Climb High, Sleep Low: Achieving Balance

August 11th, 2009 by Sharon Larsen

Today we learn how to avoid burnouts as an entrepreneur.

One of the most important concepts in high-altitude climbing is “climb high, sleep low.” At higher altitudes, less oxygen is present in the air. In order to compensate, the body fills up with fluid. Altitude sickness, displayed as headaches, nausea, or vomiting, results from this is a caution to slow your ascent. If these warning signs go unheeded, altitude sickness can progress into HAPE, or high-altitude pulmonary edema, as the lungs fill with fluid. A similar problem referred to as HACE, or cerebral edema, might also occur in the brain.

These conditions are among the deadliest conditions associated with high-altitude climbing. If a person were dropped on the top of Mount Everest without giving the body time to acclimatize, he or she would die within five minutes. If you want to get to the top of a high mountain without experiencing the dilemmas of HAPE or HACE, you must sleep only 1,000 feet higher than the previous night: climb high, sleep low.

This mountain climbing metaphor translates directly into entrepreneurship: while you must be diligent, you cannot be reckless. My dear friend Pema Dorje Sherpa told me a story about a marathon runner who considered his physiology to be above and beyond that of high altitude climbers. Flying out of Katmandu at 4,000 feet he landed at Lukla, at about 10,000 feet. Jumping off the tiny Otter twin-engine he proceeded to attack the trail, running the entire distance to the 16,000-foot lakes of Gokyo, an amazing and seemingly impossible feat. In just one day he gained 12,000 feet in altitude.

Mountaineers take upwards of ten days to make that high of a climb, not because they can’t do it in two days, but because they know their bodies must acclimatize to ever-increasing altitude. The marathoner achieved his goal to cross the finish line at Gokyo in one day. The next morning he was dead.

Balance is an essential attribute of mountain climbing. When you climb 8,000-meter peaks, a four- or five-day rest period is part of the proven training regime. You need an ample reserve for the final assault on the summit. So it is when starting and growing your business. You cannot use this principle as an excuse to hang out at base camp. Be smart, and pace yourself for times that require gut-wrenching effort.

As I’ve built and grown businesses, I’ve often turned to different books on entrepreneurship for guidance. More often than not I’ve found examples of successful businessmen or women who sacrificed their families, social life, and personal goals to make their business successful. Early in my corporate career I was fooled into thinking that this kind of sacrifice was necessary. As a result, too much time was spent out of balance. The following consecutive events occurred, which changed my incorrect thinking.

While General Manager of Mitsubishi Electric PC Division I was summoned to Birmingham England for a chat with Dr. Peter Horne, my mentor and boss. As I arrived at Peter’s office he sat me down and offered sincere congratulations. He said, “You made marked progress; the USA division is starting to come together.” He continued:

“Rich, I want you to remember this: you can replace anything in life. You can replace a job, a car, money, anything, but you can’t replace your health, your trust relationships, or your family.” With that statement, he excused me from the meeting.

The 20-hour plane trip home gave me ample time to consider this practical, wise, and invaluable advice. The previous year I’d spent three weeks out of each month traveling, resulting in excess of 100,000 air miles. I was determined to “earn my stripes” at all cost.

Upon arriving home from this trip, I picked up my third son, only two years old at the time. He didn’t recognize me and pushed me away. It broke my heart. I reflected, “Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Dr. Horne is right, I cannot replace this time with my child.” From this point forward I have made a very conscious attempt to guard my health, my family, and my trust relationships.

You do not need to sacrifice family, health, or trust relationships in exchange for entrepreneurial success. I contend that you will be more effective, happy, and successful if you do not.

Porter’s Points – Climb High, Sleep Low

  •  Ensure you build reserves for stretches that require gut-wrenching effort.
  • Don’t hang out at “base camp” longer than necessary.
  • Entrepreneurial success is not an equal exchange for the loss of family, health, and trust relationships.

So as you build your small business, make sure you strike a balance between work and play!  Along those lines, we’ll talk next time about crossing the line….

2 Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment