Perservering Through Failure with Melissa Arnot Reid
Hey everyone, how's it going? I'm Chase. Welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on CreativeLive. You guys know this show. This is where I sit down with amazing humans and today is no exception. In fact, you're gonna be very impressed with this guest. She is one of the world's top mountain climbers. She has summited Everest more times than any other western woman, and is the first American woman to summit and descent Everest without supplemental oxygen. My guest is Melissa Arnot Reid. (epic music) (audience applauding)
We love you.
I'm so happy you're here.
I'm so psyched to be here with you.
Thank you so much.
Yeah, of course.
This is a long time in the making. It's like maybe even a year, is that true?
It is, I had to be with you out in the mountains and dirty, and climbing to the high altitude summit of something before I'd agreed to come, so. (laughing)
It's true, it's true. So, for the folks at home. I think you're familiar with the show but t...
here's a long sort of history and trajectory for the show around people who have done amazing things in a lot of different disciplines, but also around a theme of people who've made a living and a life doing what they love. And I've wanted to have you on the show for many reasons. One of which is obviously that climbing a mountain is this classic metaphor for life. Classic metaphor for life but how in the hell, we're just gonna orient the world, how in the hell did you decide to walk up hills slowly for a... (laughing)
That's my true, proper profession is I walk up hills slowly.
It's not an exaggeration to say you've dealt with life and death on a regular basis in that profession, and we'll get to that a little bit later but there's folks at home who believe that their dream is completely unattainable, and people would laugh at them, but you literally walk up hills slowly for a living, so. A, how did you craft that dream and then what are some of the things you did to get there?
Yeah, definitely. So, I grew up in Southern Colorado with two authentically hippy parents, which, I mean authentically hippy, and their biggest dreams for me and my sister were that we were gonna live out of the back of our trucks, and ski all year. That was like their highest aspiration and hope for us. So, I really had that influence from an early age but I, like all teenagers, fully rebelled, and I went to college in Iowa, and got a business degree.
You were clean. (laughing)
Yeah, I also got an apartment and a stable job.
And a shower.
Working for Procter & Gamble, and yeah. And I just totally rebelled against my parents. I was like this is not the life I want. I don't want to be outside, and be dirty, and all of this, and at some point as I was sort of living this life that I had imagined somehow was different from my parents, and I'm not gonna be like them, I came back to visit them in the mountains, and I saw the mountains for the first time. And I had truly never seen them because I was surrounded by them so much growing up, and I had that inspiration that I think so many people have felt when they see nature in a first time sort of way, whatever that power that it holds is, and I immediately knew that I needed to get into the mountains, and learn as much as I could, and for the first time in my life, I found something that was athletic but non-competitive. It was this like collaborative activity and I'm just, I'm like the anti-competitive person. If you try to race me, I'll just stop and watch you, and just be like, you have fun with that. Like I'm just not competitive, you know, so but I'm super driven internally with myself in being better, but I like working together with somebody towards a shared goal, and so climbing offered me that, and I started learning how to climb. I learned how to rock climb, first, and ice climb, and then eventually got into glacial mountaineering, and I live now in Washington State. I started out working as a guide on Mount Rainier, which is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48, and a great place to learn all of the skills for climbing bigger mountains, and I grew up rather poor, and I didn't think I was gonna have the opportunity to travel in the world, and get places, and I realized suddenly, you know, mountains are this passport to see cultures, and places, and people that I don't know anything about, and I fully went in, all in, and I definitely lived in the back of my truck, I definitely like counted pennies to buy ramen, or like Totino's Pizza from Super Walmart, and my dad was so proud of me. (laughing) Like all of his dreams were fulfilled.
Those shining, shining moments.
Shining moments, yeah. So, that's like the path that ultimately led me to what now I think is a high accolade career. People are like wow, you're so amazing and I'm like if you knew (laughing) the number of days that I have chosen to sleep in the back of my truck, the hotel rooms I've cleaned to, you know, make minimum wage job that I could work in the early hours, and then still be able to go and climb, and do the things I wanted to do. It's not such an obvious path and it's definitely been a passion path, though, for sure, and that's what's kept me on this course.
Well, it's such an extraordinary, I mean, you mentioned accolades, to have achieved the things, the world records, the firsts, the mosts, all those things.
The summits if you well.
Yeah, the summits.
The high points.
The high points.
We just have cliches abound in my career. It's like you have to try not to hit them.
Yeah, I'm trying and I'm losing right now. (Melissa laughing) But a little bit to dig into the why. So, you went back and you saw the mountains for the first time. The folks at home are going like my goal is totally unreasonable and I think a big disconnect is some people think that they start something, and they have to see all the way to the finish line in order to start it or for you, was it a matter of just seeing like oh, I want to pursue this because I'm having fun, like which of those two or some combination was it for you?
You speak from a place of knowing in just the way that you phrase that question because I know you know what the catch of actually accomplishing big things is and the catch is that you need to have this long term focus with a really short term goal set, and you have to have equal parts conviction in pursuing what it is, and willingness to totally let it go at any moment, and that is like an impossible, I mean just think about like involvement in a relationship. You can't be very successful in a relationship where you're like all in but also totally willing to like say goodbye and be cool with either thing, and that's what chasing big things requires. There's a like mental hiccup somewhere that has to happen there where you realize that the small step that you're taking right now, again, pardon the cliches because it's gonna. This is raw.
It's not, I can't, see we can't.
It's gonna be cliche ridden, I'm sorry. But we are going, you know, you take this one step. You climb this one pitch, this one peak, this one small summit that gets you ultimately to be able to climb the big mountains, and you know you're always kinda doing it for this greater goal but you still are putting in the toil of that sort of...
It's so literal in climbing mountains.
It is and it's so, I mean here's the thing I think about climbing, the biggest thing that it's given me. It's given me the ability to be totally a control freak in general life that is completely out of control and I can't control the things that are happening, so it's like welcome to being humbled just minute by minute, and just having to accept it, and then like joyfully choose to be humbled because it's not like, we don't really joyfully choose to be humbled. (laughing) Like it's not something we like pursue.
Yeah, it's not something we're running around, volunteering for.
No, I mean like people that do, I admire them and I'm also confused by them because it's like real hard to be in that position but you know, you're pursuing that, and you know you're working towards something so big, and when people are like, I have this big goal or people say to me all the time, I would never be able to go climb Everest, and I'm like, you know what? In this temperature controlled room where I just had like a delicious lunch, neither would I because you don't go from here to there. In your mind, you're going from here to there, and there's a lot that happens in between.
I know with myself and a handful of other folks that have decided to pursue things that might have been perceived by most as irrational. Like, oh good luck with that. You're gonna make hundreds. How did people respond when you said that, you know, I wanna, you know, leave this stable job to go, you know, walk up hills slowly? What did people say and did you feel distracted, or discouraged, or empowered, or both, or neither? How the frick did you figure out how to make money walking up hills slowly?
I would say I didn't really figure it out, it like sort of figured itself out in some way, and I do think that like when you're in, you know, I had no backup plan. I grew up economically rather in the tight confines of an authentically hippy family, where we just didn't have extras. My sister and I didn't have a support system. Once we were adults, we were like fully on our own, and so I knew I could survive financially, and I knew that that might mean different things. I wouldn't necessarily be thriving but I would be okay, so I could put that aside as a worry, and then the other side of it is that, you know, for every naysayer that you can find that says like, this isn't gonna work, I accidentally found myself intentionally surrounding myself but with people who thought what I was doing was so cool, and for every one of the naysayers, you can find somebody who thinks, you're so bad ass with what you're doing, and like living in the back of your truck is just not that sexy but when, I guarantee when I like introduce that, people are like, I wish I could just. You know, I mean this was like pre #vanlife and everything. There was no hashtag anything and so it wasn't like, I mean I'm sleeping in like Motel 8 parking lots because generally, you would get harassed for like sleeping in the back of your truck there, and I had like homemade curtains, so no one would know I was there, and almost got abducted once from the back of my truck, and like there's a lot of unsexy moments in it. But you could always find somebody that would be like yeah, like fist bump, you're core. You know, I'm like if this is core, like. (laughing)
Do you really wanna see under the covers of core?
Yeah because then there's this whole other side of you know, which I think we're much more exposed to in our current lives, where we have exposure to glossy, beautiful, highlight reels of everybody's life through all of the social media aspects, and things we're exposed to where you do just see the sexy side of it, and it is like people are really curating that existence to be this like thing, and I actually think the most beautiful parts of it were the non-curated parts, the parts that just happened. I mean, I can tell you some of my happiest moments in my life have similarities, whether they were achieving a big goal that I worked really hard towards in this, you know, latter part of my more successful, externally validated successful life. I felt as equally as elated and happy as I felt when I was 14 years old, waking up at 4:00 a.m., riding my bike to a hotel where I opened the continental breakfast, cleaning hotel rooms, and then closing a health club gym at night to make money to save to move out of my house and to be able to be independent. I feel equally as happy working hard towards a goal. So, that's been like something that's really tied it all together for me.
Is that a skill that you developed as a young person to cope with the reality of your parents not providing sort of this on ramp to college? Do you feel like there was a self-destined thing, was it a stubborn thing, or is it scared, was it fear, or was it joy?
