It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hillary

What’s it about?

It’s easy to get lost in the literalism of this quote, but it’s not actual mountains we’re talking about here. No, the mountain is just a metaphor for challenge. Hillary is saying that not only is it good for us to take on challenges, but necessary if we want to grow. You can achieve incredible growth if you take on a challenge you’re not sure you are even up for. You don’t have to climb a literal mountain, you just have to find something that to you seems immensely difficult. However –  if you have climbed a literal mountain, that is amazing!

Anyway, by attempting this difficult task and hopefully succeeding at it, you haven’t just overcome the task but also your former self who believed that you couldn’t do it. You’re ready to move on to bigger and harder challenges. It’s a lesson in Overcoming Fear, Self-Mastery, and Growth.

Sir Edmund Hillary’s Story

Sir Edmund Hillary, in case you weren’t aware, was the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest,  so he knows a thing or two about mountains. Strangely enough though, on the 1953 expedition that finally summited the mountain, Hillary was actually the second choice to go up. He was 33 at the time and an experienced climber from training in the snowy peaks of his New Zealand homeland. In particular, he made a name for himself by leading the British climbers through a particularly dangerous slope early in the expedition. So when the first team was forced to turn back by bad weather and low oxygen, Hillary – along with his sherpa Tenzing Norgay – were the logical second choice. Starting earlier and from a higher camp than the first team, Hillary and Tenzing were blocked by a rocky spur. Undaunted, Hillary carved out a step to finally reach the summit. It’s called the Hillary Step and is still there near the Southern Summit of Everest. He and Tenzing were already famous before they’d even climbed off the mountain (1).


Tips and Tools

Standing at the foot of that mountain, real or metaphorical, can make you feel lacking in confidence. It’s so big, do you have the strength and resilience to summit it? Yes! If you’re ambitious enough to try climbing, then you’re ambitious enough to be successful. But if you start doubting yourself, here’s a few things you can try (2):


  • Take a long look at your life. Would you recommend it to someone? If not, it’s within your ability to change that. With a little ambition, you can steer your life in a more fulfilling direction.


  • Keep your eyes on the goal. You think Hillary didn’t think climbing Everest was risky? But he went on anyway. You can too. Remember, most of the fear is in your head. Stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve to take your mind off the fear.
  • Seek new perspectives. Something that may seem impossible from one angle can appear stunningly easy from another. Try looking at challenges and difficulties as many different ways as you can. A solution can present itself.
  • Act, don’t wait too long. There’s no time like the present. If you wait for the “Perfect moment” to do something, you could miss out on great opportunities. Never wait to start working.
  • Share your ambitions. One reason Hillary could reach the top was that he had Tenzing supporting him because Tenzing was just as eager to reach it as Hillary. Find others who share your goals and ambitions, derive support from them when you starting doubting yourself.
  • Find the bright side. Reappraise events and actions in your life. Try to find the positive side effects of things that seemed bad at the time. Anything that seems bad usually has an upside. Master yourself and take advantage of that upside. (3)
  • Prepare. Ultimately, your ability to overcome obstacles is predicated on your preparedness. So do your research as well as training to set you up for success.



At the top of that mountain is a better, more confident and resilient you. Find accomplishment in difficult tasks. You can only know your limitations if you test them and if you can overcome them, then they aren’t limitations, are they?

Some action questions to consider:


1: Hillary had Everest, what is the most difficult challenge in your life?


2: Have you felt the pleasurable feeling of success before? Compete against your friends in games (sports, multiplayer video games, etc.) and see if you can’t trigger it.


3: Hillary had his sherpa Tenzing to help him reach the summit, do you have any help reaching your goal? Don’t be afraid to ask those around for advice on achieving it.


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