Life is uncomfortable at 24,000 feet. I could barely eat or sleep. I couldn’t sit up without getting a headache. Sprawled out across my smelly sleeping bag, my pulse throbbed angrily at 100 beats per minute. My blood, thick with an excess of newly forged red blood cells, pounded even harder through my head whenever I stood up.
We had spent a month grinding our way toward this vicious height. We had trekked up a dusty Tibetan valley, then slogged laps up and down the snow slopes between 18,000 and 24,000 feet. Along the way we had to endure discomfort after discomfort. Poor sleep and churning stomachs. Cuts that would not heal and lungs that could not rest, both because the air is two-thirds thinner than at sea level.
We forced ourselves to tolerate being uncomfortable because we knew that this would make our bodies stronger as we adapted to the altitude. Like heat tempers steel to be more durable, withstanding difficulties makes us mentally tougher for even bigger challenges ahead.
DISCOMFORT CREATES OPPORTUNITY
No one really likes being uncomfortable. Dancers, distance runners, and endurance athletes of all types are not mentally ill individuals who like physical hurt (at least, I don’t think so…). And yet, they all willingly create and embrace some pain and deprivation because they know through hard-won experience that by enduring discomfort, they can forge amazing new experiences. Discomfort creates opportunity.
Up at Camp 3 on Cho Oyu there was plenty of discomfort to go around. I fitfully slept two hours, then exercised for eighteen. I forced about 800 calories down my throat on summit day, and burned off about 8,000. Yes, I vividly recall the discomfort.
But it was worth it, because I remember watching the stars blaze above my head at 25,000 feet around 1 am. I’ll forever retain the magic moment at 26,000 feet, when I looked down onto the tops of flattened thunderheads and saw lightning bolts turn the clouds burnt orange way down at 20,000 feet over in Nepal, just south of the Himalayan crest.
Seeking and embracing discomfort may not sound like fun, but I believe it is crucial for you to do more, for you to become more…