Yeah, you know, not fear. So, I will say that. All of the greatest things in my life, I've not pursued out of fear. Almost everything I've pursued out of fear of losing something or fear of not achieving something has been vapid and ultimately, when I get there, it's like ew. I don't like this, this feels gross, and I reroute myself. I think it has to do less with like, well equal parts with necessity of what I needed to do, what I knew was required of me, and sort of this like admiration that I had for how hard my parents worked just to get by because they made a choice. They are smart, capable people that could have taken high paying corporate jobs and had a super posh existence but they wanted to be in the mountains. They wanted to like, you know, maybe fly under the radar of the government, perhaps, or whatever, so there was some necessity maybe of them on that part, but they wanted to be happy. And my dad, I remember, he did construction when I was a very little kid, and he said, I do this because I can go work for a month, and I can spend two months watching my daughters grow up, and if I went, and punched a clock every day, I'd missed your whole life, and though I didn't know it, I was gaining this admiration for hard work, and I see that in myself, and my sister, and it's something that just was obvious. Like you have to do it. And it comes actually at a cost. It comes with this like very conscientious resentment that I have towards people that, you know, were born into different circumstances, and pardon the categorization because not everybody fits into it neatly but like the trust funds that is #vanlife now, and is this super like sexy, curated side of living out of the back of your truck because you also know that like at any moment, you could go get an apartment. There's a very different reality when you're like, it's all in, and I think that that willingness to be all in has been the most important, consistent theme in my life. It's that knowledge that once I go all in, it's on me to make this work, or to reroute and take it as it comes.
Like Tony Robbins talks about. You wanna take the island and burn the boat.
When you have committed.
Well, what's interesting about that metaphor exactly is so for, you know, maybe we don't have to talk about this right now but for me to be successful with the biggest sort of physical achievement of my life of trying to climb Everest without using supplemental oxygen, somebody had told me early on, you cannot have oxygen with you because you will use it, and I was like you don't know how much willpower I have. I can too have it with me and it took me eight years, and every single one of those previous tries, I had the option of oxygen and I always used it. And when I was successful, it was absolutely, 100% not an option, and that was true. It was like there are some areas where you gotta burn the boat.
That's incredible. So, there's a lot of different ways I want to go, right now. I want to go straight to that because you went there.
No, no but it's incredible and I've had, so folks who are both listening to this in the podcast and some folks are watching it because we captured the video. The woman that you see before you here or that you're listening to...
Might not line up with what you think I look like. (Melissa laughing)
Like is certifiable like bone crushing bad ass and I've had the good privilege of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with you. Under your guidance, how about that. With you, behind you.
I don't know how much guidance you needed. I really felt like you were a co-climber with me.
And trust me, I would tell you if you weren't. I'm not being nice. I'm not known for my niceness, so like. (laughing)
I didn't see you pull many punches. But the sheer goal, so if you're a mountain climber, the goal of climbing the biggest, most dangerous peak or one of the most dangerous peaks in the world is like an extraordinary goal, and A, to have set that goal, like what made you want to go as big as you absolutely, possibly because there's a lot of people who climb mountains, myself included, I'm really happy just to climb these volcanoes that are up in the northwest.
Yeah, well there's some great volcanoes.
Yeah, there's some beautiful things that I have zero desire, in fact, I've had opportunities to go to Everest, and I turned them down, but what makes you say yes to that most massive goal that you can say yes to in that industry, first question. Second question is go back over, and over, and over?
Yeah, I think it's really hard for people to understand and at least half of the people who are watching this or listening to this probably had a moment of like eye rolling, like Everest. You know because we hear about it in a kind of gross way a lot of times in the media where oh, you know, any rich person can just go pay their way there, and I think that that is maybe true, I don't actually fully subscribe to that, having been a person who's spent a lot of my life there. I would argue with that but it's also, who are we in our infinite wisdom to look at other people's motivations and say that they're okay or not? And I think one of the beautiful parts about climbing big mountains and big mountains in the world in general is the world belongs to us all. Regardless of what your motivation is and regardless if I agree with it or not. So, if you are just like a super wealthy oil executive, and you've never climbed a single mountain in your life, and you wanna go to summit Everest, by being a human on this planet, and also by like whatever economics are afforded to you, and a bunch of other things that have to go into that, you can do it, and who am I to like shame you for your reasons but for me, it wasn't.
You're so good at framing this. (Melissa laughing) I see it.
Yeah, you see a real person, right? Like you know this person that we all like hate and we're like oh, isn't Everest just filled with people that are carrying, aren't Sherpas is just carrying everybody on their backs to the summit, and it's like, I mean, okay. So, if you've listened to this point, I hope you think I'm a reasonably intelligent person. I've spent about 10 years of my life on Everest and if I was reasonably intelligent like there has to be something more there, right? I can't just and also the ego accolades you get from climbing Everest are just not sustainable enough to get you through like the negativity if that was really what it was like. For me, going there the first time, it was about a job. You know, I worked as a professional mountain guide and I had the opportunity to go, and guide a client in one of the most weird circumstances that I ever have been put in. My client was a climber who had summited all of the seven summits, already, including Mount Everest, and he wanted to go back, and climb again, and he wanted me to be an assistant guide, partly because of my guiding skills that he'd seen on other peaks, partly because of my medical knowledge, and I was like no, I can't do that. And he said, well, what would it take? And I said, I'd have to work with another guide, and he said great, then I'll hire two guides, and he was in the position that he could do that. He also had like some deeply philanthropic reasons for wanting to be there, knowing that Everest was this incredible billboard that catches all of our attention, whether we're climbers or not, and he wanted to capitalize on that from a business side of things, and raise funds and awareness for the global AIDS crisis, and Product Red, and working with Bono and Bobby Shriver. So, I was suddenly in a position where I'm not being the philanthropic one. I'm just a mountain guide. Like I'm here to make sure that the knots are safe and to also learn, and have this opportunity to climb the biggest mountain in the world, and that first time, I never, I didn't go thinking this is where my life is gonna be. This is gonna define me but as soon as I was there, I realized that the people in the area surrounding Everest, all of the different, various tribes, one of which is the Sherpa tribe. It's a tribe of people, it's also, we refer to Sherpa as a job, often. That's a little bit incorrect because porter is the job, Sherpa is a last name, and a tribe of people but the Sherpa people shared something that I saw as very familiar from watching my parents work hard growing up, you know, and something I'd seen in myself, and it was this like work ethic and just drive, and ability to be okay in nature, and not try to like conform nature to you but like work with nature.
So, this is what we have today.
So, yeah. Exactly, yeah and then this is what we're gonna do with it, and figuring it out, and I knew that I wanted to go back to that place. So, I was successful my first time guiding and climbing on Everest. I summited. It was not uncomplicated. There was a lot of things going on that year. The Olympic torch was being carried to the summit from the Chinese side by a group of climbers from Beijing, and they put all these restrictions on the Nepal side, and said, you can't climb. We were constantly told no, no, no and then all of a sudden when they were like yes, we didn't have enough time left in the season to acclimatize, and everybody was climbing on the same day, and it was just like crazy, and I left with more questions than answers. And that's sort of my barometer of how I put myself into experiences is curiosity is my biggest driver, and so if I can learn something, I'm gonna go and learn something, and I have to tell you the dead truth of it. A risk for me, every year that I went back and had a different experience, whether it involved the summit or not, I found myself with either more curiosity or a satiated curiosity but whole new type of curiosity, and that's what kept bringing me back, is just trying to see, there's all these questions I want answers to, and I believe I can get them but I must be persistent.
Well, that's probably reasonably easy to translate that into a metaphor but what is, I'm gonna let you do the work here. What is the metaphor that that provides for others? Like you're doing it on a mountain. You continue to go back. Everything you do, you learn a little bit more, and some provide answers and closure, others provide more questions. Is there some sort of a quest thing or like what's?
Yeah, it's interesting because I don't know if this is specific enough in terms of a metaphor to understand but you can tell me. I think it's like all of us humans have felt we were starting to excel and maybe not to the point of being a true expert but we've probably all felt we were an expert at something at some point, whatever that thing is. If everybody who became an expert at any given thing turned around and walked away from it at that point, nothing would evolve. Nothing would become bigger and better. You know and it's like I think about, like, if you are, you're good at... Like sales or something (laughing) and you're figuring out like oh, you know, we're doing this credit card sales. Okay, so yeah we have a credit card company and we're like making great credit cards, and credit card processing, and everything's great. Let's do more credit card processing but the pivot point is where you get curious and you say, could do we it better? Is there a better way to do this? Like or a different way and it's that reinventing the wheel. It's the two genres of people that say like why reinvent the wheel and like why not reinvent the wheel? (laughing)
Make a bigger one or another one, or a faster one.
Yeah, yeah like is the wheel really the best thing here? And I think that that's the point of where innovation actually occurs, and I think innovation can occur creatively, it can occur physically, it can occur personally. Like the little micro-evolutions that we are all going through as humans right now while we're all doing whatever we're doing and then it can occur like on this big, macro level, and so for me, that was a huge part of what it all is. It's this like evolutionary thing of just this constant curiosity of what?
To me, I think there's something that is also embedded in there which is the idea of mastery, and you said it really eloquently with like everybody's an expert at something, and did you figure out that you were an expert at climbing, and then just?
