Nina Spencer

Busting the Myth: Who, you climb a mountain??? Honey, you’re not the type!

I'm having some fun telling certain people I'm climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro because some people (who don't know me well enough, perhaps), think they've got me all figured out; as such, they just can't fathom me doing something so "out-doors-y" as climbing the world's tallest freestanding mountain. In some people's minds, I'm just, "not the type" to power walk, hike, camp, sweat, climb, not wash my hair for 9 days (ugh! I'll go along with that one!), etc. Oh ye of little knowledge, I say to thee. I'm more complex than one may think. Aren't we all?

Is it just me, or do you, too, like to prove some people wrong about who they think you are? The ones who think they know you oh-so-well. I confess, I like the shock value of exposing a new layer of who I am and what I'm all about to people who think they've got me slotted....to see the metaphoric question mark and, "Huh, her?" cartoon bubble hanging over their heads. It's hard breaking stereotypes about ourselves, especially when we know that we are, at least in part, responsible for the impression and image that others may have of us at work or elsewhere. Such impressions may regretfully stick to us a long, long time, thanks to the way we walk, the way we talk, the things we do or do not say or champion, day-in an day-out. Sometimes, it's probably true, we are the authors of our own misfortunes regarding any disagreeable stereotypes of us that we know are floating around out there.

I remember being stuck and slotted in my corporate job for many years, years ago, before I grabbed the chance to break away and prove myself internally to my employer. I was a "good little drone" and didn't speak up or stick out that much, nor exhibited much ambition to move ahead back then. But even when I finally awoke and strove for professional progress-finally getting the internal job of my dreams, back in the 80's--it was an uphill struggle to gain the respect and credibility I eventually earned and enjoyed in my facilitative position in Corporate Training/HR/OD.

A professional stereotype about ourselves can be steeped in at least some reality but, like so many stereotypes, the ones about us in the workplace may not be entirely true; yet these misconceptions can follow us around for years, seriously undermining our professional credibility, sabotaging important opportunities to share valuable information and be heard and, for some, may even rattle professional self-esteem.

I may look and act stereotypically like, "Mary Tyler Moore" to some, but I'm tough too...and determined, and I have moxy and "spunk" (which Mr. Grant always feigned he hated in Mary...her spunk). And I can climb that mountain. And I will. To date, including this day's 5K hike of my city's grand High Park, I've logged 351 hiking kilometers in my quest to be in the best shape I can by January, 2011. Where did the fire in my belly come from to try so hard at my training??? Well, for the most part, I believe I stoked it myself, as a way to control and subdue my feelings of intimidation over the quest; but I tell you this, some of it also came from a woman who hardly knew me at all, who told me, back in July, "My aunt did Mt. Kilimanjaro last year and she said it was tough, tough, tough. And I'm telling you this, Nina, no matter how hard you train, it won't be enough!" Well, I suppose the proof will be in the pudding (or on the mountain). But I found myself thinking, in response to this perceived arrogant remark, "How the heck would she know what is or isn't enough training for me?!" I resented this person's predetermination that I'd be ill-prepared for my climb, in the end, "no matter what"! And that, my friends, made me all the more determined to train "enough" and prove her wrong-or shall I say, prove me right? Guess she did me a favour after all, eh? And, although it remains to be seen if she or I am right, I am very respectful about what I'm about to embark and am taking my training very seriously. "Succeed" at sumitting or not, it won't be from lack of training and trying. Or, to put it positively, if I succeed at summitting, it will be because I prepared as very best I could, physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

So, with 12 weeks to go, and lots of Ks already logged, but still lots of time for more, I'm doing my best to make sure I'll be able to look myself in the mirror, and face my pledgers, too, and say I did all I could to train as best I could. I'm even taking altitude acclimatization training in some sort of chamber device soon, too, not to mention camera lessons to figure out my brand new, first-time-ever fancy digital, slice 'em/dice 'em camera! Yes, I've finally joined the 21st century, a decade in, and bought a digital camera just last week. Good-bye film. Good-bye. Nice knowin' ya.

A 17K Rattlesnake Point Hike for me this weekend with my fellow Kili AIM climbers, rain or shine. Will report back then, if not earlier. Colder here now, so, in addition to trying out my new camera, I get to try out all my wintery clothing gear, too. Soon it will be so cold, I'll get to try out my 800 count goose-down, "push-to-the summit" jacket, too. Yipee! (Wash my mouth with soap that I should actually wish the weather to be so cold that I get to test my jacket! Sorry about that, if you live in Canada, along with me).

And one last thing: consider having a new trick up your sleeve every now and then, to show to yourself, and to others, there's more to you than meets the eye...to fend off those who would "slot" you all the rest of your life. Always be open to what other potential talents lie within, whether you're 30 40, 50, 60...who knows what else you're capable of, or destined to do, eh? You could be on the cusp of a whole new, exciting, different and prosperous career at 60! You just never know what's going to happen next...what "mountain" of your own you may end up successfully climbing.

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains And we never even know we have the key.
- Lyrics from Already Gone, performed by the Eagles for their 1974 On the Border album

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
-- Henry David Thoreau

How frequently the reward of beauty is associated with the dignity of toil, as if nature consciously reserves her noblest effects for those who take some trouble to earn them.
-- Sir Arnold Lumm, Writer & Mountaineer