Why it's cold at the top - your career heights

koryaksky volcano, kamchatka, winter-2790656.jpg

“Cold is merciless. It shows you where you are. What you are”

Wim Hof

It is cold at the top – But could be warmer

Disclaimer – This post is not just about mount Everest. I crave your indulgence to read till the end to get the deductions.

It is incredibly cold at the top of Mount Everest, which is known as the tallest mountain on the face of the earth. The weather and climate of Mount Everest is reputed as one of extremes. Freezing temperatures and high winds from the jet stream that engulf the mountain during certain seasons can make the climb on the mountain nearly impossible. Yet many dared the odds and embarked on the risky expedition without a second thought.

From outer space, the top of mount Everest can be seen jutting out like a recalcitrant rocky outcrop as it pierces through the atmosphere as though pointing to the heavens.

Why then would any sane person have the audacity to climb a whooping height of 8,849m rocky outcrop?

The question becomes even more worrisome to answer after over 200 climbing deaths have been recorded till date on the steep steps of Mount Everest. In fact many of the bodies remain well preserved till date under alternate extreme temperatures to serve as a grave reminder for those who follow. 

To put this scary statistic in context, there has been at least one death each year from attempts made to reach the summit of the tallest mountain on earth. One death per year!

Yet many will attempt this expedition on the steep steps of Everest where even the simplest of tasks on easy ground with a small backpack becomes physically demanding and mentally taxing.

In many of our careers, we will start at the foot of the pyramid akin to the foot of Mount Everest. We will compete with several equally well placed and qualified individuals in a dire attempt to climb up the ladder into leadership roles. Many times the fight is dirty and without thought. The competition is fierce, and many will fall off like dead flies, while others will barely hang on for their careers after poor decisions or mishaps will shake the foundation of their resolve.

Just like Mount Everest, the bottom of the pyramid is littered with empty oxygen and cooking-gas cylinders, tins, tents, sleeping bags, food, ropes, batteries, plastics, and the frozen corpses of climbers who have died on the mountain. They are the relics of the fierce competition at the start of your careers.

Think again about when it all started. Some will consider the start of their careers a lucky break, others will consider it well deserved. Some found soulmates, turned colleagues into friends, while others stacked self-inflicted hurdles along their own way. Still, they competed for the next career move while looking ahead at roles they aspire to reach in their careers.

Why can’t they aspire for the top roles and the pinnacle of their career when just like Mount Everest, even an amputee scaled the world’s tallest peak in 1998 (Tom Whittaker became the first) and the 13-year-old Jordan Romero from America followed a decade and some later in 2010. One can therefore never be too young to aspire for great achievements, or too old as the 70-year-old Yuichiro Miura from Japan proved in 2003.

The farthest anyone would go in their career is the farthest they can see (dream/visualize)

As the climb through the career pyramid progresses, some will switch roles, change jobs, suffer with bad bosses, learn and develop unhealthy habits and behaviors, become introverted to protect themselves or learn the hard way. Others will morph into sycophants and slave for their bosses to curry their favor, while some will fight endless battles to prove a point or two. In the end the objective is to climb up that pyramid and to excel as much as possible to the pinnacle where the Maslow’s hierarchy of need promises self-actualization in a bid to attain one’s full potential.

Just like on Mount Everest, as you go higher the amount of oxygen available (at about 8,000 m), is only one third the amount of oxygen available at sea level and it becomes increasingly colder!

As you climb up your career, your circle of friends become even smaller and the warmth of being in a familiar territory is completely lost to the constant intrigues of office politics in order to navigate the complex social structure of the workplace. Sometimes at that level, the intensity of the boardroom trickeries and politics driven by self-interests and survival tactics can be choking and numbing.

And then it starts to get colder.

During the race to the top, many will make enemies by just being themselves, while others would make one through bitter unguarded conflicts leaving burnt bridges in the aftermath. Some will make fans and garner following from those in the lower rung but fight bitterly with superiors in value-clashing conflicts. For others, it is the reverse.

It takes 2 months to make the deathly climb up the steep steps of Everest, but for some it would take forever to climb up the career pyramid. This isn’t because they do not have the technical competence or the social capital to manage it, but because there are others who have earned it or deserved it more yet only a few can reach the heights and rewards that the top of the pyramid offers.

In the end, the journey up the ladder will determine how cold it gets at the top!

The same way shriveling bodies of other once giddy and excited charlatans lay within the rocky ruins, many will trip over the steps to the death of the careers- imploding in psychological quagmire. Many will get caught up on the wrong side of office politics only to be deposed ingloriously or forced to resign to fate.

But the evidence would still be there, and their stories shared by longstanding and dogged veterans of the boardroom politics to warn and welcome newcomers. Yet many will make the same mistakes.