I really am super, duper mediocre at climbing, just to make that like totally clear. I'm still like well in the throes of trying to work towards expert but I'm like deeply in it, for sure. I have so much I can learn and I'm constantly, that's the best thing ever.
But that's a humility that you as a human being.
But it's also the truth. (sighing) Oh my god, we're gonna fight about this. (laughing)
(laughing) I've seen you in action.
You guys, we're having our third fight and you guys are witnessing it. I can't tell you what the first two were.
But I think there's something beautiful in that everyone's an expert and if you actually can trust your instincts, and you know, do the thing that you're supposed to be doing or that you're in expert in, like there's this beautiful thing that you follow your curiosity, or follow your interests, or your effort, and then that's a great way to sort of plug into this, when you feel like you're doing something that you're supposed to be doing, there's this tractor beam, this pull, rather than this like hard trudge. Again I keep losing the climbing metaphor.
I know it's hard.
I know, it's impossible but what about if, like the part where you have to figure out how to make the money, to me that's fascinating.
Well, okay so two things about that. So, first thing is finding your passion and I actually think that like probably more people in the world are struggling to find their passion than to find a way to make money, and then you have the whole problem of make your passion make money. Like that's a whole secondary conundrum but I think first is knowing your passion and finding that thing that pulls you, and I think that we constantly are living in a world, especially now, that's complicated every day by distracting ourselves from true feelings, and we distract ourselves with so many things, and so many stimulations that some greatly enrich our lives but some are also just preventing us from truly ever feeling something, and so we tend now, just let me take a moment and psychoanalyze the entire world. We all tend to glom quite easily onto other people's passions when we see something that's beautiful or especially when we see something that's very validated by the public.
Culture, yeah. A rock star.
Yeah, well like I wanna be a rock star and it's like.
Stand on a stage and sing. I can sing.
Yeah, look at all the praise here.
Yeah, exactly and in my micro little cosm, like climbing, especially climbing Everest is, it's the interesting things, people are like, I wanna do that for that accolade. Well, if that's your only reason for doing it, I can tell you it's going to be 10 times as hard as if you do it because you love it, which is true with everything, right? If you're finding that thing. So, how do you find that thing that is your passion? People are always asking me like, oh, you know, how did you know? And my only answer I can give you is if you're doing something, and you're like is this my passion? Especially for young people because they're the ones that want that sort of short cutted like yes, no. If you're asking that question, it is not your passion because when you're in your passion, it's almost like you don't, you're so blinded by just executing it that you don't even have time to pause and say like is this my thing? And you know what? You could have about a billion things in your life. Like that's the gift of being human, right? Like I don't know that being like a climber, a high altitude climber, is totally gonna be what defines me. Like in 20 more years, maybe nobody's gonna even mention this because I found my real passion. Whatever, you know, but this is something that I've pursued fearlessly and completely, and I've committed all the way into. And so then how do you sort of morph that into something where you can make a living out of it, and I think that that is really, really, really hard. And I referenced it a little bit earlier. I think you have to be totally willing to be in survival mode and to know that the...
I'm good with survival mode as long as I'm getting that thing.
The nourishment that your character and your soul receives from doing the thing that means the most to you is so much more calorically dense than real food, (laughing) if you have to like starve yourself to achieve your passion. That's what I think, you know. So, I think that like you make sacrifices and those sacrifices won't feel like sacrifices because you are doing this thing. This goes to another cliche, metaphor thing. It's like we've all been in a relationship, right? It's like you're in the beginning stages of a relationship where sacrifices just feel like sweet things, where you're like this isn't a, oh I didn't even wanna do my own thing on Sunday, anyway. I wanted to and you truly feel that, and so it's holding onto that moment forever, and then suddenly it becomes quite easy to like find. It's like it opens up the cleverness part of your brain. You're like suddenly quite clever about how to capitalize that and turn it into something. So, for me, it was a necessity to pay my bills, right? And I realized quite quickly okay. I could be a climber, and just be a total dirt bag climber, and probably, quite honestly, be a way better climber, or I can try to spend as much time as I want, as I can outside, and also climb, and maybe my climbing skillset will not develop as quickly but I can make a living doing this. And I really spent a lot of time, especially in my early days when I was like 19 years old and 20 years old, just really studying the people that I thought were cool, and figuring out like what do we have in common, and how are you making it work? And could I see that working for me, too? You know, just like hijacking other people's blueprint a little bit and then tweaking it so that it became my blueprint, and the thing I've created, nobody does the career I do. You know, it's hard for me to describe what I do and it's such a matrix, and if you were to look at my schedule of like how I make it work, it is a hundred balls in the air, all the time. I spend nearly no time doing nothing, you know. I'm always like hustling or saying yes, or I mean, I just flew here from Texas where I was speaking yesterday, and you know, I'm going then to Colorado to teach at a retreat for next week, and it's just like constant movement, and a matrix of all sorts of different things that ultimately come together, and make this thing. But it's not, you know. (laughing) So, this is my whole conundrum. Like when you're on a plane and someone's like, oh what do you do for work, and I'm 100% of the time, I work at Starbucks, and they're like oh nice. Like making the coffee? I'm like I don't even get to make, I work in like the corporate office, and they're like, and they go back to reading their book, and I'm like this was so much easier of a conversation than this person who says like, oh what do you do? And I'm like well. I work as a mountain guide. They're like, oh what do you mean? I'm like well, (laughing) I work as like a high altitude climbing guide, helping clients experience the mountains safely. Oh, like you drive the bus around like Mount Rainier? I'm like okay. (laughing) So, let me tell you, like. And I quickly have to go to like, you know, I work on Mount Everest as a professional climbing guide. Oh, to the top? I'm like well, yes. To the top of Everest. This is like the conversation. It's a really common conversation I have and so, it's funny because it's hard for people to understand, and I don't know what to say. I'm a guide, athlete, I'm a speaker, like sharing my story, I'm a teacher, I'm a mentor, I do some philanthropic work, like. It's just a matrix. Sometimes, I'm like a house cleaner.
To me, going back to the thing I said earlier about being willing to do whatever it takes, the fact that you do just figure out when you're sort of all in or where you're committed to the thing, or when you're feeling that flow state. I think that's the thing that so many people, today in our culture but just, I say it's in our culture especially because we have that other side of us that's rather disconnected, or that's looking at what everybody else's highlight reel is. Did you feel like you knew you were able to go straight there or was there any sort of like, did you screw up, and get off track, and if so, like help us see you as human, as opposed to Wonder Woman.
Yeah, well. It's a very human experience that I'm in. It's a constant, I mean I screw up all the time every day, still, today, figuring it out, you know? I don't think I've cracked the code, quite honestly. Like I think I have a code. I do feel quite centered in what I've got going for me now and I feel like I have a sustainable balance but if I showed it to you, it wouldn't look anything like balance to anybody else, probably. It would look like something crazy and it doesn't make any sense.
But relative to what you have been doing in order to get here, it's balanced, right.
Totally, yeah it's sustainable, I guess is a better word than balanced. I strive for balance but I ultimately want sustainability. I want something that I can keep doing, and that makes sense, and is possible but I think one of the biggest hiccups that is really, that I've struggled with, and it's, you know, my highly centered self right now, I would tell you if you're gonna pursue whatever your thing is, and to be able to do it, I think one thing you have to do is be willing to abandon what others think of that path. To do that, you have to be also willing to give up the accolades of people thinking what you're doing is great because you have to give up the good with the bad. You can't just ignore the bad feedback and listen to the glossy stuff. One of my biggest challenges is that I'm a normal, insecure human who cares deeply what people think of me. (laughing) Of course, in a really like small net, little circle of the, you know, 18 friends that I might have had when I was 20, and learning this, to like now the public audience that knows about me. I care just as much what everybody thinks about me and so that has been such a challenge, I think, to keep your motivations authentic. Like this is where I say I don't have the answer to it but it's the thing that I constantly, if there's one thing that I am truly messing up, it's that. It's that making sure that I'm making decisions that are like values based decisions and not validation based decisions, and I think actually in some ways, the more successful you become, the bigger of a trap it is. Though, it's a trap we all feel, no matter how much quote unquote success we feel like we're in.
Yeah, whatever the measure.
Yeah, it's just so easy to get mired so deeply into like what other people think of your path, and the truth is, at the end of the day, you're with you. If you're not cool with your path, it's a tough life.
How many people told you you couldn't do it? How many people told you you couldn't do it?
