A Time to Creep, A Time to Soar: Lessons learned for work and life from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. — Helen Keller

My second book, A Time to Creep, A Time to Soar: Lessons learned for work and life from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. In addition to becoming my second book offering, this Kili topic is also my newest keynote presentation; which, as the title suggests, uses my climb experience as a metaphor and springboard for inspirational and concrete workplace (and life) applications.

Here, below, is a sample handout of my Kili presentation, sharing with you the variety of platform points and messages I interactively deliver. I hope, right in the here-and-now, that you get good value from these insights. And if you see a good fit between these themes of planning, goal-setting, team-building, perseverance, visioning, reaching for your (professional) dreams, etc. and my speaker services to deliver the same, please feel free to give me a call. I’d love to bring this presentation to your organization or association…to your good team, staff or association members in the balance of 2013 or into 2014!

What dream, life accomplishment, goal or achievement are you targeting?

Whatever your goal, consider these lessons learned from my climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro


Beginning well is crucial to positive outcomes–it can mean the difference between winning and losing/success and failure. Preparation positions people correctly. It’s about taking time now to evaluate the way ahead later.

“Preparation doesn’t begin with what you do. It begins with what you believe. If you believe your success tomorrow depends on what you do today, you treat today differently. If you are preparing today, chances are, you will not be repairing tomorrow.”—John Maxwell

a. Dealing With the Negatives: “You’ve never hiked or climbed before–heck, you’ve never camped before! You really think you can do this?” “No matter how much you train, it won’t be enough.” “You’re starting with Kili? That’s like doing a PhD without doing high school!” Carping skeptics exist in every workplace (and family, too!). Others may feel you’re an old dog who can or won’t learn new tricks. It’s up to YOU to prove you can shift perspectives and get others to shift perspectives (about you and about projects, etc.), too. To fan the flames of passion for your goals, and to inspire others to do and feel the same, identify and declare all the “positives” you can muster…and learn quickly how to shift perspectives.

Remember 123 – ABC

b. Overcoming Barriers: research; gather data; interview others; bring others into your circle; information share and self-disclose-a problem shared is often a problem halved.

Benefits of Overcoming Barriers; increased fear “lights a fire”; gathered info calms and reassures; self-disclosure and asking for help leads to new friendships, associations and alliances; discovery of new vantage points; increases fitness-figurative and literal/physical and mental/emotional; gather sage wisdom to pay forward/to share with others, to ease their way when they venture forth; can become acquainted with highly profiled people.

c. Equipment, Tools and People Needed to “Get the Job Done”: What’s needed to be successful at the task, beyond “right attitude”–the right tools, people and resources. Be resourceful–resourcefulness is a skill that anyone can develop. It’s the ability to see problems and solve them creatively. Team members who think “solutions” instead of problems can be difference makers; teams with a resourceful mindset can really get things done!

d. Training: Do I do it alone or engage a team? If you self-disclose and appeal to others, oftentimes they will step up. Remember the importance of spaced repetitious learning/Law of the Harvest. Accept fitness trainers/coaches/advisors into your plan–those who can see you beyond how you see yourself.

Remember: Anything worth doing well, is worth doing poorly at first.” – Brian Tracy

2. THE CLIMB — The “Main Event”

a. Departure, Arrival and 1st Sighting: Not being able to see what was right in front of my face–happens at work, too, when, e.g. we don’t understand a leader’s vision for our team, department, whole organization. When have you not been able to see what your leader or others could see–did you get out of your own way and exercise trust?

b. Day 1, Rainforest/Jungle: Sometimes you get stuck before you even started! Easy inclines, easy challenges can still yield damaging/injuring results if not remaining thoughtful, mindful and consciously present. Pole, pole (“pol-ee”) is Swahili for “slowly, slowly”, to stay safe and fit, and also to see the rewards of the unexpected along the project’s way. Embrace the value of the plateau, for rest and recuperation after all the ramping-up of the first days of a project.

c. Day 3, The “Thrill” is Gone: “Chop wood, carry water” days arrive quickly on a project-tedium of the task sets in; “What am I doing here???” thinking begins. Fortify yourself and guard against. “Climb high, sleep low” (one step forward, two steps back) seems defeatist of purpose/of the ultimate goal–but consider stretching and then relaxing a bit, like a rubber band. No looking at the vistas en route–just look at the next step/eyes down and focus. Know your ultimate goal, but concentrate on the now. Acknowledge how much support staff are so often everyone’s desperately needed cheerleaders. Check-in, (medically) regularly. “Where are you at on a scale of 1 – 10?” Assess results. Working in the shadow of “the wall” is like whistling in the graveyard–sometimes parts of a project are scary!

d. Day 5, The (Kizee) Wall: There comes a point in every project where you “hit the wall”; what do you do? Trust those with expertise; trust leaders and guides of the project, even if in other ways, you have more expertise and positional and/or professional status. Recognize even if you’re a “bigger” leader elsewhere, know when to be a good follower. Consider self-disclosure, sharing information/use your voice–tell the truth re where you’re at and feeling when safe to do so. Suspend ego and false bravado, and ask for help (“pride goes before a fall”). Take care of your teammates–lend a literal and metaphoric hand and cheerlead, too. Access your positive emotional and attitudinal skills, and encourage the same in your teammates through tough times. Release your stress in a meaningful and productive way when safe to do so and express earnest praise and gratitude to those who helped you through.