At the top, there is only space for few, and it gets desperately lonely. Few will trust you as their leader, seeing how you trudged on delicately in order to survive and stay afloat fighting for their “interests” cleverly eclipsed by yours. It becomes even more difficult to impress the rest of the business leadership and the excitement of attaining the once dizzy heights is replaced by trepidation of doom.

At the top, in order to stay afloat, you will need to band in small groups to align interest – to share warmth. One dissenting opinion and you are the next bull-eye-target. Eliminated without a second thought for others to survive. If your usefulness outlives these career killing attempts, then one would become a relic preserved only for the purpose of appearance or completeness.

Its indeed tough at the top!

The question then remains. Why do dare-devils want to climb the mountain? Is it simply because it’s the natural order of things for every one’s career or because it is reserved solely for those who aspire for more?

You won’t believe the interesting lessons I found?

1, Climbing Mountains will teach you Patience, Persistence, and gratitude – The first amputee to ever climb Mount Everest reached the summit on his third attempt despite his physical limitation. There was no way he could have achieved that if he gave up on the way. The fight for our career growth is often a long a tough one. No one said it would be easy. Brace up and realize that your famed technical skillsets can only take you so far, you will need a lot of social skills, people management, communication and deft navigation of office politics to soar into dizzy heights.

2, It would teach you about change and being prepared for change

If you ever spent time in the mountains, you would know that the weather changes in a heartbeat, so being prepared is key. Every mountain is different so much of the time you also have to change your route. There is never just one way up a mountain, sometimes the route is many other ways or something is blocking the way. Need I say More?

Change is the most constant thing in life, and you must brace up for a lot of bumpy ride on your way up. Mergers and acquisitions, sweeping management change, change forced by imploding industry and all sort of intrigues.

3, It would teach you to enjoy the small luxuries of life – While we fight our way to the top, many times our families pay the ultimate price. They suffer neglect and are relegated to the back. This I reckon is the most criminal offense a person can commit. Because when everything else fails, the family is the fail-safe! They would become a huge luxury if after attaining the heights there is no one to share the excitement with.

4, It would teach you to be positive – No one attempts the risky climb up Everest with the mindset that they would perish. There is no reason why in spite of all the bumps on the way up your career you should wear a gloomy face and sulk like a defiant teenager. A positive attitude can change any circumstance, if deliberately created or not. The task of staying positive is the responsibility of the individual. You are responsible for your own happiness remember! Always project positivity in your encounter or dealings with others. It adds a fine feather to your personality and originality. Stay Positive.

5, It would teach you the value of social capital and network – Hikers and climbers are an awesome and daring breed of people with a lot of similarities. They are all positive, strong, confident and happy lots.

Going up the career ladder will thrust you into the finest breed of the industry- people you share common aspiration, goals and reward systems. You will learn to network at an incredibly high level and build external supports for future aspirations. You compete at a level where the intent is not to outwit each other but to support. This makes the climb even more rewarding.

Please share your insights about this post and what you think about the frost bites and freezing cold at the top of your careers or is it Mount Everest?

Trivia – Mount Everest keeps growing taller (by 4 mm) each year.

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9 thoughts on “Why it’s cold at the top – your career heights!”

  1. Office or boardroom politics has created toxic atmosphere in workplaces. As for me, I have realised that only skill set, higher qualifications and strengthening one’s professional network that could help to convert the negative energy to the benefit of sustaining one’s happiness and life fulfilments. At the end, companies restructure, they sometimes fire and could even force employees to consider a constructive dismissal. When you take a snap at some organisations after less than two decades, you may realise that none of those desperations worth the value of some relationships that they have destroyed. Should one still attempt to climb that high mountain? Yes! but…
    Attemp to achieve your life goals without trumping on others ambition. Make deliberate efforts to build people!
    It is correct that the peak of the mountain Everest can only take a few but there are so many “Everests” waiting to be climbed in our life journey and you could even create your own mountain for others to climb. Take it easy!

  2. Thanks for sharing these deep insights into the way up in life,using mount Everest to depict it just seem so perfect. I for one now believe that every career stage is to be considered the step for the actualization of the next 2 or 3 careers and while it may not be panning out yet,but will always keep the need to develop more interests at the front burner not minding the dividends of the current stage.
    Akin if you have the statistics of death of those who got to the top of Mount Everest but died on their way down,will really appreciate it and if there are any rewards for getting to the top of it or just personal glory.
    Thanks for taking time to put this together. Nice one omo Akin

    1. I will fetch data on the number of deaths on the return to the foot of the mountain. However, in the career trajectory, that isn’t a likely scenario. The reward is personal glory and perhaps some sort of recognition/plaque

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