Told me or gave me the vibes that they knew I couldn't do it? (laughing) So many. Yeah, so many. I mean, especially climbing Everest without using supplemental oxygen. In 2010, I was climbing Mount Everest with Dave Morton, who you met, and was my mentor, really, and like taught me a lot about climbing the Himalayas and big mountains, and I remember sitting in our base camp tent together, like I'm not an overly emotive person, I don't like cry often but I remember like feeling near tears at this general sort of sarcastic vibe that I had passed through base camp, and other professional climbers, and other guides, and members of this Everest climbing community that had written me off, in a way. They were like oh, yeah Melissa like conned her sponsors somehow into paying for her to come back here and try this thing, again, because it was the second time I was there trying it. Little did we know it would take five times for me to be successful. Yeah, attempting to climb without using supplemental oxygen on trips that I subsequently, like I was mentioning before, did use the oxygen, and I just remember being like thinking, and I wrote something about it, too, I could dig it up and find it, and I think I wrote about how more people didn't believe in me than did, and if you step away now because we're in the future. So, now I've achieved this thing, right? And I did it really quietly. Like I didn't tell anybody I was going to do it and that was part of me sifting through my motivations, and making sure I wasn't looking for validation in having a big goal, and I just sort of quietly, I actually lied a lot, and I said, oh I'm not going to Everest this season. I explicitly said that and then I silently sort of went to the quieter side of the mountain, avoided all the climbing community, showed up, and by the time my tent had been up there, so like some people knew I was coming but I kept my motivations really private, and I had to go and like just do this thing on my own. At the end of it, it was like all these people were so shocked and surprised, and I couldn't tell like are you shocked and surprised because I didn't tell you I was doing this or because you didn't think I ever could? That's sort of that non-competitive side of me. I'm not motivated by people saying you can't do this. That doesn't like drive me in that classic, I know a lot of, especially women, are super motivated that way. If you tell me I can't, like watch me. I don't have enough like deep-seated anger to go that route, yet. I mean, I have this other kind of deep-seated anger but not in that way, and so I feel like, you know, I had to like get through like what do I believe is possible? And the truth is I don't know and so why am I taking it so personally? This is what I wrote, now I remember exactly was that how dare I give these people who don't know me as well as I know me a right to tell me what they think I can do versus what I think I can do, and I had to like become really clear with that. When you're trying something that's bold and especially something that nobody else has done before, or that very few people have done before, I think you really have to be willing to trust your own instinct of you know you best. And what am I pursuing? I'm not pursuing achieving this. I'm pursuing the curiosity of can I achieve this and I'm cool with the answer. I just want the answer. It can be yes and it can be no. I'm not trying to prove something.
I think that in the startup world that the parallel is basically saying, you need to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. (Chase laughing)
I mean, what's crazy though, it's a slightly embarrassing human trait for us, I feel like, because once you achieve a success, I mean, I definitely share handshakes and hugs with all those just, I have a special term I'm using in my mind right now for them, those people I know behind my back were always saying I couldn't do it. And there's something really beautiful about achieving something like what I did under my own power and like nobody can take that away from me. You know, nobody can say oh, like she, you know.
She flew to 23 thousand feet.
Yeah, she paid people to carry her to the top. It's like I toiled, I did all the hard work myself, my husband, we did that trip together. Just the two of us. We hired no staff. We used the fixed lines that are present on Everest which is really complicated not to use them and so it would be silly not to, and I did it, and it can never be taken away from me, and you can say what you want about anything else but I also put in, you know, eight previous years of work on Everest to get to know that mountain to the point where I felt like I knew it well enough to be that naked in front of it, I guess I would say. You know, to be truly that vulnerable and so it feels good to know, and it feels even better when I see the people that I know nay say me, and I'm like. (Chase laughing) But also, it feels good to know that like I didn't suddenly see myself as like an elite mountain climber when that achievement happened because I knew the toil that went into it, and I know like, you know, it doesn't mean that I'm immune from all of the responsibilities of learning how to be a better climber in certain disciplines. It doesn't mean that I suddenly am safe climbing Mount Rainier which is more of a beginner glaciated peak. I still have to be heads up. I still have to pay attention to what's going on. I still have to train, make sure my skillset is as good as it can be, and if I want to continue to advance in other ways, like I didn't get a pass card, at all. I just got one moment in time that was awesome and I achieved something that was really hard, and now I've got about a billion other hard things to try to achieve. So, it's just a process.
So, two things I wanna touch on. One is being female in I think what is...
Do you wanna talk about your experience of being female, or? (laughing)
No, I'm fascinated by, and I'm trying to honestly shed a light in there are very few women in tech, and that's just a massively, I would say a cultural crisis, and I think we're waking up, it's like the distance between waking up, and us being a balanced, gender, whatever oriented, it's a thousand miles, and there's a lot of work to do, and I think one of the things that I would love to hear from you is I think it's thought of as general a male dominated industry, and so what is it like operating as a woman? That's thing one and thing two would be the fear point you made earlier but let's focus on.
Yeah. I'm super impressed that you can keep up with like my ADD, just shooting around all these different topics, so it's very impressive. (laughing)
It totally matched with my own.
It's like I gotta remember to come back to this point. Being a woman in a super male dominated sort of atmosphere, professionally and passion-wise, has been interesting. I don't know what the alternative is, right, because I've only ever been a woman, so I can only have my own experience but one of the things that I think is the greatest blessing of being in the big mountains is that there's no gate you pass through going to climb Everest where the mountain, Everest, is like you know, what's your economic background? What's your racial background? What's your cultural belief system? Oh and what's your gender? Okay, now you can go. It doesn't matter, right? You show up with what you have and you put yourself to test, essentially, in this static, super dynamic, but like same atmosphere, everyone's experiencing the same thing whether you have one set of organs or other. So, there's no difference, and so there's something that I personally, I don't know that other people see it this way but from a just confidence standpoint, I know that like I'm having the same experience as my male climbing partner, almost all my climbing partners are men. It's densely saturated with super talented men and you know, it's starting to become spottily populated with women, and I think that that's partly, I think it's more to do with cultural reasons than to do with like physical capability reasons because climbing, this big endurance stuff, it's just not suited better to bigger people, or more muscular people, or any just genetic set that way. I think it has a lot to do with the cultural representation of women, especially like women. Big mountain climbing in the Himalayas can be expensive. It's time consuming. Those things typically start to come together for people in a middle aged zone. Usually it's not super young people. It's like okay, I have some life under me. Well, for a lot of women, that's when they have young kids or they have notions of starting a family and that sort of tethers them more to that side of life, so I think you see less of a population of women in it because of that. That's changing, I hope, and I hope it continues to change. I sort of set out in the earliest days, like my very first summit of Everest, I remember coming back and you know, like the newspaper wanting to do an interview with me, and it was like oh, you know, this female mountain guide summited Everest, and I was like, so did like about 200 other male mountain guides. And I just happened to be the only woman there but like it's just uninteresting other than my like ovaries, which it's just not how you're gonna lead any headline in a paper.
Ovaries make it to the summit.
Ovaries made it to the summit. Shocking. You know, like it's just not so interesting and so I really shied away from that kind of media because I wanted to have something to stand on that would stand up to that neutrality of like it shouldn't matter if I'm a woman or a man, and there is something that I think is really cool and powerful about being in this like unique set as like one of the only women because it means that I was as good as the men but I had to do something that women also hadn't done, and now every woman who wants to do it after me, like it's possible. I proved that to you, right? Like I wasn't trying to prove that to you but now you know it's possible for you, too, and I'm not an oil executive from Texas. You know, like I came by this as honestly as I could in the process of being myself and I just brought to the table my best version of myself, every day, and that is good enough in climbing but it's a battle, you know. I mean, and I will say this, too. I am certainly no martyr as being one of the only women. I know that it is an absolute double edged sword and I like both edges of it, to be honest. You get opportunities and attention for being a minority, and especially being like a young, small, blonde haired girl, there's opportunities that presented themselves to me that probably didn't get presented to my equally skilled male counterparts but as soon as I had that opportunity, then I had to like fight for my life to prove that not only did I get this because I was this minority, because that was interesting, but because I also have the skills. And so for me, and I think in tech, this speaks truly, too. Like how do we fix it, as a group of women? How do we create better gender balance? How do we encourage that? The only thing we can do as the population of the women who are this minority in male dominated things is be the very best you can be at what you do, and you don't have to worry about if you are hired to fill a quota because who cares? As long as you're doing the best job you can, then it doesn't matter. You don't have to wonder why you were there and if you were there for the wrong reasons, who cares because you're still doing the best job you can, and if that's good enough, that's good enough, and it starts to just equalize, and sort of blend the lines of why and how we have people in places.
I remember talking to you about that briefly.
Easy to say, so hard to do.
Yeah and I think that's one of the reasons I'm trying to, you know, call attention to it, just to like give space to remark on it, and to say damn.
Yeah and know that there's hard days and easy days, right? For all of us and I think we tend to live in these echo chambers, like we're becoming a little bit more aware of in this current time in life, and like surround ourselves with people that look like us, and that happens gender wise, that happens racially, that happens culturally, and the more that you can sort of rest yourself in the uncomfortable situations and try to excel, like the more you're gonna learn about the world, I think, and the more just generally nice I think all people are gonna be. I mean, I'll tell you what, being a female minority in my work sort of hearkens back to part of my authentically hippy family was that my sister and I went to school in an Indian reservation as some of the only white kids, and all Native Americans at our school, and so we were the minority, just racially and culturally, and it didn't, I didn't notice until we left that we were treated any differently. You know, it just felt like the norm and I think there's a lot to be learned from sitting in a space where you don't look like all of the people around you, and to own yourself. I think that's what it gives us because I think so much of what is the harmful things that happen in the world happen from insecurity, and not really being cool with who we all are inside, and so figuring out how to do that. It's the gift of travel, I think.
Yeah, there's a lot of perspective that comes with travel. Then, let's shift to fear.
Yeah, let's check out fear.
