Special Report: America's CU Conference

Fear is Normal But Complacency Can Kill You

Adventurist draws parallels between mountain climbing and business world.

June 20, 2011

More important than standing at the top of a mountain are the lessons learned along the way, America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) opening keynote speaker Alison Levine told attendees in San Antonio on Sunday.

Levine, who has climbed the highest peaks on seven continents and skied to the North and South Poles, drew parallels between mountain climbing and her experience in the business world.

Using slides from her climbs of the world’s tallest mountains, she shared these lessons:

  • Stop stressing the little things when the going gets tough. Get the job done.
  • Ask the right questions. If someone tells you “no” or says a job is impossible, keep asking the question until you get a “yes.” It is easier to say no than to help you find a solution.
  • Don’t let fear keep you from doing what you want to do. When presented with the opportunity to lead the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, Levine initially turned it down, thinking it would be too challenging.

“But if I didn’t step up and try, I wouldn’t find out if I could do it,” she said.

  • Pick your team well. Recruiting mistakes can be costly.
  • Divide overwhelming tasks into small ones. When Levine climbed 29,000-foot Mt. Everest, she broke the task into getting to Base Camp, then from Base camp to Camp 1, and then to Camp 2.
  • Realize you can go backwards to get where you want to be. The climbers had to acclimate their bodies gradually to each stage of the climb by going up to the first camp, and then back down, and repeating that process for days, each day going further.
  • Understand that fear is normal. But complacency can kill you. Be prepared to react to an environment as it is moving.
  • Build relationships. Before ascending a mountain, she gets to know people outside her team, because their help may be needed if there is trouble. In a life or death situation, “I want people to feel obligated to help us.’
  • Be aware that no matter how good or prepared you are, tragedy can either blow up your team or make everyone pull together.
  • Be prudent about the risks you take. You have a responsibility to your team.
  • Take action based on the situation at the time, not on your plan. Plan less, execute more.
  • Use your judgment. Her team was almost to the summit of Everest when a storm hit and the team had to turn back.

“Turning around and walking away is harder than continuing on when conditions aren’t perfect,” Levine said.

ACUC runs through Wednesday. Check back for daily updates.