Two Recent Ross Graduates Came To Me For Advice Before Climbing Mt Everest –– Here’s What I Told Them

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Just before our 2017 Commencement Ceremony this spring, I was approached by two graduating Michigan Ross students, Adam Levine and Grant Nordstrom. They asked me a question:

“We’re climbing up to Mount Everest base camp, what advice do you have for us?”

In recent weeks, there have been several tragic deaths on Everest. My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of these climbers, because I know how difficult and taxing climbing Everest can be. How it wears on you, but also how it teaches you important life lessons.

The advice I shared with Adam and Grant was rooted in my own experiences summiting Mt. Everest and other mountains around the world. And when Grant sent me the picture above of Adam and himself successfully reaching base camp, I began to reflect on how the lessons of their experience are important for anybody looking to summit new heights or conquer new challenges.

Before Grant and Adam departed for Nepal, I offered them three pieces of advice:

The most important step in accomplishing your goals is the next step.

In other words, no matter how difficult life seems, no matter how much adversity you face, resilience is taking the next step. No matter how tired. No matter how much fear. No matter how far outside of your comfort zone. Each step is one step closer to your goal, and resilience is taking that next step and not worrying about all of the steps to follow.

Go slow to go fast.

Whether you are looking to summit Mt. Everest or speeding through professional life on the fast track, it is easy to go so fast that you miss what is most important. On Everest, slow and steady is the key to success.

Your health depends on it, and without your health, your expedition is over. In our professional lives, slowing down to reflect, learn, and identify new opportunities is the key to accelerating our fast track. Similarly, if you are a leader who is looking to transform an organization, slowing down to ensure sufficient communication and buy in is essential, otherwise you fall trap to an illusion of speed.

You move quickly until organizational resistance sends you all the way back to the beginning. By slowing down, we accelerate.

Remember your purpose.

People trek to base camp or look to summit Mt. Everest for many different reasons, but from personal experience, it is very easy to lose sight of your original purpose. You set out to see the world, experience a different culture, experience the thrill of personal challenge, or to re-discover yourself. But then you start up that mountain, everyone around you is pushing forward, and all that begins to matter is getting to the top.

We lose sight of why we came in the first place. Last week, I gave a presentation in Shanghai about leadership, purpose and legacy, and I was amazed at how many people approached me afterwards thanking me because they had lost sight of their purpose in life, or the purpose they aspired to as leaders in business.

As a mountaineer, my purpose has always been to experience the people, the culture, and the thrill of personal challenge. Importantly, I don’t have to make it to the top to realize that purpose. My advice: stay centered and purpose-driven.

I don’t know if this advice helped Adam and Grant, who both proudly graduated with Ross degrees this year and, with Everest base camp checked off of their bucket list, will start their careers in Chicago this summer.

But I do know that they will never forget the experience they shared together, and that we at the Ross School are extremely proud of them.

Congrats to Adam and Grant on their accomplishment. Keep making us proud!

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Scott DeRue
  • Edward J. Frey Dean of Business
  • Stephen M. Ross Professor of Business
Scott DeRue is the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He is also the Stephen M. Ross...