In May 2010, Edurne Pasabán became the first woman to climb the 14 “eight-thousanders” in only 20 expeditions, which means a very high level of effectiveness in the Himalayas. Today, she combines her sporting career with an increasingly sound dedication to the business world, where she works as a speaker for firms and sports, cultural and educational institutions.
After 14 “eight-thousanders” and after internalizing the achievement, what do you feel: pride, humility, full satisfaction, emptiness…?
A bit of everything. I feel very empty and dizzy, but the feeling is gradually going. After dedicating much of your life to a project like this and then finishing it, the feeling is very strange and finding something that motivates you in the same way is not easy. That’s why you feel dizzy. I also feel as if I’ve finished a job, and I feel happy at having fulfilled the dream and overcome he challenge I set to myself; it’s a strange feeling. It’s a feeling you have to get used to and you have to find something that satisfies you as much as what you were doing.
Up in the mountains, it would appear that teamwork (at least from an onlooker’s point-of-view) is distributed around the various base camps and that, in the final sections, the leader appears with his baggage of experience, together with his courage, technical know-how and temperance to achieve the goal: the summit. Is that right?
During an expedition, all the work is teamwork, from start to finish. It´s all teamwork, even though it might not seem so to onlookers at times. That’s usually because it’s not a team; it’s a group of people with the same goal, but they don’t share anything else. In all the expeditions I’ve been on, we were a team with the goal of reaching the summit and we worked towards that end. When I use the term “group”, I refer to a group of people who share a common goal, but the target is completely individual. In other words, everyone has their own interests and there is no common target. In my experience, successful climbing expeditions or achieving any goal involves a common target and teamwork to achieve it. That does not mean that there is not a leader, who may have more experience than the other members of the team; however, what is clear is that a good leader surrounds himself with the most professional team available, with members of different profiles. That’s why, sometimes when the leader has to take the decision of whether or not to continue, it’s important for him to know how to listen to the team and those who perhaps have more experience in one particular situation.
People always say that mountain-climbers belong to a “special” breed. Where is the mold that is used to forge the body and mind of people who, like you, climb up to the sky?
I don’t think there are any such things as mountain-climber molds, or molds for making great executives or leaders. Like everything else, it is a combination of being and doing. Perhaps the idea of “climbing up to the sky” is the way I am. We have normal profiles, very clear ideas, and are tenacious and prepared to make sacrifices to achieve what we want. But I think there are a lot of people in the world who are very much like that.
With so much passion and dedication to mountain-climbing, how do you usually explain what many people see as absurd?
Life is full of absurdity; some things are absurd for some but completely logical for others. Understanding people who do things we consider absurd requires respect and acceptance. Anyone who doesn’t want to understand never will. It’s true that it’s not easy to explain the need for climbing mountains and taking unnecessary risks -unnecessary for some- in the same way that it’s not easy to explain what you feel when you do certain things. It’s not easy to explain feelings, because they’re feelings. Perhaps the people who are closest to us understand us, those who see us every day, those who have seen us laugh and cry. Those are the ones who find it easier to understand us.
During this continuous adventure, has reaching the summit been your happiest moment?
No, not at all. The summit is something else; the important part is the road that takes you there. The road you walk along to achieve your dream. Sometimes, reaching the summit doesn’t bring any happiness at all. You feel empty and dizzy when you get there because you’ve achieved the goal. And then what? Happiness is the road you take to achieve what you want. When you achieve it, what you feel is satisfaction.
At this point and in view of your experience, you are now considering teaching professionals and executives about the keys to success when facing personal and professional challenges. Can you please tell us what the magic formula is?
If only I had the magic formula! I know, or I think I know, some of the ingredients for everyone to make their own magic formula, because we all have a different one. The ingredients in my formula are improvement, courage, tenacity, non-conformism and a great deal of PASSION. I think successful people are those who set themselves challenges in their life and go after them with passion.
During the climb up final section, under the most absolute of pressures, perhaps in poor physical condition and bad weather, decisions have to be taken in a split-second. It’s not exactly an office situation. Is there time to delegate the options involved in the decision?
In that situation, you have to take the decisions yourself and have the courage to take them and assume the consequences. I always say that in such critical, stressing situations, it’s best not to think too much. You have to follow your instinct. I think instinct is very important. It’s something I’ve listened to a lot over the years.
With all the experience you have acquired, what is your next professional goal?
I would like to pass on my experiences through conferences, which is something I am doing at the present time, and I would like to be a reference. As long as it makes sense, and is useful for my listeners and for me. I have trained as an executive coach and I’ve been working in that field. I like people, especially teams, and I like working with teams to turn them into successful, high-performance units.