I opened with mentioning sort of life and death, and that I'll say, unfortunately, I'm using my own words here. You should feel free to use your own but it's a real like you hike past people who have died on your way to the summit and you don't help them out of the ability to stay alive, yourself. I haven't experienced that and it's a crazy responsibility to both have and to not have, and it has to be a piece of a psyche fear like every day. You are in arguably one of the most dynamic weather environments that you could possibly be on this planet and you're doing all those things simultaneously. How in the hell do you not get paralyzed with fear?
So, I think that it, for me, I can only speak to this experience for myself, I know. For me, it has been the reverse has happened, I guess. Instead of becoming paralyzed by this like really tangible fear of like yes, people have died around me. I've seen people die, you know. To clarify, when, you know, I'm climbing to the summit of any peak, if I see somebody in distress and I can safely help them without putting my client or myself at risk, I absolutely will, and I have actually like turned around on the way to the summit of Everest to help a climber descend in that exact scenario, and that felt right to me. It doesn't always work that way, right? Like it's not always that obvious. Yeah, so being confronted with the very real reality of death and you know, on Everest, I think probably the most confronted I ever have been with it was in 2014. There was a single ice fall avalanche that happened inside this really dangerous section of the climb and 16 local Nepali workers were killed in one accident, and five of them were friends of mine that I'd worked with closely over the previous six years. And it's easy to talk about risk in theory and that fear that comes with risk but when you're confronted with, and I mean this is quite graphic but like when you're literally confronted with a stack of bodies, and helping to load them into a helicopter to get them to their families, you know, where they can be cremated, and said goodbye to, it's just a different kind of thing, and that's like warfare, like no human should have to see that without knowing that that's what you're going into, and climbing big mountains, you don't think that's ever what you're gonna go into, and so there's this side of it that could rise up that is this fear's paralyzing because in a (snapping) millisecond there's zero reason why that person was there instead of me. You know and you could just be totally paralyzed by that, and for some reason in my brain, and in my experience, it does the opposite, which it does this thing where it makes me feel super like comfy in my daily life because we're all confronted by the fact that the only certainty of this existence is that living is fatal. We are going to die. And we all have some like really deep, I think, human, innate fears of death, and unknowns around death, and we do all sorts of things to prevent our deaths, you know, presumably, every day, and we don't just like embrace that, and I don't embrace it but I don't live a very fearful existence in the rest of my life. I think I live a hyper alert existence in all areas of my life, like I definitely walk into a room and look up first, make sure there's no overhead hazards before I like enter.
Yeah, you're trained to pay attention.
Yeah, it's like sensitized me in ways that like probably normal people don't look at, you know, like aren't quite as cued up to.
So, the scaffolding, the pane.
Yeah, I actually was like I don't know if, no, because there's no person operating it, so it took out the objective hazard, right? It's just like a static hazard. But then I think it's a good thing, in a way, because it sort of reassures me that it's okay to have fear and to be confronted with the reality of death, and sudden death, and accidental death, because I think death, being like I'm cool with death, a lot of us can probably get there. I'm cool with accidental death? It's a harder thing to get cool with. You know (laughing) because it kinda probably makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable to think about that right now but I also think like it just makes me, it sort of puts in check that normal fear that we all have. I have to tell you the truth of it, it's less in regards to myself because if I die, I die. Like I'm done. I don't care really how I die. I'm not like there to grieve my death. It's thinking about the people I love dying. That's where the fear for me comes in. I say this, you know, I had an accident happen climbing with a climbing partner and my climbing partner died and I did not, obviously. In the end of that experience, I said so many times, I still hold to this day, the easier thing would have been if I would have died. You know because dealing with people close to you dying is so hard and that's where the fear lives for me. It's like I fear another accident like that. I fear that happening but then being, you know, constantly communicating and like existing as a guest on nature's terms makes me feel better about it because I'm like you know what? Whether you believe there's a design to it or not, like we're all at the mercy of it in some way, and so I kind of have to find a way to be in the flow with knowing that this could stop, yeah exactly.
Advice to other folks that I think there's a fear that keeps people from doing things. It's maybe a little less present than death in the Khumbu Icefall but like advice?
I think fear to fail, right, is the biggest thing and I have always sort of mentally put failure as like fail and live are the same word, sort of. So, if I take inaction as a fear to fail, I'm taking it as inaction as a fear to live and because failure is an...
Whoa, whoa say that one more time. That was so fast.
(laughing) You're like work with me here. Yeah, so like I replaced the word fail because I think it's easy to be like I'm afraid of failing with the word live, and so I'm afraid of living because in a way, living is failing. Like we're just gonna repetitively fail through, fail our way through all sorts of experiences until like we have a little modicum of success and then we like kind of get good at that, and then start failing at everything else, again. And to be not afraid of living because it's easier to think of it in those terms, you know. Like I'm not gonna live a life that I am afraid of living the life and I'm gonna sort of like embrace that failure, and I don't know, this is probably pretty complicated but like take your ego out of it, and don't make it so personal when you fail (laughing) like because that's what paralyzes us in big and little decisions is the fear of I'm going not to succeed with this, and it's like well of course you're not gonna succeed. Probably at most things you do. Like there's very few things you're just gonna blatantly succeed at and what a snooze, right? Like honestly. Probably not gonna keep pursuing those things because it's, you know, it's a process and like the good stuff comes from failing, and so that's where, to me, I just like mentally shift it to living, and so that's like the advice that I, especially to young people, are like because I feel like, again, the gifts of my parents, and sort of being untethered in the way that they were, they didn't, I don't have a fear, and I got this from them, I just don't have a fear of trying something, realizing it's not working, and changing my mind, and doing something different, and so often we put these like parameters up. If I quit my job and go do this thing, like what if it doesn't work out? It's like what if it doesn't? Like and then what? You don't die, right? Like you're not dead, it's okay. You're gonna then just do something else. Like and of course there's tangible, oh and I get this all the time. But you don't understand. Wait till you have like a mortgage, wait till you have like a family, wait till you have all of this, and then you'll understand. I don't know that the wait until, I think you either choose to understand it or you don't. You know, I think it's like you kinda just gotta be okay with taking that little feeling of falling and knowing that it's gonna stop eventually, and try to make that a soft landing (laughing) if you can. But know that it's cool if it's not.
So much wisdom baked into there. Alright, I'm gonna shift gears now and I'm gonna go a little bit more about you, personally.
I'm a Sagittarius, which if that wasn't clear already. (laughing)
So, that's a December birthday.
Oh, so good. That's like, you have a sister or something, like the people in your immediate life that you know, you're like oh, you must be an Aries.
No, so. And we've talked about this. We've talked about it off camera. We've been friends for a long time. Do you see yourself doing this forever? What do you translate this into? Do you have an idea of where this is, like what you're pulling on right now? Where's it going because do you keep walking up hills slowly? Or do you try and, you know, do you go to other mountains? I'm answering the question I'm about to ask a little bit but like I know that you wanna get back and part of your connection to Everest has been the Juniper Fund, and so maybe talk a little bit about where your mastery of this universe, where is it taking you next?
Yes, definitely. So, I think the same way that I choose a climbing objective is sort of how I choose a life objective, which is to say, it's complicated. When I'm on a mountain, climbing actively, and people say like oh, what are you gonna do next or what peak are you gonna climb? I always say like that's like calling out someone else's name when you're like with your boyfriend, you can't do that, like I can't cheat on this mountain. Like I'm here doing this now but I definitely wait until I'm inside of that discomfort to find the inspiration for the next thing and so I don't have this like master plan that's written out of my life, where it's like this is where I wanna be, and this is what I'm working towards at the moment. I really take the inspiration of each experience because I'm learning something and it's altering who I am, and the things that I can bring to the next experience, so I don't wanna have like too much rigidity in where I think I'm going, and so I really am like always trying to sort of feel that out, and one thing that has happened super organically like that has been my philanthropic work, and I would love to sit here a little bit taller, perhaps, and be like yeah I founded a nonprofit which supports 39 families, and I do this out of the goodness of my heart. It's like I don't have time to do this, I don't have any skillset to do this, I'm not good at doing this but I saw that passion that was necessary, that necessity, and I knew that no one else was doing it, and I had to do it, and so in 2010, when I was climbing on a peak near Everest in Nepal, the accident that I was alluding to was with a climbing partner of mine who was a Nepali Sherpa, and a close friend. He worked in the United States. We'd formed a close relationship over the preceding couple years climbing together and on a climb we were doing together, he was killed, and he had two young sons, and a wife, and I had to go back to their home without him, when we left together, and it changed my life. You know, it totally changed everything for me and on a sort of big picture level, I committed to his family that I wanted to pay them what his salary would have been as long as I had work. If I had work and I was capable of doing it, I wanted to put back into their family what he would have brought because I felt responsible. He was with me, you know. I felt like that was the right thing to do. I quickly realized that the impact that that small thing had in their lives was massive because it allowed them to sort of do the grieving that they needed to do without worrying about how to feed themselves and how to pay for education, and I really realized that like this is a need that many families have, and they aren't, I don't think that family's lucky they lost their husband and father, it's not lucky but it was lucky that they had somebody like me who was there, who was willing to sort of look at a solution for how to help. Not just guilt money of like here, take this money. I feel so bad but like how can we make this situation better?
Yeah and recurring, and sustainable.
