ElephantKilimanjaro“Poley, Poley, Sippy, Sippy.” That’s what you hear from your porters when you climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s a mantra on the mountain. Translated it means, “slowly, slowly, sip, sip”, as a reminder to go slow, take one step at a time, take a sip of water and stay hydrated.

If you’ve ever set out to accomplish a goal, you know the importance of having a plan (a map with the route), having the resources (guides, food, and water), the determination (I WILL get to the top), resilience, and a positive attitude. All of those elements still come down to one step at a time and ultimately appreciating that the cumulative effect taking one step at a time leads you to some incredible places and experiences.

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1994 and it was one of the highlights of my time in Africa. I had just recovered from a very serious bout with falciparum malaria that manifested itself in the Himalayas of Nepal. I was evacuated out by helicopter from the Nepalese army and brought back to Kathmandu. From there I had to return to the United States to work with tropical infectious disease specialists and recover while my traveling companion stayed on and traveled solo.

Something stirred deep inside when I heard he was going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. All of a sudden,  I heard myself say, “Well, if you’re going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, then I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro”.  A month later I got off the plane in Tanzania and we began putting our plan in place: meeting with guide companies, shopping for supplies, applying for the visa, and taking day trips to build our endurance for the climb ahead.

I hadn’t thought much about this adventure until a few weeks ago when I attended the International ASTD conference in Washington D.C. One of the breakout sessions I attended was called “Olympic Leadership” by Susan Goldsworthy, a former Olympic swimmer. I was captivated by the description which promised to share a model for reaching goals.

To my surprise, she talked about her experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and what an “Olympic” size challenge it was for her. It turned out, she was deathly afraid of heights! Wouldn’t you know it,  there is a spot on the trail where you have to go around “hugging rock”. It’s called “hugging rock”  because the only way around is to hug the rock while you make your way around a narrow trail with a very steep and very long drop off if you misstep.

She shared her “5D Framework” model for goal setting: Disruption, Desire, Discipline, Determination, and Development.  Her “disruption” was turning 40 and she had the desire to push through her fear of heights. She was disciplined in her training and absolutely determined to make it to the top. Her development involved looking at some of her limiting beliefs, challenging some of her assumptions, and taking that practice of “poley, poley, sippy, sippy”, and applying it in other areas of her life.

For me, the disruption was coming down with a serious illness. My desire was to join my traveling companion and have a shared experience. I exercised discipline with my choices on the way to a healthy recovery. I was determined to make it to the top even when I started exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia. My development has also been about the importance of being able to take one step at a time and trust that it will take me to where I want to go! Another development for me was to embrace my curiosity about what the landscape looks like from a different perspective. I’ve continued to embrace that curiosity be it in my travels,  relationships, or professional endeavors.

I invite you to look at the areas in your life where taking the “poley, poley, sippy, sippy” approach will serve you well. I’m always happy to confer and think out loud about where this approach can be useful and how to embrace an action plan that is all about one step at a time!

Here’s to getting to the top and enjoying the view!

– Marcia

Mt. Kilimanjaro Summit Elevation 19,341 ft.

Mt. Kilimanjaro Summit
Elevation 19,341 ft.