I grew up in St. Gallen, a quaint small town in eastern Switzerland, with a daily view of mount Säntis. At a mere 2504m above sea level, evidently not a world-famous peak, and technically anything but difficult to ascend, yet still – every morning, opening my roller blinds, I had this majestic view of Säntis. However, as a child and teenager, I was not aware of how spoilt we are growing up in Switzerland, quite on the contrary – the family tradition of taking hikes in the Swiss hills and pre-alps felt to me as rather a nuisance than a privilege at the time.
Starting at age 20, I had the very different fortune of living in the world’s preeminent metropolis’ – I had made it my goal to work and live in London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong before reaching age 30, and I succeeded on all four counts. Upon my return to Switzerland, however, I had developed a keen sense of appreciation for mountains, and our Alps in particular, and not so much later I started to embark on what would soon become one of my big passions: mountain climbing.
Looking back on years of rather intense mountaineering (set back most recently by the arrival of our “two little wonders”, i.e. our children), I realize that mountain climbing taught me a lot. In fact, I can summarize my learnings in three distinct categories:
- There is life after exhaustion
Many times in the mountains, especially under adverse weather conditions such as cold, strong winds, snow or all of the above, I have felt like I could absolutely not go on. I felt exhausted, at the absolute limit of my physical and mental strengths, and was about to give up and retreat. Oftentimes, I have found strength, the strength to overcome exhaustion, tiredness and pain. This strength, I have found inside of me – the will to continue, to keep going, to overcome obstacles. And whenever I did, the reward was sweet, an incredible feeling of having overcome one’s weaker self.
But, rest assured, not always! I have learned to also observe signals of danger, to rather abandon a plan, return before reaching the summit. And again, doing so must not feel like failure, for at least for me, I value my life more than reaching any given peak!
Inner strength, in any case, is finite. It is hence crucial to use it wisely. I have learned to pick the battles worth fighting for, to go beyond exhaustion where it really matters and be prepared and ready to also give up, change a plan and retract when necessary and appropriate.
- Limits exist – but they move
Limits and boundaries are often not set in stone, but rather abstract and moving: what might have seemed an impossible peak, or more relevant still an impossible route, just a season ago, may suddenly be within reach. Besides fitness, perseverance and conditions, the biggest influencer by far is mental strength. A mindset of achievement and willpower will go a long way towards making the impossible possible. And, my experience in the mountains shows that whenever I manage to push the boundaries, to extend my own limits, I have the biggest potential to learn and grow in doing so.
- Goals shift, too
Lastly, it is not only limits that move, but also goals. Initially, my mountaineering bucket list was anchored on peaks. I aimed to climb all 4000m peaks of Switzerland (for the curious, there are 48 peaks in Switzerland above 4000m of altitude). In the meantime, this original goal has much shifted. My ambitions do not center about peaks anymore, but focus more on routes – I read literature and maps and plan to climb some peaks via lesser known, less climbed, more attractive and more challenging routes. And more and more, and related to this new quest of making enough progress to climb difficult routes, the goal shifts yet again, towards achieving special experiences. My latest, and likely final aim in mountaineering is the ultimate luxury: creating unique, meaningful memories.
In sum, mountain climbing has and continues to teach me humility and reflection. You cannot feel but humble, as a small human being scaling the most beautiful mountains on this planet. And being alone (admitted, in fact with my mountain guide – but if often feels very lonely still), the mountains allow me and encourage me self-reflect much more than the busy and noisy everyday life ever allows.
And here, the parallel to EO kicks in: EO is my other big enabler for humility and reflection.
In 2006, I faced the biggest crisis in my life. I had decided to leave the software company I had co-founded and was engulfed in a bitter fight with my business partners, my first marriage had fallen apart and my dog had died. In that dark period of my life, I learned to open up, to talk to my family and my friends and thus find some consolation.
It was not until 2007, when I joined EO, that I discovered a whole new dimension of opening up and sharing: sharing issues we currently face and which are critical, in a highly confidential yet structured manner, with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who are willing and even keen to exchange and share their experiences facing similarly strong feelings.
I joined EO late, having missed an earlier opportunity, but once I started, I did not miss a beat: very soon after joining, I attended my first global event, a so-called EO University, and was highly impressed, yet again, by the diversity and calibre of its attendants, as well as the immediate bond and rapport you inevitably forge with fellow EOers. I also joined the Zurich board, and have been an active member ever since, most recently as chapter president. And lastly, I did follow up on my gut reaction during my own forum training program, namely to one day become a forum trainer myself – and take great joy in coaching and introducing new EOers to forum and EO in general.
EO, like mountain climbing, has taught me numerous, invaluable lessons, three of which I want to share.
- Open up
I am by nature rather guarded, I do not easily trust others and take some time to warm up. Although a leopard cannot change its spots, I have learned, in EO, to trust fellow EOers and open up more. In my forum, I have great role models, one of my forum mates in particular impressed me very early on in our formative period as a new forum, when he had the courage to share something very intimate and personal during our first retreat – a fact which set the tone in our forum and greatly facilitated our progress as a group. My desire to open up more is also a key reason why I have become a forum trainer – because I can only be effective if I lead by example and share my own examples frankly and candidly. And lastly, and egoistically, I have learned that my take away value from EO, in particular from my forum, is greatest if I take the plunge, trust the system and am, simply, open!
- Talk in images
My wonderful wife Chen has a natural ability to illustrate her narratives and arguments with highly evocative images. I have always admired this talent, and EO has provided me an opportunity to learn and make progress. I presented exactly this weakness of mine in my forum, obtained numerous valuable experiences from my forum and have applied and progressed. Moreover, yet another of my forum mates is, next to Chen, a formidable role model for this trait, and I continue to learn a lot simply from observing him, listening attentively and, as is my habit, taking diligent notes. Not that I copy illustrations per se, but to keep the topic at the top of my mental framework.
The tag line “facts tell, stories sell” is very present in my mind, and I have become much more adept at emphasizing my words with images.
As my forum mates will surely confirm, I am a rather structured, systematic person. I pay much attention to detail, seek perfection and naturally do not feel at ease when relinquishing control. EO has taught me to relax more, to (again, but in a different context) trust my fellow EOers, to let go.
A case in point was the first half year of 2012 – due to the difficult second pregnancy of my wife I was forced to basically attend to our first child, and greatly neglected my business. For a short period, this completely stressed me out, but soon I learned to accept it, and even enjoy it. While my business indeed tanked, I took great joy in spending a Tuesday afternoon with my little daughter at the lake, taking walks and reading books to her in the public park!
EO taught me composure, taught me to remain calm – or at the very least calmer!
In sum, EO is an incredibly powerful organization and network. Not in the sense of political power or business syndication, but as a means for professional and personal growth. In fact, for me, EO is second only to my wife and my family in teaching me to become a better husband, father, business owner and person.
One of the greatest mountain climbers of all times, George Mallory, famously answered the question of why he wanted to climb Mount Everest with the dry three words “because it’s there.”
In analogy, being an entrepreneur on the one hand, and, on the other hand, having the world’s most influential organization of entrepreneurs, EO, as an unmatched conduit to achieve personal growth, why would you not join?
Zug, August 2014
Marc O. Stockli, President, EO Zurich Switzerland