While I was trying to get my heart rate back down and catch my breath, I was thinking about who was left behind that day.
Pointe Léchaud proved to be harder than we imagined. After our initial relief hearing about the change of plans from the original idea of climbing the taller Petit Mont Blanc that day, we soon realized that fatigue is relative and that the slower progression was not going to help our cause. I was exhausted, and the colleagues that gradually fell behind on the way up were proof that I wasn’t the only one.
Among them was Sabrina: one of the toughest women on the expedition. With her sense of irony, her frankness and stubbornness, she managed to overcome every fatigue and to make it to the top of even the most demanding peaks.
But shortly after, coming down from the top, something unexpected happens: we cross a group that shouldn’t have reached that point, the group of those that stayed behind.
And there she is, following the guide: Sabrina.
Happy to see them, I let out an exclamation of excitement from a few meters away, and she looks up, locking eyes with me. For an instant, she strikes me, as if the explosive charge of the fatigue that she was enduring was briefly directed right at me. Then she relaxes, smiles, and her gaze turns into one of determination in the face of the challenge. Similar to what I’d imagine on the face of a lioness in the savannah.
Months have passed from that outing, but when I talk to Sabrina about this adventure that is reaching its final phases, I realize that I’m not wrong.
That look in her eyes was the representation of one the greatest changes that she’s experienced in this journey of discovery not just of herself and of her colleagues, but also of her area of work of many years: change management.
“Pointe Léchaud was a really strong contrast. If there is a before and after, that was a moment that really marked the transition. In my typical way, using sarcasm in the face of the fatigue that I was experiencing, almost to mentally make it easier, I thought I could make it anywhere. Even up there, I had to show that sarcasm that represents me, and I always managed to do it.
I started this journey with a positive and trusting unawareness. Not in a negative way, just in the sense that I really put my trust in it, in this organization, in its people, and in our ability to face challenges. Even if the sea is much more my thing than the mountains. Hiking wasn’t my thing either, as you’d expect from a former volleyball player, I love sprints, scoring a quick point, instant gratification.
Anyway, I took this challenge as an opportunity to train my mindset, as a laboratory for change techniques that would allow us to study and put in practice innovation in the field, for ourselves and for our clients.
So, on one hand, it was beautiful, because it was a slow journey of discovery that surprised me for what I found inside and outside of me.
On the other hand, it also made me face some negative surprises. One of those was Pointe Léchaud.
I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it, I thought I had already overcome my physical limits, I felt terrible. All I wanted was to go back down.
The Grigna was a similar situation. In terms of fatigue, it was probably even tougher. But on that occasion, my willpower was enough: my head wanted to get there and my body followed, surpassing its limits. Pointe Léchaud was different.
Maybe it was neither the altitude, nor the distance, nor any other objective parameter. It was me that was different. With each outing, I felt the influence of unknown factors – sometimes everything was easy, other times I felt weak, tired because of work or because of the weight of my thoughts, even though I trained more than before. I think that although we’re together, we climb different mountains, related to our own thoughts, our attitudes, and the very personal moment.
So, for me, Pointe Léchaud was a low point. But even that moment turned into a pleasant surprise, right during the transition that allowed me to take that extra step.
It was the discovery that where I can’t make it, my team will.
That the strength of the team becomes very profoundly my own. When the others caught up to me again, their strength wasn’t just contagious - it made me find my pace.
The right one for me, the one that allowed me to keep going. All the way to the top of the peak that I had given up on. And I realized a very important thing: that last bit, the peak -- where real change happens – you can only reach it if you’re surrounded by the right people.”
There is that look of the lioness, the one I saw up there. I start putting together the pieces of this strong personality.
I ask her what pushes her to keep going. What gets her to the top even when the desire to be on the boat, overlooking the sea, is written on her face? Is it a challenge against herself, the mountains, the others?
“Challenge? I don’t know, probably none of the three. It’s curiosity more than anything. An honest way to get to know myself better, to discover myself in extreme conditions, conditions in which I have never been in before. And my problem is not overcoming a hypothetical limit, it’s just a question of honesty: I don’t want to betray myself by trying to reach a new level of self-awareness. If I get to the top because I’m hard-headed and then I don’t feel well, I’m not doing a service to anyone.
That’s what I was afraid of in Vallée Blanche. The final climb made me so nervous that, when I finally got to the end, I reacted as if I had held my breath the entire time: I was exhausted. Literally, not just emotionally!
It wasn’t fear, just emotion, fatigue, anxiety, wonder, sense of responsibility – all of these felt at once on a crest at 4000 meters.
That time I managed it, but the idea that it could happen again, maybe on the Mont Blanc, worries me. The idea that I could explode on the way to the top and create a negative situation not only for myself but for the others.”
Team spirit is an intrinsic part of her: all of her reflections bring us back to team dynamics. It becomes clear that her background is in a team sport like volleyball.
“Paradoxically, that feeling of strong unity with the team is something I found here too, and it’s one of the things that I like most about this project. We built team dynamics in the mountain environment, and they have a power that you can’t see every day. They’re a mirror to the complexity and the purity of the individual.
But it’s not the only parallel I can draw with volleyball: there’s also the idea of training, both mental and physical. Of fatigue that lifts you and that you need in life.
It’s like the strength that comes after muscle sores: they hurt but they rebuild themselves, they take energy from the rest of the body. In the end, they’ll both be stronger!
What is unlike volleyball, though, is the lack of immediate gratification, which is difficult for me to handle.
The mountains train self-motivation. The conquest that is earned step after step, with patience.
It’s that thing that I totally miss, and that I’m forced to learn.
To help me in the beginning, Matteo would tell me, ‘Go slow, one foot in front of the other, set a pace for yourself.’ I would grumble away his suggestion as usual until I found out that it works. That’s another thing that Pointe Léchaud taught me.
And it’s true at work as well. I think it’s one of the most powerful lessons I learned. I can’t count the times that during a project that we’ve invested so much in, we get stuck or something goes wrong. In those moments we have to be able to motivate ourselves and keep going.
That’s why this training counts in our projects: we’re absorbing collective energy to then use it in other environments. We have to store it for when, during a change process, we run into moments of conflict, of giving in, of fear. Having experienced something like this allows you to be a better advisor because you know how to communicate it.
Experiencing all of this on our own skin is fundamental. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the essence of the Methodos method: you can’t accompany organizations in their greatest challenges if you’re not the first to face them. It’s about putting respect when it comes to stakeholders.”
Someone interrupts our chat: it’s late, we have to say goodbye.
As I step away, though, the last question comes to mind:
“What’s your choice then? Will you climb the Mont Blanc or not?”
But it’s too late, they’ve already taken her off to deal with work matters and daily duties. Our moment of the personal reflection is over.
She doesn’t answer my question, but she looks at me with the bright gaze that I’ve already seen on her face in the mountains.
On her lips lies a mysterious smile, like a modern Mona Lisa in the world of business.
There it is an answer that isn’t an answer and doesn’t pretend to be. Not yet.