today I’ve got my co host, Kurt Anderson, who we had some good stuff happening this week and want to talk about that later. But right now I’m going to give it over to Kurt so Kurt can introduce the incredible absolutely incredible guests we’ve got this week.
Yeah, and she, she she’s she’s really good at downplaying, downplaying thing, but if you if you have it, I mean, I’m just gonna let her take care of it. From there. I’m gonna do a little housekeeping. If you’re listening to us on LinkedIn live, go ahead and put in the comments where you’re listening from, shout out some good stuff to us. Tell us what you’re up to. Same thing here. If you’re with us on remote here, go ahead and add some stuff into the chat and get ready to go. So Kurt Anderson, take it over man.
Curt Anderson 01:04
Damon, thank you. What a great week. So I’m actually I’m up in Seattle this week, and Damon was already here. So we’ve had a wonderful week, guys, this is today is my Mount Everest. Man. This is such an honor, I’m starstruck. I’d like I might I might get choked up today, Allison. So Allison Levine. I have a long intro for you. Welcome. Thank you for joining us today on our little program. What an honor and privilege to have you Thank you.
Alison Levine 01:29
Oh, I feel honored and privileged to be here. So thank you for the opportunity to be with you guys today.
Curt Anderson 01:34
Absolutely. So let me just share a little bit about our dear friend Allison Levine. So you know, what would an underachiever you know? Let’s take a look. So let’s take it let’s take a look at a few things. So we have University of Arizona grad go Wildcats. We have an MBA from Duke Go Blue Devils. I’m always curious who you root for. And if those two pair up Wall Street alumni right Goldman Sachs highly sought after keynote speaker. You are an adventurers you’ve accomplished adventures Grand Slam? Can you share with everybody that’s never heard of the adventurous Grand Slam?
Alison Levine 02:11
Yes. So the adventure Grand Slam is climbing the Seven Summits which is the highest peak on each continent, and then skiing to both the North and the South Pole. I think now there’s about 20 people in the world who’ve completed the adventure against them. But at the time when I did it back in 2010. I think there are just a couple of us. So yeah, that’s the adventure Grand Slam.
Curt Anderson 02:30
This is elite as it comes now you have a best selling book on the edge. I’ve had the honor. I read the book. I read it with my daughter as a girl bad. Teenage. You know, they’re right there. I get ready for the second time this week. My daughter and I have a teenager and she looks up to you. She wanted me to tell you Hello You are so for all of us dads with with young daughter. So thank you. So New York Times bestselling book, I dropped your LinkedIn profile your website and a link to your book in the chat box, guys. So please check out on the edge. I’m telling you. It is an amazing, amazing book. Allison has an incredible TED talk about features. So
Alison Levine 03:13
I dedicated the book to my dog by the way. So the blooper. Yeah, you have to read don’t skip the introduction to the book.
Curt Anderson 03:22
And you have a Ford from Coach Kay for any of our basketball fans out there. So let’s dig right in Allison. So your is a young girl growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, it’s 110 degrees out of course, every girl’s dream in Phoenix is let’s go skiing across the north south pole. Let’s climb Mount Everest. Where Where did this even come from? Yeah.
Alison Levine 03:41
Okay. Okay. So take it take you back to my childhood in Phoenix. So yes, you mentioned I grew up in Phoenix and I growing up, I always wanted to be an Air Conditioning Repair woman because I thought like, you know, high demand and job security like high demand job security Air Conditioning Repair woman. But when I also was very always very intrigued by the stories of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers, the early mountaineers, I’d read these books and watch these documentaries, I think because it felt like an escape from me oppressive summer heat and Phoenix.
So I read the books, I’d watch the films, but I never thought I would actually go to those places because I had some health challenges growing up. I was I was born with a hole in my heart. So I’ve had three heart surgeries but I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 17. Because I grew up in this very tough love family and we My mom always had these rules no whining, no crying, no complaining.
So I when I felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest and it was hard to breathe. I’d be afraid to like whine too much about it because my parents didn’t allow whining. So I would say a mom I think I feel like something’s wrong with my heart and she’d say, oh, you’re fine. Like you You’re probably just nervous for your piano recital. And I’m like, No, mom. I don’t think that’s it. She’s like, how do you know Mike? Because I don’t take piano lessons. Like my brother took the piano lessons and Space Shuttle parents, I feel like are these helicopter parents always say like ad space shuttle parents because they were not so tuned in to everything we were doing.
