Last year Alison Levine completed the Adventure Grand Slam, which involves climbing the summit of the highest mountain of the seven continents and reaching the North and South Pole. Yet what she’s really known for is being the team captain of the first American Women’s Expedition to Mt. Everest. Ms. Levine graced the stage of the State Theater in New Brunswick, as part of the SmartTalk series, and inspired us to take on challenges and persevere. She also gave advice on being a leader, emphasized the importance of teamwork, and reminded us to always ask for what we want. It all sounds so easy, yet many of us don’t live up to some of these aspirations, let alone all of the above, as she has.
CHALLENGE AND PERSEVERANCE – She thought climbing Mt. Everest would be too challenging, but September 11th taught her to have no fear. Reaching the summit of the mountains can be very frustrating and very time-consuming. There’s a base camp and several camps en route to the peak. You have to spend time at the base camp for a few days, then after each time you reach a camp, you must return to the base camp before proceeding to the next to acclimate yourself. You also must pace yourself to have enough oxygen to reach the summit and return, and in addition, you must carry a backpack and pull a sled with your gear. By the time you’re near the top, you’re exhausted, and you must take 5 – 10 breaths for every step. She stressed how it’s important to set smaller goals in order to reach the finish line, that you need more than technique and ability – you also need willpower, and that failure tolerance is necessary in order to take more risks. She also pointed out that progress doesn’t have to be in one direction. Sometimes you have to move back to go forward. The best lesson she learned was fear is okay, but complacency is what will kill you. Her summary of all lessons is that there are always mountains to climb, but you need to weather the storms. It’s easy to see how this advice transfers to any situation.
LEADERSHIP – As the team captain, Levine chose members who were a good fit for the team. Ideally, each member would be experienced, have good skills, and be a team player. Additionally, she was a great strategist. She networked and befriended the members of other teams, so if her or anyone on her team needed assistance, she could go to them for help. Usually, other teams would ignore you and concentrate on their goal, even leaving others to die on the mountain. She also mentioned that a good leader was in tune with the members of the team, and cited that traits of being a leader are willing to learn from the people you’re leading, leading by example, and having common lifestyles which helps in taking on some risks.
TEAMWORK – Alison told us that you’re a team when you’re in sync, and you should understand what’s important to each member. Always treat team members as individuals, and no matter how you feel, you do what is necessary for the team.
CHANGE – The environment in these areas can change quickly. You have to rapidly adapt by making quick decisions and having good judgment. You don’t have to work on Wall Street, in an operating room, or be in the military on the front line to relate to and learn from her experiences.
REQUESTS AND PERSISTENCE – During Levine’s trip to the Rwenzori Mountains between war stricken Uganda and the Congo, she was in need of trekking guides. She thought the women there would make great guides, but the men said women have never done such a thing. She was persistent, and after asking several local male authorities, she was able to hire the women. It goes to show you that if you consistently ask for what you want, you might get it, even if it seems impossible. She also wanted to enlist in the armed forces, but was turned down for being just months beyond the age cut-off. However, she was then offered a position as an adjunct professor at West Point as a way of indirectly serving the country.
Alison Levine draws parallels between her experiences in the mountains and life in general. No matter if you’re in the corporate world, a student, a small business owner, or anyone else, she will inspire and motivate you to reach your potential! After speaking, she mingled with the audience to answer more questions. What an amazing woman!
All photos by Kim Schmidt Photography, LLC.