Yes, sustainable, yeah and so, so many families, especially of the Nepali workers. The economics of Nepal are crazy. It's like the third poorest non-African country in the world. You know, their main export is tourism and then they have like power that they sell. Again, the economics are really volatile. They don't have a constitution. It's just a lot of things going on in the country that are challenging and so the local workers that work in the mountains expose themselves to incredible risks. Sometimes that results in death and they don't have a support structure from the government, from individuals, unless they're just lucky enough to have been working for somebody who feels bad enough to give a little cash and usually, it's a one time thing, and it doesn't support a family. So, Dave Morton, who I was mentioning, was my climbing partner and mentor who, you know, we climbed Kilimanjaro with.
Mutual friend of ours.
Yes. Way more stylish than I am, honestly, also. I'm glad you didn't have us on together because I would feel like way out styled by the two of you. We both had been working in Nepal at that point for a while and we both recognized this need to do something bigger, and I said like this model of what I've done with Chuang's family seems like it's working really well and so we started the Juniper Fund in 2012, and what we do is we pay the families of local mountain workers who are killed in the mountains while working, we pay them a cost of living grant for five years. So, it's a temporary grant, so they don't become financially dependent on us and it's about equal to what a year's salary would be for an average worker. It's three thousand dollars a year. Every year at the same time. It's not discretionary. We don't tell them this has to be used for education, this has to be used for something else. We let them choose what they want. Give them that freedom back, that power back that they once had when their primary breadwinner was bringing home a paycheck, and we also create opportunities for those families to become fully financially independent. So, we provide vocational training, classes, for widows, brothers, whomever is the family member that's benefiting and mothers, and we provide small business grants so that they can open their own businesses, and I think right now, I'd have to totally like do the counting, I think we have somewhere between five to seven businesses that we've started.
Well, we have Christina, right here.
Yeah, do we have any total businesses? I mean, she'd probably have to do the counting, too because we're just over in Nepal and like we just started a couple more right now, so. Yeah, a chicken farm and five restaurants at this time. Yeah and so, (laughing) yeah. That came from, you know, training these women in restaurant management and then we're putting, you know, another handful of women through, women and men, through language classes. A variety of language classes, too. One guy's taking Korean classes. A lot of English classes and so that they can better their own situation, and so at the end of the five years, they can be through that primary grieving period, and have some sort of ability to be financially stable and empowered. And I did not ever foresee how big it would become, that accident I mentioned where 16 workers were killed in one accident changed the face of the Juniper Fund because suddenly, we had 16 families. We anticipated about two or three a year and we had 16 in one year, and then the following year, the earthquake happened in Nepal, and we added another 14 families. So, as of today, we have 39 families and we're committed to supporting all of them for five years, and then continuing to be supportive of them through the rest of their lives or our lives, and that to me is the most meaningful work of my life, honestly. If you're gonna write something about me on, you know, my obituary, it's like I hope that that leads. I'd rather be known as somebody who had a positive social impact in a country that is so important to me and has given me so much, and has given me that sort of accolade, and propelled my career. I would love to be known for having done something positive to help contribute back to that country and I'm not doing it, you know, like you're all doing it. You can donate to the Juniper Fund, yourselves. It's not me paying my money, you know. I'm spending my time and I am paying my money but it's just generous donors, I mean really, most of our donations come from private donors who have either been impacted by an experience in Nepal or who just like the mountains and say, yeah. You know, giving a couple hundred dollars to this cause is truly meaningful and our money is going to support these families in a really cool way.
Yeah, I think there's something about being a part of a thing that has so much impact where you can actually feel.
Oh, it's like real tangible.
Yeah, it's very, very tangible and some money goes a long way, and you know the families are verifiably under duress. You know.
Well, and I go and see them early on in the process of after the accident's happened, and then continue to visit with them again, and again over the years, and it is like meeting different people every time because the process of grief, and the process of, because they're in two types of grief, right? Like the loss of somebody you love and also the fear of how am I gonna survive now? Just eating and that is something that like we just don't experience very much in the west. It's just not something, we have a lot of like government welfare programs that prevent that from being a real reality for a lot of people and it's not to say that it doesn't exist but it's less common, and so to see the people morph from this totally ripped with fear to I mean, women who by no measure of their imaginations did they ever think they would own their own business, and be making enough money to put their kids in school, and be like fully flourishing and sustainable. It's just the most beautiful and wonderful thing, and I think a real testament for me to, how passion can be successful, to kind of like turn it back to what we're talking about in the beginning is that if you want to see a business fail, like just fail, (laughing) no parachute type failing, ask two mountain guides to like run a nonprofit. (laughing) Like that's a great way to watch something just like tank but this is so meaningful and like these highly unprepared two mountain guides, Dave Morton and myself, who are like also working full time, are trying to like scrape together like A, the paperwork to get like an approved nonprofit, and then like be responsible with the money that we're trying to raise, and get it to the families, and get this all going, into this now like highly functioning system that we have that's really functional, low overhead, high impact nonprofit that I'm embarrassed and proud to be attached to. I'm embarrassed because I'm like I have no right to be doing something that's this successful because I know nothing about this, like zero. Like I'm going through...
But there's a beautiful lesson in there, is there not?
There is such a beautiful lesson because I think when you think again about like bring it into the middle section about fear and stuff, I don't fear going, and walking under big seracs that could fall and kill me. I fear like sitting at a desk and having to fill out forms to make sure that our nonprofit is properly registered. Like terrifying. Like you just can't possibly, like it makes me feel short of breath even thinking about that and so, I did it, (laughing) and then I got smart, and I hired somebody, thanks Christine, who's much better at doing it than me, and can help us be more effective, and yeah, it's a total lesson in the fact that like I think no matter what it is like, and I always say this is true too, like intention is worth two thirds of action. Like when your intentions are really good, even when your actions are like kind of mediocre because you don't know what you're doing, it kind of fixes itself, in a way, and that's kind of nice.
People will be worked on and I can get, enlist in, and...
And help you, (laughing) yeah. Like I'm not doing this so that anybody knows I did it. I'm doing this because it's a total necessity and I am not good at asking people for money but I'm much less good at sitting at a table with a widow who's crying, and telling her I can't help her. You know, so you prioritize like which thing is less uncomfortable? Like asking people for money is way less uncomfortable than like sitting with grieving widows. For sure, hands down. Definitely.
That's a fair perspective. There's so many things that you said in that last moment. Whether it's referencing Christina or Christine?
Whether it's referencing Christine and the team that you guys have.
Christine, and Dave, and I, who run the show.
Have like born or your relationship with the climbing partner with whom your life is literally, not even figurative.
Literally tied to.
And tied to success together and failure together. Talk to me a little bit about sort of teamwork in your career, on the mountain, in your nonprofit. It's obviously a theme.
I have some awesome metaphor cliches for you, here. Yeah, so something that Dave Morton, this mentor who's the cofounder of the Juniper Fund with me, we talk a lot about this and he calls it the brotherhood of the rope. And what it is when you're attached together by a climbing rope is that you stop using words because your communication comes from your movements, and you can feel each others' movements, and you always know that you're moving towards the same objective, and if one person's moving at a quicker speed than the other, you have to figure out how to fix that because you can't move at two different speeds, and you can't move in two different directions. And so there's this real reality of just like projecting in life that you're kind of always in the brotherhood of the rope with somebody. Whether that's a personal relationship that you're in, whether that's your friendships, whether that's your professional growth. You're in these sort of roped relationships where your communication with words kind of ceases because it's not easy to hear, not easy to understand, and you instead are in this like intuitive line of this is a thing between us that allows us to, as long as we're moving towards the same objective, figure out how to move at the same pace, and figure out how we assess hazards together, and you become like this single, little, amoebic thing rather than this individual. You're a new kind of individual that includes somebody else and I honestly think that like being a self-centered person is probably more challenging in some ways than caring about somebody else because it's easy, for me, to care more about somebody else's health, happiness, well-being, and comfort than maybe my own, sometimes, and so you suddenly are attached to somebody who you're so concerned with their health, happiness, well-being, and forward motion that you disregard the discomforts that you're feeling because you're moving for the unit, not for yourself. You know, so I don't know if that little metaphor.
That was hard to make up all on the spot right there. All I had was brotherhood of the rope. I had no idea where I was gonna go.
But clearly you know it intuitively because you lived it for your entire career, right?
Yeah and I do think that it's like team takes on a whole new thing. Because I do think that so often what we're striving for is individual success but it's born through, I mean. There is no such thing, honestly, to be totally clear. Even the most single, individual, successful person that we can think, who we say oh that person is successful, their success is born from tons of brotherhoods of ropes. I mean, there's so many ropes they're attached to that have gotten them to this point and that is most definitely true for me. I thought that, you know, I really wanted to like climb Everest without the assistance of anything, including supplemental oxygen. This is like a very childish defiance that I've maintained since I was like about three where I was like I can do it myself. Like that's basically what I said. I was like I can do it myself.
I could never think of you in those terms. It's so surprising.
So shocking, yeah.