But I said, you know, that as I got older, the hole got bigger. And I was like, No, Mom, I really feel like something’s wrong. Oh, take go down the street. Talk to our neighbor, Dr. Clark, tell him What’s wrong. Maybe he can figure it out. I’m like, Mom, doctor clark is a veterinarian. So unless you need me to get you know, spayed or microchipped I do not think Dr. Clark is the answer here. But so anyway, I got worse as I got older when I was 17. I lost consciousness. And the friends I was with at the time had the good sense to rush me to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with this life threatening heart condition. And so I had my first surgery, and I was 17.
It wasn’t successful. I had another one when I turned 30. And about 18 months after that heart surgery, the one that went well, this light bulb went on in my head, and I thought if I want to know what it’s like to be this Explorer, Reinhold Messner, and drag 150 pound sled across 600 miles of Antarctic ice, then I should go to Antarctica and try that if I want to know what it’s like to be these mountaineers going to these remote mountain ranges, and I should go to the remote mountain ranges instead of just reading about them or watching documentaries about them.
And if these other guys can do this stuff, you know why, why can’t I do it, too? So I climbed my first mountain when I was 32 years old. And some sense. So yeah, 35 now so it’s been a while, but I it’s not like I started when I was, you know, in my 20s, or anything like that. So I would say it’s never too late to start living your you know, living your adventure in this awesome.
Curt Anderson 07:00
Two years old, what an inspiration. And what’s awesome, Allison is I love it, you’re on Wall Street, if I’m not mistaken, and it was a grind. So you’re putting in your 15 1618 hour days, if I recall, you guys, you have to go get the book. I’m telling you. If you don’t do anything else today, please get Allison’s book. And Allison, in the book you describe I absolutely love this. So you’re gonna start training for mountain climbing. And you’re grinding this this wall street career. And so you go to the gym at like midnight, and talk a little bit about that, like you’re fighting, sleeping. describe that.
Alison Levine 07:33
So let me just preface this by saying that I wrote this book before. We knew how bad sleep deprivation was for you, right? So now they’ve tied lack of sleep to all these, you know, different, terrible conditions and diseases. And we know that we know that sleep is just as important as healthy eating and exercising and a healthy overall life as part of a healthy overall lifestyle. But back then no one talked about that, you know, back in the days, it was a badge of honor to be like at least sleep three hours a night. And Ilan musk still right. I don’t know.
He says he sleeps like two hours if he even sleeps. But anyway, so I was working and I was a brand new associate at Goldman Sachs. And I and like, so everyone is kind of this contest of who can work the most hours, right? Who can come in the earliest and stay the latest because that means you’re the most dedicated and so people are coming in early, staying late. So I was coming into the office, getting nervous by 536 o’clock in the morning. And I was working all day and then I was you know, going home and then I was trying to fundraise.
So I was the team captain for the American women’s Everest expedition. So I had to fundraise for that trip. I was just out of grad school i’d $70,000 of debt. And by the way, as a new associate working at Goldman Sachs, I had a healthy five figure income five figures, not six figures, certainly not seven figures. So I I couldn’t afford it was $25,000 person could ever so I couldn’t afford that at $70,000 of debt. And so we had to raise the funds for the trip. And I ended up getting for Ford came on board as our sponsor, but basically I would get home late at night. And then I had I was still fundraising for trips.
I was trying to fundraise. I was trying to raise money for cancer research grant for this organization called the V Foundation, which is very near and dear to my heart. And so I’d come home from work, I would eat dinner, I would fundraise I’d send pitch letters, trying to get sponsorship. And then like now it’s like 10 o’clock. 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock. It’s 12am and I have to train and sleep. And I basically only had between 12 and four or 430 to do those things because it’s in my office by 530.
So I would go to 24 Hour Fitness because it’s open 24 hours hence the name and I would get on this is so bad you guys do not recommend this yet. cardio equipment that I could do with my eyes closed, like get on the bike or get on a Stairmaster. And I would try to convince myself that I was sleeping and working out at the same time. And obviously, you’re not doing either of those things. You’re not getting sleep, you’re not getting a good workout. But I would just be like, yeah, sleep, sleep, sleeping, this feels good. I’m sleeping, you know. And so I would convince myself that I was sleeping while I was exercising.
