Friday, February 22, 2008

London Thoughts

The Stanford University people invited me to London to participate in an Alumni meeting. It was a great meeting, extraordinary well organized by Laura Moore and her team. I spent a great week in London.

In the meeting, Prof. Charles O’Reilly presented Stanford’s new curricula and talked about leadership, presenting several vignettes of leaders taking tough decisions. Beforehand, I had made my presentation, which went very well.

As it always is, the best part came with the Q&A and later in the cocktail.

The lessons of the ordeal.

Someone asked me what my accident had meant to me. What I took from it in my day to day life. My easy answer was that I didn’t really know, that I couldn’t tell to what extent our ordeal had affected my life. But that is not really an honest or profound answer. Although it is true that I cannot trace the traits of my personality to what happened in the mountain, it is true that I have learned something from it. And it is about hope, it is about trust, it is about not having all the answers, it is about not having the last word. And up there, we knew that. We knew that even after doing all what we did, after doing all what was humanly possible, we didn’t have the last word. And that is something that I learned. Later in life I fought hard to attain my objectives but once I have fought hard, the result will eventually come if they have to come. We are not the owners of the end results; we only know how hard we can work, because in this life we don’t have everything under control.

Up there in the mountains, we were not sure that we were going to survive; we only knew that we had a chance to survive, and we fought hard for it. God was with us but we didn´t have all the answers. When now I face a crucible, I fight hard, I do what I can, but I know in advance that I can’t control everything. That is hope, it is trust and it gives me an enormous peace of mind.


In the cocktail after the presentation, one alumnus asked me if after going through such an ordeal, which required all that adrenaline, I didn´t feel bored with ordinary life. I was shocked with the question; I never tried to imply that an ordinary and balanced life is a boring life. I have been misunderstood. What I mean is that we need to find motivation and meanings in our day to day life, not necessarily in far reaching objectives.

The truth is that after those mountains in the 70´s, I had others to climb, and they all came with their additional doses of adrenaline and challenge. And mountains do come, even as if we don’t look for them. Mountains do appear in life, climbing mountains is what life is all about.

I wonder what type of mountain this guy was aiming to climb. Maybe he was told at school that he should climb the highest of all the mountains. But not all of them are going to get that high, and even those who get to the top, I ´m sure that they see ahead higher steps which we don’t see. But they see them. And the truth is that everyone has to know that the ladder does not always go up, sometimes it is just flat, and it can come down.

Sometimes, people just don’t get me when I say that I am proud to have lived an ordinary life out of an extraordinary episode. We all need to have a meaningful life, contributing from the actual situation of our life, from there we are demanded to live a fruitful and meaningful life. In some cases, just taking care of yourself is what you have to do, it is what some of us did in the mountain.

Giving up.

We were having dinner at a nice Italian Restaurant in London. One of the guys who was with us told me that he heard me saying that people don’t give up, but he himself, having served in the military forces for many years and actually been in the Vietnam war, he saw people giving up.

Yes, it is true, and I know that people commit suicide, and that is really giving up. But what I saw in the mountains, is that as long we thought we had a chance to survive we fought hard to survive and we didn´t give up.

I asked him why people that come from war don’t talk about it as we do about our ordeal. We love talking about it, sometimes we have a compelling need to talk. And the answer was that people coming back from WWII did talk, but people from Vietnam are stigmatized and their experience is not socially welcomed. He said that they talked among themselves.

Thinking twice, I believe war has other ingredients. It is a limit experience and maybe heroic as well, but people are driven into such extreme and unique situations which are difficult to understand by those who were not there.

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