We've spent a lot of time together. (laughing)
I need to do everything myself. I'm like Chase, don't help me, back, back. Like go away. Yeah and so this was, in my mind, like this grand display of I can do it myself. I don't need your help, oxygen. Like necessary element for all of our survival. I don't need you, like I got this. But at the same time like this is, you know, interesting. When I was on the like final push for 14 hours to the summit of Everest without oxygen, moving just, just death crawl slowly. I had a lot of time to think. Not a lot of oxygen to think but I do remember thinking about the fact that I was being moved along by all of the people who had taught me things and had believed in me, and even the ones that hadn't. It was this incredibly solo experience that was so super collaborative. Like it took all of that to allow me to have that one success of my own and you kind of realize like embarrassingly, like I didn't do this alone. Like nothing really is done alone. You know, it's all done with teams and I think even when you're on like these solo, sort of journeys internally, or externally, or whatever, you're really doing it with the help of a team, and I think that's kind of part of cracking the code, and I'm still working deeply on this but like to be a good team member, and also to be a leader, and like know how to be both. That's the secret, maybe. I don't know.
Let's go to leadership for a second because I have had a very firsthand account of your leadership skills and just a little, quick little context. So, Melissa and myself, and probably, I don't know, 15 other people, 10 or 15? Went to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest peak in Africa.
19340 feet, pretty high, pretty high.
Let's call it 20.
Yeah, 20 thousand feet. We'll call it 20 thousand feet, very high.
I guess you don't round off in climbing.
You don't, it's real specific and like nuanced. It's annoyingly that way, yeah.
Fair enough. And it was to raise awareness for access to clean drinking water, and it was fun. There was a handful of us and we're sending messages back, and we had folks on the ground, and there was a bunch of fancy folks involved. We went all the way to the Obama White House and to Bono, and I think it was reasonably successful but the core to anything that could be called, to reuse your words, a modicum of success, was being on the mountain, being safe, putting one foot in front of another over, and over, and over with a bunch of well-trained people, yourself, Dave, and it was extraordinary to watch you lead a group of largely incapable people.
(laughing) Somewhere in all of you, there was capability and that is what lead to the success of coming home.
Literally, there were rock stars, people who were smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, like at base camp before we left.
Who like quit smoking to just do this tread and then pretty much started smoking like the seventh day, when the trip was done, yeah.
But so I've had the good fortune of seeing you lead. Is that innate in you? Is that something that you have crafted over time being a guide? And what are the core characteristics, you feel like?
I think both. I mean, I've definitely crafted it being a guide. I've sort of like exercised my leadership muscle all the time but like just also I'm a control freak, as I mentioned, plus like super Type A, and like leadership suits me well because I like to be in control of things but I also, I think it comes partially from being a little bit of a challenged learner, myself. I'm not like your typical learner. I really am super tactile. I like to touch things, and see things the exact way you are to truly learn them. So like if you teach me something, sitting here, I'd love to be standing behind you to learn it. I'd love to see it from your perspective and that has given me, I think, what is my greatest asset of leadership, which is empathy, and I can really see people in a variety of different, like say, you know, this wide range of people who are trying to climb this mountain. Again, we all like aligned towards the same goal and I can just see, like rather than feeling judgmental of like what you are or are not expert at in this realm, I can be really empathetic of who you are as a person, and what you're bringing to this, and how hard it must be to be this far out of your element because I like being in control, and I like being the expert, and I do not do well when I'm not, and pretty much all my clients are always that person, right? Like they're usually pretty successful and used to being good at something, and I have like genuinely all the admiration in the world for my clients, for being willing to be that vulnerable in front of me or anybody, and so I try to, in my leadership, I try to approach it with a type of empathy, and kindness, and also just like astute observations of your most fundamental things, and I think there's something about being in the mountains, when it gets really hard, that we like revert back to being children, so I can kind of, pretty quickly, see like how you probably responded best to discipline as a child, and I can figure out if like yelling at you is better than like cuddling you, or if cuddling you is gonna work better, and like we just become very childlike when we're cold, and hungry, and like walking up hills, and physically exerting ourselves, so. I am like basically always just channeling the inner children out of people and then like trying to reassure that inner child in whichever way's possible to let the external adult like know it's cool. Like we got this, you know? Also, I'm a real optimist when it comes to people. Like I deeply believe in what, because and again, this isn't trying to be humble but like I know where my own mediocrity is, and I know what I've been capable of achieving, so I know that when somebody is like putting themselves in front of me, and they're like perfectly average, I know what they're capable of, too. Like I've seen the inside of me. I know it's in there. It's not like something super exceptional or elite. It's just pretty normal and so I have this deep belief in other people of what they're capable of, and I just am always trying to like puzzle, and crack the code of like how do I help them achieve that, too?
We had such a range of physical ability, and of talent.
And emotional preparedness and everything, yeah.
To say herding cats is like the largest understatement. We're on the side of a 20 thousand foot peak and there's no like, there's no like.
No, there's people who were sleeping outside for the first time in their entire life. Like and not just sleeping outside but maybe walking outside for more than like on a city park for the first time, ever, and then there's people who are like really connected to the Earth but have no physical abilities or like desire, necessarily, to even be doing this, and you're like trying to figure it all out. It's really hard. I think that the good thing for me is that I mostly spend time with people who wanna be doing this thing, and they're like really invested in it for whatever reason, and if I can try to find that motivation, I can kind of like continuously. I mean, I think the best training for being a leader probably is like a psychology degree, honestly. (laughing) You know because it's kind of that. You're like kind of constantly balancing the psychology of others with yours and like how that works together, and I just wanna say, like not everybody loves my leadership, like shocking as that may be to you, I know. Not everybody thrives with my type of leadership and I am now at a point in my life where I'm okay with that. Like again, I just know there's good fits and bad fits, and I don't love everybody who I interact with, and so why would everybody love me? You know but I also feel like I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who does seem to get it and I constantly find myself, much like you, like randomly re-mingling back with those people. You know because it's like hey, we kind of get each other. Like this works and you weren't one of the people that needed a lot of guidance on that trip. Thankfully, because my skills were pretty like maxed out at that point but yeah.
Saying herding cats was a massive understatement. It was super, super impressive. When you talk about, I think there's an interesting reflection you're making about being mediocre at a handful of things, and to what degree does sort of self-eval and honesty, and how does that plan out how you approach not just climbing, but like?
Yeah, I think everything and I think that that's the struggle with our own egos, right? Because like in the, you know, and I don't claim to have any sort of again, expertise in this, I'm just figuring it out. It's an experiment for me like it is for all of us but I think that somebody said this to me. Somebody who I really deeply respect and he said like, the only face I have to look at when I'm shaving in the morning is mine, and that meant something to me in a way of like it's true but you also have to look truly all the way in, and so if I buy the hype of all the good things people think about me, I'm not gonna be very nice to be around, right, like I'm gonna annoy you rather quickly, and if I am mired in insecurity, same problem. Like it's hard to be around me for other people but it's also hard to be around yourself in that way and so I think just being willing to remove the distractions that we constantly shroud ourselves with that prevent us from seeing who we really are, and like actually, yeah, being honest about your evaluation. And I don't know if buy the hype is the right way to say it but I think that's probably the most useful skill for all of us, whether there's like external media hype that are writing things about you or it's just your friends around you. It's like you have to be able to separate what other people think of you and what you're doing, and your skillset, and how they believe in you with what the truth of the situation is. And it's not always nice to confront but it's important to confront because how can you move if you're not moving from a place of honesty? It's like I totally can fly. It's like no, you can't. (laughing) Belief is not gonna get you there. You know, it's just not going to and it's like okay, maybe creativity can say I can create a way to fly. Well that's a more honest sentiment. So, trying to like constantly always like figure out that is what I'm always doing.
It was fun to watch you in action.
Problem solve? Because literally, I'm problem solving 15 different people's complex dynamic psychology, plus like weather, plus like anxiety about summiting, plus like production around, so there's like camera courage or camera fear going on in a lot of cases. And everybody needed a different kind of either like cuddling or you know, being...
Yeah, kicking or cuddling, basically. That's like my general spectrum. Where do you fit on this spectrum? Do I kick you or do I cuddle you? And that's hard, yeah. It's real hard and helping people become honest with themselves, and you know the interesting thing is, especially in climbing, my general job as a guide, I always think, is to be a liaison between you and the mountain, and to not otherwise impact your experience. I'm there to help you differentiate between discomfort and danger, and if it moves to the realm of danger, I'm gonna do everything I can to keep you and us as a team safe. If it's in the realm of discomfort, I'm gonna do everything I can to encourage you through that with the tools you already have of how to be okay being uncomfortable, and people come to me with a lot of different tools, and different developed skillsets of being uncomfortable, and some people are just not good at it at all. So, it's a lot of work you gotta do.
I have a blister, you know, like wow.
Or I'm cold. I'm a little bit cold. Like I'm colder than I would be if I was in a temperature controlled room and they're like it's an emergency for them because it truly feels like an emergency. It's like how do I help you know this is not an emergency and feel safe enough to continue? And so the thing I struggle with more often than not isn't people's overconfidence, it's their under-confidence, you know? It's that lack of believing in themselves and forming a relationship that is honest enough from my side, like I said, I wouldn't tell you you weren't a handful if you were because one thing is if I tell you that, and you were a handful, like our trust is immediately broken because you know how to honest with you. You have to look at your own face in the mirror when you shave. You know you're a handful and so you know I'm lying to you, and so you, maybe even subliminally, you don't trust me anymore, and so now when I try to dig deep, and pull that thing out of you, you won't let me because I've broken your trust. So, sometimes my clients feel like I can be hard on them but it's for like the greater good of me having a really honest relationship with them. So, when I say like you have this. You've got this. I know you can do it. This is what we're gonna do to get you there. They know I'm not just like fluffing them along, you know. It's real.