And so then, of course, I would get to work and I would just be completely exhausted. And sometimes I would go back and when I would just cry from sleep deprivation, because I was so tired, and people would walk in the bathroom, and they’d be like, oh, what’s wrong? Are you okay? Mike, I’m just really tired. And they’re like, I know, Allison, we’re all tired. I’m in this crazy world that we live in. But um, so I obviously was not doing either thing very efficiently or effectively. So then I had to can that idea and I, I just designated weekends as my training time.
So I really didn’t train during the week, I just trained on weekends, and I went up to Mount Shasta, I was living in Northern California. So Mount Shasta is about a five hour drive from where I lived. And I would just focus my whole weekend on training so that way, I could do my job during the week because it wasn’t fair to my colleagues, for me to show up and do a half assed job, you know, you owe it to your teammates to give it your all that’s part of being a team. And so I wanted to really remain as focused as I could during the week, and then just really focused on training on the weekends.
Curt Anderson 11:41
Right, perfect, man, this is so good. So guys, Alison Levine, I have her LinkedIn profile, you have to buy her book. So Alison, and I probably I have a ton of other things to mention on your resume. I did mention adjunct professor at West Point. We’re active. You mentioned coach V with his foundation, you’re active with Coach K, and you’ve been on his board.
In Coach K, you talk when so for anybody who doesn’t know, Alison was the team leader of the first all women’s team to climb Mount Everest. So kudos to you again, my dear friend, Alex is on a call today, our daughters are figure skaters together your inspiration to our daughters. And so when you put together that team, and you talk about coach pain in the book extremely admirably. You talk about teen ego, and you talk about it. And again, I don’t want to ruin anything in the book as you were talking about team ego.
Alison Levine 12:34
Yeah, I want to I’m really glad you touched on that. Because it’s, it’s an interesting way to look at recruiting, you know, whether you’re recruiting athletes and expedition team, or employees for your organization. So I always heard this, like, leave your ego at the door thing, right.
And so when I was on the board of the Coach K center, and leadership and ethics, so for people who aren’t familiar with Coach K, give you a little background, head men’s basketball coach at Duke University, and the winningest coach in the history of division one men’s basketball. And for those of you who don’t care about college basketball, and for Duke haters, because I know you are out there, praise not here, not here, right?
I know you’re out there, bear with me for a second with this coach case story, because Coach K was also the head men’s basketball coach of the US national team, right, or us men’s Olympic team. And they brought home several gold medals. So even if you hate Duke, you still kind of have to have an appreciation for that. Right. So when I was on the board of Coach K center, we had breakfast with him a number of times. And I remember this one breakfast where the team had just come back from winning a gold.
And we were talking to him about what he looks for when he’s recruiting a team because I thought, how do you how do you figure out who you want on the court? Right? When you have a job, a tough job that needs to get done? How do you figure out who you want on the court? And he had an interesting answer. He said that when he’s recruiting a team when he looks for his ego, and I was like, Yeah, right, because you don’t want that because you got it. You want weed those guys out first, like I get it? And he said, No, you want ego and I thought, What are you talking about? This goes against everything I’ve read in every management and leadership book, and he went on to explain it.
And then it made a lot of sense. He said that when he’s recruiting a team, there’s two kinds of ego that he looks for. The first is what he calls performance ego. I said, I want people who are good and who know that they’re good. He said, I don’t want LeBron James to come out onto the court and be a wuss. I need him to be LeBron James, with all the confidence that goes with them. And I thought, okay, that actually does make sense because I certainly do not want to be climbing Mount Everest with a bunch of teammates who are thinking, oh, gosh, I don’t know that looks really high.
You know, maybe we’re a little out of our league here. Right? You want to be climbing people are thinking I’ve got this right. I’ve got this. So that’s team ego. Or sorry, that’s performance ego. This second guy may be going As far as what he calls team ego, he said, I want people on my team who are going to be proud to be a part of something that collectively feels more important than the individuals alone right name on the front of the uniform Team USA is more important than the name on the back of the uniform, the individual name.
And that made sense to me too, because I wanted women who are going to be proud to be a part of the first American women’s Everest expedition where our country’s flag on their sleeve and so those are the that’s what he looks for in terms of ego, performance ego, right? People who are good and know that they’re good. And team ego is one where, you know, you just said the team in front of the interests of the individual. Right man,
Curt Anderson 15:41
I absolutely love this and I want to give a shout out our dear friend you would love her our dear friend Chris Harrington is Anna call. Chris served our country proudly as a vet and she is the President and CEO of Gen alpha technologies cool e commerce firms. So Ellison so what we do is we help manufacturers and we’re trying to help them you know, I’m 52 so I’m right there with you.
