An instructor friend was talking to me recently about a conversation he'd had with a psychologist he knew. They were talking about his work in the outdoors and the psychologist suddenly said to him "what does success look like to you?" It was an interesting question that stemmed from my friends hard work in growing his mountain guiding business and not always seeing the financial rewards that might have been expected for the endless hours he put in.
We chatted at some length about the question and I've also given it a lot of thought since. Like my friend, Peak Mountaineering is a very time consuming business and there is never a time without something that needs to be done. I'm lucky to have help in the office, assistance with marketing and a strong team of tried and trusted instructors that can be called on to always do a great job. I'm also very lucky to have built strong links with various providers and businesses that come back to us regularly. Most importantly, I consider myself extremely lucky to have many brilliant clients who we work with year in and year out.
But it is still a business that takes up a lot of time. After a day in the mountains there is always a pile of emails or phone inquiries to deal with. Developing the business also needs constant attention and innovation and the website needs maintaining. Writing articles, producing leaflets, responding to business proposals, maintaining kit, writing blog posts like this and a host of other jobs. Add that to ensuring enough time gets spent with a growing family and the desire for as much personal adventure time as possible. Sometimes 7 lots of 24 hours a week really doesn't seem enough!
I sat in front of my accountant recently as we reviewed Peak Mountaineering's end of year accounts. The company has grown every year and our projections are continued growth which is very comforting news in this time of economic melt down. The business puts enough food on the table and the bills get paid. But, and the reality is simple, the business is a lifestyle business. Peak Mountaineering is never going to be the next Apple or John Lewis. I don't expect to be stood in front of the dragons pitching for their cash anytime soon. The company vehicles are vans rather than Ferraris and we have a wardrobe filled with fleece rather than pinstripe.
So why plough this challenging business furrow when the demands on time really do outstrip the financial rewards? It's not a hard question to answer. Infact, it's a starter for ten question. I started this business to work with like minded people. To share adventures and empower clients to have amazing adventures of their own. Climbing has been my life blood for over 30 years and I want to ignite that passion in as many other people as possible. I've found peace and inspiration in the mountains of the world and know that others will feel the same. I've sat with local tribes people watching the sun set over a distant peak and been at peace with the world - then looked at the clients sat next to me and saw that they felt at peace too.
Seeing that happiness in others gives my life meaning. It could as simple as watching the penny drop as a client masters a clove hitch or as involved as watching another mountain leader candidate complete their qualification journey. It is through things like watching the groups rosy and contented faces after a day in the mountains, sharing my knowledge of navigation, my experience of the winter mountains or my love of the Himalayas. It is many and varied sparks that allow me to grow as I see that growth in others. My work is a powerful drug.
Peak Mountaineering is easily at the stage where I could spend all my time in the office. The computer could rule my life and there is no doubt the company would grow faster as a result. Success would be shown through the balance sheet but it wouldn't look like success to me. I left an indoor job to become a mountaineering instructor. Mountaineering instructors belong in the mountains. If you need to wait a little longer for that reply to your email I sincerely apologise - but I also hope you understand. Peak Mountaineering is a great success and I see it every day through our clients. I might not turn up to your course in a plush vehicle but I'll be sure to turn up with a smile in my face and a glint in my eye. That's what success looks like to me.