Is climbing Kilimanjaro an achievement?

You may have read my previous post about the trials and tribulations of climbing Kilimanjaro.  The thing that I found surprising and which left me really puzzled was that despite it being the hardest thing I have ever done, I didn’t feel the sense of achievement I feel I should have got.  Don’t get me wrong was glad I did it (although at the risk of sounding like Steve Redgrave – never again!) and I learnt a lot about myself but I had no real sense of feeling really chuffed with myself that I guess I had expected.

Two weeks after I summited a Canadian guy called Spencer West did a similar route (taking just an extra day longer) as me with his two friends.  The difference with this guy was that his legs had been amputated at the pelvis and he achieved it all on his hands.  Now this to me is a pretty amazing achievement.  I know just how hard it is to get up to the top walking as an able bodied person but to do it with no legs is just incredible.  Probably made the decent easier though!

Hearing about this and other stories like it where people have to overcome true adversary says a lot to me about how I define a sense of achievement.  What is achievement?  What causes me to feel achievement? 

The dictionary definition of achievement is:

1. Something that has been accomplished, especially by hard work, ability, or heroism

2. Successful completion; accomplishment

Now the second point definitely applies to my successful climb – I completed or accomplished it – however the first point uses the term heroism and some definitions uses the phase superior ability.  This to me applies to the guy with no legs but it doesn’t to me.  Yes there is a high failure rate and yes the amount of people who attempt it compared to the population is small but I don’t believe it takes superior ability.  It takes strong determination and an ability to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  It’s only when you are out of this comfort zone where you are able to view yourself in a different light, learn things about yourself which maybe others could see but you couldn’t – and you also find that your comfort zone has expanded.  I love Spencer Wests tag line for his climb “redefine the possible” – I think this indicates that what we think is possible is really just our individual comfort zone.

I have realised that for me the feeling of achievement comes not from pushing myself to the limit but from achieving things through working with others and helping them get to a successful completion, accomplishment or goal that they otherwise wouldn’t have done without my help.  I felt more of a sense of achievement from running a highly successful strategy workshop in Tanzania (which was a revolutionary concept for them) than climbing Kili. 

I believe that everyone should identify for themselves what achievement actually means for them – this doesn’t necessarily mean everybody should rush out and climb a mountain but it does mean that you have to break out of your comfort zone and do something that scares, frightens or worries you.   This means shutting off or ignoring that little voice in your head that says you can’t do it or makes any of a thousand different excuses why not to do it.  We all have this negative voice. 

This is particularly important as if you are like me and that the feeling of achievement is one of your key values in life – which while being a benefit, is also a curse!  Life and work should be focused on making sure you get that, without that you will never achieve contentment or happiness – there are enough people out there who are not happy – why be one of them?

 Some of my friends recently joked about recreating the 80’s programme Challenge Annika with Challenge Becky – they would take it in turns to decide what challenge or stupid thing I would do next.  The more I think about this the more I quite like this suggestion.  It would get me out of my comfort zone as others would be selecting the challenges, it would give me challenges to work towards and train for and it could be a lot of fun and self-learning along the way!  Anyone reading this please feel free to suggest a challenge 🙂


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