Conquered Your Everest?

We are often asked – “What’s your Everest?” Being the world’s tallest mountain peak, the question seeks the answer to our highest set goal which we wish to conquer. If conquered, we will feel like being at the top of the world (such an apt metaphor) and we will want to announce our glorious victory by wearing badges, putting prefixes to our names, posting pictures on social media – to let the world know. We would want to become the new viral (ugh not that apt a metaphor, given current times). Nothing wrong with any of that, but a recently discovered trivia on Mt Everest caught my attention.

Edmund Hillary, initially a beekeeper from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a sherpa from Nepal, were the first mountaineers to conclusively set foot on the summit of Mount Everest. But journalists were persistently repeating the question: “Which of the two men had the right to the glory of being the first one, and who was merely the second, the follower?”

Colonel Hunt, their expedition leader, had declared, “They reached it together, as a team.”

Err… what do you mean by team? We wonder today! The winner stands alone right? Who kicks fame away, by not letting the world know who stepped first, that too all in the name of a team?

But, two years later, in 1955 Norgay revealed the following in his autobiography titled Man of Everest:

“A little below the summit Hillary and I stopped. I was not thinking of ‘first’ and ‘second’. I did not say to myself, there is a golden apple up there. I will push Hillary aside and run for it.’ We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there. Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him… Now the truth is told. And I am ready to be judged by it.”

Woah! Now I feel, they could both have kept the secret and claimed the glory together. Especially Norgay, as his would have been a rags to riches story. But well, the conquerors of the highest peak had probably conquered common human fallacies too. And since he got it published, our history books taught us that the first person to set his foot on Mt Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary. They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit. If we were Hillary, we would have posed for our pics atop the feisty unconquered mountain, being the first one ever to do so. Hillary however took the famous photo of Norgay posing with his ice-axe. Norgay continues to tell us in his autobiography that when he had offered to take Hillary’s photograph, he declined—”I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it”.

Sounds unbelievable, right? Today we live in a world which swears by the line, “If you don’t blow your own horn, someone else will use it as a spittoon”. A world of “flashy displays” where people who do not gloat about their greatness lose the sweet spot and some perks that come with a promotion or a good hike, or a few social media likes. For our generation, this is a refreshing trivia; a story that teaches us to celebrate people, moments, relationships, partnerships than merely coddling oneself with self-glorification.

I’ll end this with another heartwarming quote from Tenzing Norgay’s book Tiger of the Snows:

“To a mountaineer, it’s of no great consequence who actually sets foot first. Often the one who puts more into the climb steps back and lets his partner stand on top first.”

So once again, let me ask you “What is your Everest?”

Is it reaching your most coveted goal, or letting go of the “self-praise”, the “want for recognition” that shall follow?

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