Remember: We’re all in this boat together!

e. Day 6 & 7, “Project” Summit Day Eve and Day: Mixed emotions may arise–fear, nausea, anticipation, anxiety, concentration, focus, elation and, of course, excitement. At trickiest parts of a project, stay mindful and remember to go slow, slower, slowest/pole, pole gets you there. Acknowledge and have respect for the conditions under which you may be operating, e.g. 2/3rds less oxygen, wind, cold, difficult people, etc. Support staff lightened the literal and metaphoric load and “whistled while we worked”; sang us through. Pacing is everything–is essential to reserve some energy for the wrap up/for the descent/for the project’s “end game”. Some don’t protect reserves and fall. Enjoy the moment of glory/frolic in success AND also stay on purpose–mindful despite the sunshine of the moment. Don’t spend your whole load at the top/keep reserves for the project’s finish line. Damage and injury to a goal or project can still occur while on high and down low, right up until official project completion–be ever-aware.

f. Day 8 & 9, Descent: After all the up hill climb challenges, the come down is easy, basking in the after-glow, better breathing with every step. Enjoy a collective emotional exhale. With relative ease of the wind down, it becomes safer to look around and admire the vistas, but one must still stay mindful and recognize the dangers of the yet unfinished project/the “mountain climb” is not over until it’s O-V-E-R, e.g. the Montreal group the day after us, or the other man of whom we heard sad news of his death and my own injury at the 45 minutes before completion mark.

g. Day 9, Evening–Transition Rituals, Celebration, Reflection and Documentation: It’s important to pause to celebrate and commemorate hard-earned victories (some people and leaders neglect or minimize individual and team achievements, e.g. ceremony, fanfare). Personally and publicly acknowledge and reward achievements and goals reached. Identify most appropriate and meaningful rituals of celebration and transition back to “normal”–champagne! Ice cream! Staff Appreciation Events! Whatever! Express gratitude for the support of all others who helped (including the often unsung front-line heroes of the project, and express that gratitude in ways they can appreciate–not just in ways that work for you). Reflect, journal, record the journey’s insights and results, setbacks, woes and successes, too/the lessons learned. Pay it forward/share your information and insights with other teams/staff members to make the path easier for the next individuals or teams who dare to try the way.

DID I HAVE FUN? DID WE HAVE FUN? What’s your definition of fun? Your team’s? What does fun look like? Sound like? Can it be “fun” if there’s not any laughter? Be the initiator of fun or be a willing participative audience for another’s humor initiative, every day.

So Back to the Beginning: What dream, life accomplishment, goal or achievement are you targeting? Professionally? Personally? Time to commit now? Make haste! Begin Anywhere, Now.

A Summary of A Time to Creep, A Time to Soar Messages Presented

1. Prepare–research, investigate, equip, practice, train/rehearse (your body and your mind!); simulate where you can

2. Be ready for the worst and hope for the best; there may be “storms” (both physical and emotional)

3. Evaluate risk and move with attention and respect

4. Work hard, consciously, purposefully and with intent towards your ultimate, as well as intermediate, goals

5. Remember unsung heroes along the way/the value and importance of the ” little guy “/wind beneath wings

6. Accept fear, but not complacency, e.g. Martina Navratilova’s story: “It’s just a basic hike.”

7. Expect to “Hit the wall” at some point along the way; how are you going to deal with that? mind game

8. Recognize and acknowledge there will be lots of “climate change” and “atmospheric evolution”

9. Just take the next step/it takes only one step; and go “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly, as they say in Swahili)

10. Fuel yourself generously to go the distance; breathe!/replenish/hydrate/feed your body (your team/staff, etc.)

11. You never succeed/reach the top alone; it may be a solitary experience at times, but it takes a team

12. “Altitude sickness” can take many forms–what can you do to fortify yourself, emotionally? physically?

13. Take time to reflect; remember to look back to see where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished

14. “It ain’t over ’til it’s O-V-E-R-!”; sloppiness, careless and autopilot actions at the project’s end can hurt

15. Hakuna Matata!; embrace ceremony, celebrate victories and document your results for posterity’s sake

16. Pay it forward: tell your tale; share your news and insights to inspire and guide others on the path

What it Takes to Climb a Mountain is Also What is Needed to Drive Employee/Workplace Engagement


Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro Key Engagement Drivers & Areas of Focus
The Preparation: Negatives & positives and overcoming barriers and obstacles. Organizational Vision: If we are going to achieve our plans, we must all be aligned,
understand where we are headed and how we will get there.
Securing the equipment, tools and People needed to get the job done. Innovation: Apply new and better ways to work.
Training: Making sure you have the skills/preparation needed to reach your goal. Professional Growth: Grow the employee experience/nurture staff professional development.
The Climb & Descent: Team of 12 climbers and over 50 staff, all with different roles, working together to reach the same. Teamwork: Promote team spirit and cooperation.


Elements of all of the above employee engagement drivers played a role in my preparation, journey and successful climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and can offer professionals at any level within their organizations insights on how to better approach their individual and team workplace/career visions and goals.

It’s my hope that you and your people get the opportunity to experience this energizing and inspiring keynote presentation shortly, and take away valuable ideas for summiting your own workplace/team mountains! It would be my pleasure and honour to be of service. Feel free to give me a call at 416.588.3334 or email nina@ninaspencer.com

Sending you my best always,


Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death.
— Unknown

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.
— Walter Bageho

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
— Victor Hugo

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