It became known as ‘Everest’s Deadliest Day’. On May 10th 1996, a group of 11 climbers set out to climb Mount Everest led by professional mountaineer Rob Hall. Four of them wouldn’t made it back alive. Before beginning the climb, Hall made his team promise that they would all turn around in time to return to base camp while there was still daylight. However, as the group neared the summit, it became clear that their timeline was off track and five of the climbers decided to turn back. Hall, despite the promise he’d asked the group to make, inexplicably continued to push to the summit, but they would never complete the return. The choices made cost him his own life, along with that of one of his staff, and two clients. Four others also lost their lives in the same circumstances that day.
Most mountaineering deaths similarly occur on descent, and it’s likely that summit fever played a role in the decisions of that day, and many others. Psychologists have observed that mountaineers, with a ton of determination, a goal in mind, and a lack of available oxygen, can easily become fixated on one thing and one thing only; reaching the summit. This fixation clouds judgement and prevents people from making rational and even life-saving decisions. Today, summit fever has become a widely used term, but it doesn’t just apply to mountain climbers. All too often we see people who prioritise their life goals at the expense of leading a fulfilled life or business owners who have such an extreme focus on their goals that they eventually become the demise of their own business. Here’s why:
BUSINESS ISN’T SINGLE FACETED
Here’s the thing- there’s no ‘A + B = C’ style formula to running a business. It’s not likely to be a straight path and in actual fact, it’s likely to be a path with many twists, turns and diversions. When your sights are set solely on your business goals, it can make it extremely difficult to view the challenges you encounter along the way with a rational mindset. In turn, your response to these challenges will be miscalculated. The mountaineers who tragically died on Everest were set back 2 hours by a bottleneck at the ‘Hillary Step’ just below the summit. A straightforward recalculation would have told them that they would be stuck on the mountain after dark but instead, they ignored the challenge they were faced with and didn’t adjust their plan accordingly.
YOU MAY ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS, BUT AT WHAT COST?
When it comes to making any and every business decision, you need to constantly be weighing up the benefits against the losses. Your goal might be to hit a certain profit margin within a certain timeframe, but if you lose valuable staff members or clients in order to get there, then the cost likely outweighs what you’ve gained, especially since major losses like these may cause your profit margin to drastically drop in the long run. Single-minded dedication to our goals can make us reckless and impair our judgement. When the mountain climbers on Everest crafted their plan to climb the famed mountain, we’re pretty sure that none of them entered with a mindset of ‘I’m prepared to die reaching the summit’, yet when it came down to it, they were so blinded by their goal that they genuinely believed that they could defy the inevitable. It’s crucial that we know when to take a step back and recognise that your once clear mind may now be compromised.
THE BURN OUT
As humans, we’re programmed to rack up achievements and tick things off our ‘to do’ lists, whether that be a daily checklist or a 10-year plan. In fact, some of us might even add a task we’ve already completed to our ‘to do’ list just so that we can cross it off because we love the sense of accomplishment. The simple act of ticking an item off of our list even releases dopamine in our brains. However, summit fever is what happens when we become addicted to this sense of accomplishment and not only make risky decisions to feed our addiction but ultimately, we burn out. As a business owner, if your days, weeks and months become one never-ending series of lists and goals to be completed, you’ll become emotionally and physically drained and that certainly isn’t a recipe for success, in life or business.