We’re digital immigrants you know, Gen Xers, baby boomers, and manufacturers are traditionally you know, resistant to change. And you in your book you talk a lot about and I wanted to get into this in a second. But before we get there, I love your message on complacency kills. Now before we get into that, and that’s a huge theme in your book. I’m just getting chills even think about you climbing over the ladders, you know, things camp one are from Basecamp Basecamp. One, but talk about here’s a question that I have.
And it might sound completely naive and ignorant for those of us that you know, I climbed Mount Rainier this week. Damon, did you know that Brad is an ass kicker? Nelson what I did is I actually I went to Crystal mountain I took the gondola with my 75 year old mother in law my daughter and my wife so I cheated but I was at the time looking at renew, but when to be the climb to levels that you’ve climbed. I mean, you know, there’s not a mountain here on this planet more accomplished than you. Is it discipline 20 or the courage
Alison Levine 17:05
like plenty that are worth how much weight I’ll show you hang on. Let me see if I can show you a picture. So we’re talking about complacency right and greater how to show you guys Hang on.
Curt Anderson 17:19
I have your book right here.
Alison Levine 17:21
Okay, see this? Yeah, that crevasse you have to walk Yeah, I’m wait ignore this. That’s Antarctica but the other page I just want to show you guys right? Okay. The Khumbu Icefall is, the criminalized fall is one of the scariest parts of the mountain because it’s made up of 2000 vertical feet of these big huge moving ice chunks, and these ice chunks are massive. They’re the size of small buildings. And then what happens is the sun comes up, everything starts to melt.
So the ice chunks start to shift around, so you’re in constant danger of being crushed by an ice block. But then there’s also those what I just showed you a picture of these big open crevasses, these holes on the glacier where you could fall hundreds of feets your debt. So they span those rickety aluminum ladders that you saw on the photo, they span those ladders over them.
So you can get from one side to the other and they’re really, really scary. But I, that icefall for me, even though it was incredibly frightening. It’s a rough reminder that fear, fears, okay, it’s just a normal human emotion. It’s okay to feel fear. Fear, I think can can work to my advantage because it keeps me alert and aware of everything going on around me, but complacency is what puts you at risk. complacency is what will do you and so don’t ever beat yourself up for feeling scared or intimidated, right?
Because again, just remind yourself, this is normal human motion, it just means I’m paying attention. I think you’re something’s wrong with you if you’re not scared when you’re going through that icefall but complacency is what puts you at risk. As things around, you are constantly shifting and changing in the nice, all right, everything’s melting, the ice blocks are changing, they’re moving at a rate of four feet per day, the ladders are falling in when they melt out, you have to pay attention.
So it’s complacency, that puts you at risk. And I think that we probably none of us have ever seen as much shifting and changing in the environment as what we had seen since COVID. Started right. So now we’re just used to that shifting and changing we’ve had to get used to it. And yes, it can be scary because the reality is, we have no idea what the rest of 2021 is going to look like.
We don’t know what next month is going to look like. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to look like. But we don’t have to know what tomorrow is going to look like. We just have to know that we can get through each day. And sometimes it does feel scary because there is this fear of the unknown. But what I like to remind people is that you can be scared and brave at the same time. You can you can be scared and brave at the same time. And that’s what keeps me moving forward. When I feel like The environment around me is incredibly sketchy.
Curt Anderson 20:03
And that you know what I’m glad I had one quote picked out. It’s on page 82. And that’s exactly what I was going to share the Khumbu Icefall taught me the most critical lesson. Get that away about mountaineering, business leadership in life, fear is fine, but complacency will kill you. Yeah. And you know, and you go on to exactly what what you just said. And it’s funny and right here on PGD to you talk about changes in life, and how you know how you react to them.
And it says, when climbing complacency can lead to extinction, extinction, threatening our livelihoods, and our lives and written this book when you wrote this in 2013, even if COVID hits you wrote COVID writing this book, then did you not? Like I predict that you predicted COVID? So, but that’s what I love. So my question to you is to have to accomplish what you’ve accomplished. And you are so humble. We love your humility. However, you are a true rock star. Yeah. You’re so does it take so does it take discipline? Or does it take courage? If you had one trait? Yeah. What would you claim as your success?
