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Facing uncertainty with resilience – leadership lessons from Mount Everest and beyond

1 July 2023 • by Marion Chaygneaud Dupuy in Leadership

To build resilience in the face of uncertainty, we need to start paying more attention to our bodies and our emotions, says entrepreneur Marion Chaygneaud-Dupuy, who has lived in the Himalayas for...

To build resilience in the face of uncertainty, we need to start paying more attention to our bodies and our emotions, says entrepreneur Marion ChaygneaudDupuy, who has lived in the Himalayas for 22 years and is the first European woman to have climbed Mount Everest three times. 

What’s the most dangerous part of climbing Mount Everest? It’s not, as you might think, scaling to the top. Rather, it’s the long descent, the trek back as you come down from the euphoria of achieving your goal, and now must turn your focus and attention to managing your energy and dealing with stress. It’s no surprise that more people die while climbing down than summitting. 

I have climbed Mount Everest three times, the first European woman to do so. Contrary to expectations, the third time, in 2017, was the hardest. That was the time when I lost my motivation. We waited for almost 40 days for the weather to turn good enough to summit. I felt completely deflated, tired, and confused. So how did I get out of that rut? 

I knew that I had to sit with the discomfort. I paused, breathed, reconnected, and thanked. Giving myself that time and self-compassion allowed me to reconnect with my deeper sense of purpose and regain my motivation.  

As a society in general we are facing soaring rates of burnout, stress, and depression, while business leaders are also grappling with great uncertainty. I believe the challenge for the future will be to keep balancing our cognitive intelligence with emotional intelligence and all the experiential knowledge we have gained. 

 

Global Nomad, an NGO and leading more than 50 humanitarian projects in education, social entrepreneurship, healthcare and environmental services
Marion Chaygneaud-Dupuy is the CEO of Global Nomad and leading more than 50 humanitarian projects in education, social entrepreneurship, healthcare and environmental services

This challenge becomes all the more pressing as we confront the rapid development of artificial intelligence. While there may one day be a time when AI supersedes the brain capacity of humans, humans will still have heart. It therefore becomes even more important to train that heart. 

Training the mind and the body 

My life’s work has been on achieving a balance between my mind and my body. 

Born in France, my parents made a radical decision to live in the woods, immersed in nature, and far away from consumerism. At age 16, I went to work in a leprosy clinic in the slums of Calcutta. This was the moment when I decided to train my mind to develop compassion and work towards alleviating the suffering of others. 

I moved to a monastery in Darjeeling where a Tibetan monk accepted me as a student. Here, I learned how to redirect attention to what is important. Science has found that 47% of the time, we are not present. Our mind is distracted with other things, and our energy is scattered. Through meditation, we can learn to re-direct our attention to one single point of focus.  

Clean Everest: Scaling my biggest challenge 

After four years of training in the monastery, my teacher asked if I would bring an educational program to western Tibet where he was from. I became an entrepreneur and founded Global Nomad, a social enterprise that has worked on more than 50 humanitarian projects with a focus on education, social entrepreneurship, and the preservation of the environment and nomadic culture. 

The most well-known of these projects was Clean Everest, an initiative that I started after my first expedition to the mountain where I observed what I estimated must be 10 tons of waste left behind from 30 years of expeditions. Mount Everest standing 8,849 m tall may be the roof of the world, but it’s also the world’s highest garbage dump.  

Not knowing can also be a safe space, where you can be creative, open, and find new ways and strategies on how to take on the next stage of your journey.

This pollution is not only a travesty for the eyes and the local biodiversity but has a direct impact on the quality of the drinking water used by almost two billion people living in the Chinese and Indian valleys. Some 40% of the world’s population depend on the big rivers of Asia, which are fed by the Himalayas’ highest glaciers. 

I decided it was time to literally clean Everest. Between 2013 and 2019, together with 100 local guides and 50 yaks, we collected 10 tons of waste. We also realized that we needed to develop a sustainable model to prevent trash from piling up on Everest again. Working closely with Tibetan mountain guides, we drew up a Mountain Environmental Protection Charter to train sherpas and guides and encourage responsible expeditions. As a result, international mountaineers now have to bring down at least 8kg of waste at the end of the expedition or get fined. 

The next challenge was a more personal one. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the world in early 2020, I went to Nepal for three weeks.  Then the borders closed. Three years later I still haven’t been able to return. When the past is gone, and you don’t know what the future will be, this is the best time to build up your resilience. Not knowing can also be a safe space, where you can be creative, open, and find new ways and strategies on how to take on the next stage of your journey. 

Recharge batteries
“Be willing to give up everything else in your life and be aware that there are no quick wins.”

To build our collective resilience in the face of this uncertainty, here are my takeaways, drawn from my experience of working on the Tibetan plateau.

Listen to your heart, rather than

just your head, and dare to

challenge social norms ​

Estimates suggest that we spend around 90% of our time in our heads. Yet whatever happens in our lives, be it stress or emotion, it leaves an imprint on our bodies. When facing testing times, learn first to listen to what your body is telling you and give yourself space for compassion.

Know your deepest values

to help you practice

determination in the face

of uncertainty

When enduring discomfort, it helps to reconnect with your values. As you are going about your daily work, try to overcome small obstacles each day and apply one core value. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act by a habit.” This includes training your mind daily to cultivate peace of mind and start building your resilience from a strong foundation.

Discover the

interdependence  of those

around you to help you

ask for support  from

your network​

During my third Everest climb, the hardest thing for me was loneliness. As leaders, we need to learn to be vulnerable and to ask for help and guidance from others.

In the face of a crisis,

practice acceptance and

letting go to give yourself

space to rebound​

As I said at the start of this article, the hardest part of climbing Everest is coming back down. Yet it is during this period that you start to understand all the insights you have gained on the way up. When facing a crisis, learn to sit patiently with the discomfort, show yourself compassion, and give yourself time to move forward.

Orchestrating Winning Performance program, which brings together executives from diverse sectors and geographies for a week of intense learning and sharing with IMD faculty and business experts. 

Authors

Marion Chaygneaud Dupuy

Entrepreneur, eco-activist, Himalayan guide & CEO, Global Nomad

Entrepreneur Marion Chaygneaud-Dupuy, has lived in the Himalayas for twenty-two years and is the first European woman to have climbed Mount Everest three times. She is the founder of Global Nomad, a social enterprise, and has led over 50 humanitarian projects including “Clean Everest”, with a focus on education, social entrepreneurship, healthcare and environmental services.

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