So, god. This is so much. When you climb a mountain with someone, like you're literally, like there's this metaphor that we've been talking about the whole time. I observed and I have climbed just not that much relative to someone who's a professional. Just enough to be dangerous. To make films in these environments.
Yeah, be able to keep yourself safe.
Yeah, exactly. But I've observed in my own experience and especially on that trip, the mental game, and like you said it several times, both sort of cognizantly and in passing, like oh yeah, you go into your own head, and so to what degree do you think success is mental?
To the degree with which you think it is. You know, so there's that trap of the mind, right? So, I think that you can absolutely 100% talk yourself into or out of anything, right? So in that way, success is exactly what you believe it is. More readily, you can talk yourself out of something and especially when you're uncomfortable, and out of your element, so I think about the most common time when it happens, where I see people in their heads, where they feel that they're in danger is about between three and five in the morning, so just before the sun comes up. It's the coldest, darkest hours of the day. You feel like you're out at sea and there's no islands in view, at all. Like you're just out in the middle of it. The summit seems impossibly far away and the camp from which you came seems even further away, and that's where people's mental motivation, and their thoughts really dictate their experience, and they can stop themselves or propel themselves either way. You know and so I always find that that's where my work has to kick in, and that's where I've gotta be your biggest cheerleader to let you know like this isn't awesome for anybody. Including me. Like I'm not having fun right now. Like this is not the fun part. No one's having fun right now. You know like eat a cookie. Eat a candy bar at three in the morning and you're not drunk in college, and like well that's winning, right. Let's find small joys and like continue moving forward, and then the sun is going to come up, and as soon as it does, it's like your world...
It's crazy what happens because then suddenly you can see where you are.
The lights turn on. For those of you who don't know, when you...
The lights quite literally turn on.
When you're climbing one of these, it's a multi day, sleep in the mud, sleep at altitude, altitude sickness, headache. A lot of people were not feeling well. It's very uncomfortable and on the summit day, you are in the dark. You get up about 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning.
Yeah, your life is the sphere of your headlamp.
Yeah and it's very cold, and you're in Africa, and you don't think it's supposed to be cold but you're like looking at snow fields ahead of you. Like your world is literally the radius of your headlamp and you're on a rope or you're in...
In a line with a couple people.
Right and just putting one foot in front of another, and taking a full inhale and exhale every single step because it's hard work. That is a small, narrow, scary, often bored.
I always call it the sleepy time because like it's the time where no matter how psyched you were when you started at midnight, it's like three in the morning, and you're like should I be sleeping right now?
How many more, oh there's 12 more hours of walking.
Yeah and it's interesting because I, so two things that I do. Every time I have like a slight inkling of desire inside of me to do something big, like a big goal that I want to pursue that has anything to do with climbing or physical aspect, I reconsider it at that moment, and I think that that's one of the best barometers I personally have for like is this good choice for me or not because especially if there's cocktails involved but any time you're in a temperature controlled room, big ideas seem always good. It's like let's go climb Kilimanjaro.
That would be awesome.
Let's do it.
Here we are.
Everybody decided to do it in a temperature controlled room. Nobody was like at altitude at 3:00 a.m. in the dark deciding to do it because it's hard to decide to do it but if you can be onboard then, like that's where I feel like you're good. You know, like you know it's gonna be hard because at that time, the other thing that's in my mind is like this is so dumb. Like I should have learned how to surf. There are so many better things that I could be doing with my life. Like this is embarrassing that like I'm wearing literally all my clothes, right now. I'm freezing and like these people are walking quite slow.
We're all not talking, just breathing heavy in the dark.
No one's talking, this is not fun. Like I'm hungry but not really. I'm a little nauseous, too. What have I done with my life? Like I had potential. (laughing) It's like going to the dark place. Me too and I love this, I've made my life about this. Because I know that it's temporary and I can somehow like mentally get through it but it's my job, then, to like help you remember that it's temporary and often, that involves like not talking to you.
It's like just smiling.
That's like the no coffee, don't talk to me zone where you're just like don't try to fix it right now. (laughing) Just know that time is ticking and it will get fixed. Like the sun will come and do magical things to all of us.
That's very sort of team-oriented and you're guiding folks, like me and others up a peak, and then there's you, 250 vertical feet below the summit of Everest and you don't have oxygen.
By the way, 250 vertical feet below the summit of Everest without oxygen is about two hours of climbing, still. Just think about that. With oxygen, it's about 15 minutes. (laughing) So, there's like a real like matrix you've entered where time and distance no longer apply to each other in the same ways that they used to, so that's the first thing that is insane is it's so slow.
What's the cognition like?
I've only done it once. I'm not going to try to do it again so I can only say what was happening really in my mind, then and I, when things are really, really hard for me, and that was a time when it was really hard but it also was easier because I saw how close it was, but I knew that it's only halfway. Right because I still have to descend safely. So like getting there, by no means do I feel this sense of relief but I know I'm that close to halfway, which feels good. (laughing) Weirdly.
Do the math, there.
Yeah like do the math. Figure out like you're only in the middle of it. I, when things are really hard, try to go to this mental place, and this is a tool I used when I started training for these big climbs by running like long races, marathons, or ultra marathons, or whatever because I deeply dislike running, and so I used it as a mental training to say if I could run a marathon, if I could run for like three or four hours at a time, I definitely can like climb for 15 hours because I like climbing, I don't like running. But when it got really hard, I would go to this place of like dedicating sort of like a mile of gratitude towards some person, place, thing, whatever that had helped me get to where I was, and I found myself just like really naturally doing that near the summit of Everest, and it was like this trudge through the trenches of gratitude of my life, of all of the people, particularly, that had offered me any small thing, and the smallest of things, and I literally was in my mind thinking about my first year working as a mountain guide, when that lead guide who I just totally respected but was super stoic, and barely ever complimented anybody said, like, yeah I like working with Melissa. She's a hard worker and I was thinking about that, and how that sentence had buoyed me through that whole first season, really. You know and it's inconsequential. They don't remember saying it and then going deeper into like the more meaningful relationships in my life with people who had put in the work to believe in me, even when I was, you know, waffling or going through massive transitions, and just sort of, I mean, that's how it felt was like trudging through all of the wonderful things in my life that had brought me to that moment, and how it was such a shared experience. It was so non-solitary for how alone it really was. It was so non-solitary. It was so built on the backs of everybody else who had really helped me get there and I also had this really intense feeling that it wasn't the pinnacle of what my life would be. You know, like I kinda knew. Like yeah. You know, I'm in the middle of this climb, so I still have to descend but I'm like in the middle of this life, and the thing that's gonna be the thing, like I feel immensely proud of myself for sticking with something that's so hard over eight years. Not like eight minutes or eight hours, or eight months. Like eight years and then seeing it through. Like this has just now given me a tool set that I can use to do something else. It's not gonna be the pinnacle of what I'm gonna do and that's truly what I was thinking.
Yeah and then I cried, and like I said, I'm not like a crier. I called Christine on the sat phone to tell her that I was there, and I was sort of checking in periodically to like let her know in the U.S. and Seattle, so like I mean it was the middle of the night I guess because it was the middle of the day there.
You were up waiting for the phone call?
Newborn baby, like a couple week old newborn baby. So, up anyway, right.
She's awake. (laughing)
And I was so super emotional because I just, it was a disbelief, really. Like holy and disbelief but also like deep knowledge that I could do it, you know. It was just so cool to be at that point of like here I am. I've literally worked towards something. It's hard to work towards something and fail at it so many times, and keep going back, and trying again, and I think that's what people could ridicule. It's like why go back, why go back? And all I can say is I needed that 250 vertical feet of gratitude to sort of like re-anchor me into not thinking I'm just like some amazing person. Like I needed to reroute myself to the fact that those first steps I took, my very first peak I ever climbed to the summit of when I was 19 years old, and like seeing the mountains for the first time are what got me to the summit of Everest. It wasn't those steps, actually walking the summit of Everest. It was every single thing that happened along the way.
Wow. I could talk to you forever.
(laughing) Let's do but we won't keep anymore of your time.
We should probably turn the cameras off. We'll keep talking. What's the best way for people to pay attention to you. Are you just Melissa Arnot or?
Yeah, yeah so Melissa A-R-N-O-T. On social media, I try to keep people apprised to all the different adventures that I'm doing, and you can always check my website, and see what kinda things are going on.
And the Juniper Fund?
Yep, the juniperfund.org. A lot of people ask about juniper. It's burned as like sort of a cleansing and protecting thing in the Buddhist culture, so that's why we selected that, and you can check out the juniperfund.org, and see what things we're doing, and you can actually see some of the pictures of the businesses that we support, and families we're actually currently supporting.
I think it's incredible, the work you're doing.
Thank you for being a guide, a mountain guide in part, also a guide for this conversation here. Thank you so much and it's so good to see you. It's been a little bit too long.
Not this long again, okay?
No, definitely not this long again. It's a great honor to be able to sit here and chat with you.
You guys, thanks so much for tuning in. I look forward to seeing you guys again. Probably tomorrow.
(laughing) I won't be here tomorrow. You're on your own. (electronic music)