Alison Levine 21:10
All right, I’m gonna take you back for a moment to when I was first invited to serve as the team captain for the, for the American women’s Everest expedition. Initially, when they approached me to do that, I said, No, because I just thought, this just feels like too much challenge, I don’t think I’m going to be good enough. I don’t think I’m gonna be fast enough, I don’t think I’m gonna be strong enough, I had all this self doubt. And then all of a sudden, I realize, okay, hang on, there’s only going to be one first American women’s Everest expedition.
So if I didn’t step up to the plate to be the team captain, you know, somebody else is going to do it, somebody else is being, you know, going to be living my dream adventure. So I ended up, you know, agreeing to serve as a team captain. But many times throughout the trip, that same doubt crept back into my head, I’m not going to be good enough, I’m not going to be fast enough, I’m not going to be strong enough. But what I realized throughout the expedition, is that you do not have to be the best, fastest strongest climber to get to the top of a mountain, you just have to be absolutely relentless about putting one foot in front of the other.
That is the people that get to the top of Mount Everest, and the top of big mountains, they aren’t necessarily the most skilled or the most experienced, they’re the people who are willing to suffer in the process, right, are willing to accept to accept discomfort, and who are relentless. If you’re willing to accept discomfort, and you are relentless. That is how you get to the top of the mountain because so many people will quit because they’re uncomfortable. And what you realize is that discomfort is temporary, right? And you just, you just put one foot in front of the other, stop worrying about being the best, or the fastest, or the strongest, just be the most relentless.
Curt Anderson 22:59
I love that. And you you also talk about So again, the coach, guys, let’s look Yeah, quick recap. You know, like team and performance, ego, right? be relentless. discomfort, be ability in the app to change. And as many of you know, our manufacturers out there, this little thing came along called COVID. And now all sudden, they couldn’t go to trade shows, they, their sales reps couldn’t go on the road.
And now I change shoes, and I can’t, you know, so so many changes here. And what you’ve talked about is I mean, when you when you’re making progress, and again, back to that complacency thing, turn around and change direction. You know, we will leave that that sleep deprivation out, but you don’t. Let’s talk about Don’t try to overcome weakness and you share a great story in your book, we’re not going to ruin it because they have to go by your book we talked about in the South Pole, you had a great team experience we talked about like the weak link. Yeah.
Alison Levine 23:55
Okay, so if I had if you were to ask me, what was the the exhibition I learned the most from that South Pole expedition? Because prior to that, when I had weak people on my teams, whether it was on an expedition and business, whatever, like, I would tend to get super frustrated, like, why am I stuck with this? You know, this person on our team? Like if, and I would just be thinking, God, if only we didn’t have that one person, right? It seems like, yeah, every team that just can’t quite perform at the same level as everybody else.
So you’re thinking Oh, with this person, but only quit transfer to another department? You know, maybe something heavy will fall on them? Yeah. Like it just if we didn’t have to deal I would think if I didn’t have to deal with this person, we’d be so much better. So much faster, so much. Right. Okay. So, South Pole expedition, the goal ski 600 miles across Antarctica to the South Pole.
Curt Anderson 24:55
I’m sorry, how many? How many miles
Alison Levine 24:57
200 miles. Yeah, you have a sled full of like 150 pound sled full of your gear and supplies as hard as your waist. So I trained I did my homework, I did the research on the route, they did my research on previous expeditions. I trained as hard as I possibly could, I was sure that nobody could have trained harder than I did. Because then where did you train Nelson?
I tried to beat car tires across the sand at the beach to simulate drag and view like from the San Francisco local news of you dragging your tires across a beach. So I’m sorry, I just had to throw that Yeah, no, well, I was dragging these tires and in San Francisco, and people thought I was homeless. So they cuz because tires. When you drag them along the sand, they they collect everything, all the debris. So it was like beer bottles and milk cartons, and like, whatever.
So I’m dragging these tires, bringing our stuff. So people thought I was homeless. I’m like, dragging all my belongings with me. And so they would come up to me and offer me money. And I would take it. And so I trained and then I was like, Okay, I’m ready. Because I want to be a valuable team member, I want to be a contributor, like I don’t want to be a weak person on my team. So I’m going to show up and be ready. So I trained as hard as I could we get to Antarctica with four other people, we’re all from different countries, we get dropped off at the edge of the continent.
And now we were going to start skiing to the South Pole. About first first couple days, I’m slow, I’m slower than everybody else. And I’m thinking okay, I’m just gonna take me some time to get used to the environment here and doctors, coldest windiest place on Earth. Well, as the days went on, I never got any better, I never got any faster, I could not keep up with my teammates. And now I was that person, oh, my weak link on the team and no amount of training desire heart was going to change that because even though I trained as hard as I possibly could, and I, you know, I was dedicated I was, you know, going to try as hard as I could.
The law of physics basically dictates that somebody who is six foot three, six foot four 230 pounds can drag 150 pound sled a lot more quickly and a lot more efficiently than somebody who is five for, you know, 110 115 pounds. So I just couldn’t keep up with my teammates. They were a foot taller than me and twice my weight, and no amount of heart or desire determination was going to change the fact that I couldn’t do it as well as they could.
I could not keep up with my teammates. Do you know how it feels to be the absolute worst performer on a team? You guys are like, No, I have no idea. Let me just tell you. It feels terrible. But my aunt, but you know what? I thought okay, I can’t quit. I can’t quit. Why? Because you’re in the middle of Antarctica. And you literally Yeah, yeah. Like you can. But my expedition leader, Eric Phillips, who’s one of the most incredible leaders have ever come across. He and my teammate, George devised this plan to help me and they did it in this really sneaky way.
Like, I don’t want to ruin the chapter for everyone. But in a very sneaky way. They ended up taking weight out of my sled and making their sleds heavier. So that my load would be lighter so that I could keep up with the team. And the only reason I knew what they were doing is because I overheard them talking about it in their tent before they went to sleep. So I knew what their plan was. But they did it in a way where they thought I didn’t know what they were doing even though I did. But for me, it was such an important lesson, many lessons one, there are some weaknesses that we will never overcome.
No matter how much desire we have their weaknesses we cannot overcome. However, we can always compensate, compensate, right. Also, there. Like it. If we are so focused on comparing ourselves to other people in areas where they are strong. We may never uncover our superpower our strength, our area, we can really shine. So I’ll just read you I keep this paper. I keep this note from Eric with me. I always keep it on my desk because when I’m having a bad day I review it and I just wish I want to share it with you guys because I hope it will help you when you’re struggling.
But I wrote an email to Eric Phillips, the leader of the expedition, because I wrote this chapter in my book all about him and I wanted him to read it. So I said, Eric, I need your mailing address. I need to send you a copy of my book as the chapter about you is Hands down favorite, people read the chapter and tell me that your actions of deciding to help me with the weight in my sled, instead of making me feel like shit about the fact that I was the weakest link on the team is the story that really moves these readers, they think you’re amazing. And so do I. And this was his response.
This is what floored me. He said, I already bought a copy of your book, just before I left for the Arctic, thank you for the kind words you wrote. But I did the natural thing that I hope all leaders would do. I know there are some people who would have treated the situation differently. But a team is a team and solutions need to be found to keep it moving toward its goal. And this is the part that floored me. And don’t underestimate your contribution. There were times when you were stronger than all of us. Your Spirit, enthusiasm and humor were unwavering. I wouldn’t hesitate to do another trip with you.
This blew me away, because I never realized that spirit enthusiasm and humor were a strength, I just thought those are just my that’s just my personality. Those are personality traits. They’re not a value to other people. Well, sometimes what we have to give may not seem like it has a lot of value to us, but it’s of tremendous value to others. And the fact that Eric thought that my positive attitude and sense of humor was an asset to my team, I would never have thought of it that way, I would never have thought of it that way. I was too focused on comparing my physical strength to the physical strength of my larger teammates. And I just thought I was worthless.
And so that note really changed my outlook as So first of all, as a leader and we’re all in the leaders, that leadership position, by the way, leadership is not a designated title. leadership’s about realizing, we all have a responsibility to help our teams move toward a goal. And we also all have a responsibility to be looking out for the people around us, right? So we’re all in a leadership position. And as leaders, it is our responsibility to help the people around us find their sweet spot, help find the area where they can really shine. And that, you know, I used to look at people with weaknesses and be like, why am I stuck with that person until I became that person.
And now I know, you can’t always overcome a weakness, but you can always compensate for it. And Muhammad Ali has one of my favorite quotes. Muhammad Ali was learning disabled. So he didn’t do well in school and, and he has this quote where he says, I never said I was the smartest, I said, I was the greatest, right? And every single one of you watching this right now, every single one of you is the greatest at something. So do not get so caught up in comparing your skills your life with, you know, those of the people around you, because just being you just being who you are, is a strength in itself.
Curt Anderson 32:58
Absolutely. I’m so glad you shared that Allison. So I just I want to throw a call back to you from your book. And again, you guys you have to buy the book to get the details. You as you shared you kind of overheard a conversation. We won’t get into it. But you know, again, in your humility, you had a little bit of an opportunity that you helped your team. Yeah, you have to get the book too. So there was a compensation where there was a trade off that they came in, and they helped Ellison out but Alison came right back immediately and helped them out.
You have to read it. But how you close this out by talking about Eric and I just want to share this. This is how Ellison describes it. Good god I’ve been like a madman shows this whole interview. Yeah, this is bro Ellison describes. I heard what compassionate human beings should sound like I heard what a committed team my teammates. Sounds like, I heard what a true leader sounds like how powerful is that? That you guys came together? Like you said, it wasn’t like we can bail shit. Like we’re gonna fire. Yeah, you’re in the middle of
Alison Levine 34:00
my tent. And I’m sitting in my tent. And I’m just feeling like, I’m so worthless. And I’m feeling like no one wants me on this team. They probably really regret inviting me to be part of it. And I just spent no one wants me here. So I was already struggling physically so much. And then just thinking like that just call it caused me to double down on my frustration thinking no one wants me here. And then when I overhear Eric say to George, like, Oh, poor Allison.
She’s really struggling with the weight of her sled. And George said, I know I feel bad first. She’s so much smaller than everybody else. And Eric said, Let’s, let’s help her out. Let’s take some weight out of her sled and charge a good idea I’m in and now I’m hearing this conversation about my teammates. And instead of, you know, wanting to get rid of me, I hear them conspiring on how to help me.
Yeah. And they didn’t say, Oh, I’m so tired of waiting for hours and let’s take some weight out or sleds that she can keep up. They said, Wow, she’s really trying but she’s so much smaller. There’s just it’s just there’s no way she can do This at the same level that we’re doing it because of our size. And so that just meant so much to me and it completely. I mean, not only did they take a, you know, weight out of my sled, but they took, you know, a psychic emotional load off my shoulders at the same time. And they did it in a way that allowed me to keep my pride intact. And that was important as well.
Damon Pistulka 35:19
Yeah, well, they saw that you’re giving everything you could and you know, as as a leader, you see that you see that? If someone is giving themselves 150% to something, it is your obligation to help them succeed, because they’re giving it everything and they saw that in you. It’s so cool that they did that.
Curt Anderson 35:39
Yeah, yeah. And I love what you’re saying. Again, just kind of recap that passion you You brought a contagious enthusiasm, you brought a light humor or you know, the humor, just a fun environment to accomplish this massive goal. You have a mission statement word cry that you like to use count on me. And just their story was just perfect.
You know, leading your all women’s team, up to the climb Mount Everest, you came back in 2010 conquered the summit, you talk about how failure led to that success. And you also talk about heavy, heavy, heavy duty networking, provided the opportunity. So by your net, by your enthusiasm, your leadership skills, that relentless drive, you created a killer team to climb Mount Everest, right? So that would be that relentless drive, talk a little bit about your cone on me drive and how this
Alison Levine 36:34
Yeah, right. So I just and that’s my count on me was one of the reasons why the Antarctica trip was so hard for me because I want to be the person that everyone can count on. I want to be the person that comes through when she says she’s going to come through. When I say I’m going to deliver I deliver and keeping my word, and keeping my commitments, and delivering is so important to me. So when I’m in a situation where that doesn’t happen, it’s crushing. So I’ll tell you for the first American women’s Everest expedition, our team got caught in bad weather, just a couple 100 feet from the summit, we had to turn back from the summit.
Right after two months on the mountain, we had to turn back from the summit, we basically got that close had to turn back because a storm came in and we lost visibility. And that failure to reach the summit was so hard on me because I felt like I let my team down. I let you know, we were sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. I felt like I met the sponsors down on Discovery network was had a website dedicated to our expeditions. We had all these followers, even though it was before social media. And I just felt like I let everybody down.
And I really internalize that. And then I wrote I realized, after a while, I went back to the mound eight years later and did make it to the summit. But what I realized is that failure is just one thing that happens to you at one point in time, it doesn’t define you. Failure doesn’t define you. It’s one thing that happened to you at one point in time and when anyone knows just a little something about the history of Mount Everest, we’ll know the names Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, right first guys ever some of the mount. But guess what?
There were dozens of climbers who tried and failed before those two made it to the summit. But those two Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, famous guys, they had the benefit of all the data, all the research all the information from those earlier climbers, and granted those earlier climbers because they didn’t make it. They didn’t become household names. They didn’t get the recognition. But if those other guys hadn’t had the guts to try it first.
I bet Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would never have made it you just don’t know for sure. I mean, the point is like when you try really hard things, you’re not always going to get the outcome that you want at the time. You have to just look at that as a stepping stone to success in the future. And you have to think about people who may be following in your footsteps down the road, who can go on to achieve really great things like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay because of your past experience even if you didn’t have the outcome that you want it at the time so it’s just a way to like reframe failure.
Curt Anderson 39:20
Wow. So again, I know we’re coming into time I wouldn’t be able to claim Ellison so what like after 2010 you’ve reached the highest peak of of every continent you know the ventures Grand Slam what like what do you do for goals after that like what are your goals personal with trooper how do you how do you come back and like what you know, you can become a highly sought after an amazing keynote speaker. You’re crushing everywhere you go. What what are your goals now? Like?
Alison Levine 39:52
What do you know my goal right now? I think it’s really important to honor the people that have paved the way for others to do great things and so right now my goal I’m working on a documentary film it was the working title was the glass ceiling but we’re changing the names gonna be sure Pani which is female should meet means female server.
I’m making a documentary about this woman named Hassan Lamas Sherpa because I think she’s really amazing. She had this dream to climb Mount Everest because she saw her brothers climbing her uncle’s her father, but this is back in the early 90s the government of Nepal would not let female Sherpas climb, they would only let male Sherpas and by the way Sherpas are an ethnic and religious minority group.
In Nepal, people think Sherpa means carrying things up a mountain, but the Sherpas are actually Sherpas an ethnicity. So this woman pissant llama Sherpa, she bought the government of her own country for gender equality for all women in Nepal, because her point was, you let all these foreign women come to our country and climb this mountain in my backyard, and I’m not allowed to climb it.
Because I’m sure right so. So she took on that batter battle for gender equality she made she finally was granted access to the mountain. She tried three times unsuccessfully to reach the top. Finally summit it on her fourth attempt in 1993 became the first female Sherpa and the first Nepali woman to summit Everest. But she died on the way down. So she never got to tell her story. And she is Nepal’s most famous contemporary hero, she’s even on their postage stamp.
And I love her story because, you know, she couldn’t read couldn’t write dirt poor couldn’t even speak the national language because surface speak a different dialect. Yet she had the courage to pursue her dream. And so I just think it’s an important story for people to know. So if you go to my website, there’s a little film trailer on their film section if you’re interested in looking at the trailer, but I hope all of you will have a chance to see it in the future. So that’s what I’m working on now. And, um, we do have to wrap shortly because I have to catch a fight. But I want to say and for anyone watching this, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out on social media.
I’m not super active on social, but also your questions I’m happy to answer or you can reach out through my website, there’s a contact button. If you email me through my website, your email will come come straight to me not to my assistant because I don’t have one. But I promise you that I will respond to anyone who gets in touch. So you guys have been such great. I so appreciate Kurt Damon the opportunity to be here with you today. I’m so glad to finally like meet you. I know we’ve been corresponding for years and I was always so humbled and honored that you shared my book with your daughter and I so appreciate that. Oh,
Curt Anderson 42:51
Allison, you are you’ve made my year. I just I can’t write here for this interview literally. So Alison, thank you. God bless you. Thank you for all you do for our for women, for young girls, our country, your inspiration, and we could go on and on. Thank you for your time today. And we just wish you just continued success. Thank you for everything
Damon Pistulka 43:16
back at you guys. All right,
Curt Anderson 43:18
everybody. Thanks for joining us.
Damon Pistulka 43:22
live here. We’re gonna stop the stage on Remo. We will be back again next week. Allison thanks so much. My pleasure.