In 2013 I took off to the Himalayas for some mountain time. I needed it after hitting a wall with my mental health. I had panic attacks regularly. My mood was constantly low. And I didn’t experience joy or interest in anything other than mountains, dogs, and a damn good breakfast burrito.
While sitting in a cabin with some friends near Lake Tahoe, I reached a verdict. I thought to myself, “Eh, fuck it. I’m going on some adventures.”
Why not? How I was currently living wasn’t helping my mental health.
So, I jumped into action.
On the same day, I emailed the CEO of the startup I was at to let him know that I was leaving the company. I then asked my real estate agent to do a one-day showing of my condo to offload it quickly. And I bought a one-way ticket to my dream destination: The Himalayas.
About a month later, I was in Nepal en route to some big mountains.
It was epic.
Here’s a shot I took on our way to Mount Everest.
A day or two later, we came up to a ridge we needed to ascend. It would take a few hours to get up the bank, which was only a few hundred feet, but it was a hard few hundred feet.
After cresting over the ridge, I stopped to take this shot.
The ridge itself was at 15,000 feet. We were surrounded by peaks that were 20,000+ feet tall in all directions. It was spectacular. It was like being in Asgard.
Do you notice those lumps of rock on the ridgeline? Take a closer look.
Those lumps of rock are tombstones for climbers that died on Mount Everest.
The tone within our group turned somber as soon as we crested the hill and were welcomed by the granite memories of dead climbers.
I sat down next to one of the tombstones to catch my breath, take in the view, and process what I was experiencing.
Next to me sat a carefully crafted tombstone.
It’s in memory of Rick H Hitch, one of the many climbers that perished on the mountain. On it reads what I presume to be his motto on life:
Live a Story.
It struck me at that moment. I had quit my job, sold my house, and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the world to experience some epic mountains. Many of my colleagues and family members were puzzled by my decision to drop everything and hit the road.
But in that intimate moment with Rick’s tombstone, I recall saying, “Live a story… you’re fucking right about that!” as I sat staring at the monumental relics of 50 million years of tectonic activity.
I felt fully alive. I knew I had made the right decision to leave behind the conventional path I was on to more money and more status.
Upon hearing that I was leaving my job, an executive I was close with said, “Don’t you know you can be the next Chamath?!” To his credit, he was thinking about my best interest from a career and reputation standpoint. He believed in me.
However, he didn’t understand that I didn’t care about being the next executive superstar. All I wanted was to not feel anxious, depressed, and numb to life’s daily joys.
The mountains gave me what I was searching for. They helped reset my nervous system. And it allowed me to connect with other like-minded people from around the world who had their reasons for journeying to the Himalayas.
A few days later, I was sitting on the summit of a mountain adjacent to Everest. See that big shadow cast on the lower left-hand side of the image? That’s the shadow from Mount Everest. Pretty cool.
Just one month before that, I felt like shit most of the time. Yet it seemed distant and unfamiliar compared to how I felt while on a remote mountain in the Himalayas.
My trip to the mountains and the fortuitous encounter with Rick’s tombstone taught me much about life and emotional healing.
- If what you’re currently doing isn’t working, you have to change what you’re doing, even if it’s hard. I had done everything I was supposed to be doing in life. I had a nice home and a prominent job. Neither did much for my internal emotional state. So I bailed and decided to try a new approach and find a lifestyle that would work for me.
- When you’re with a good group of people, almost nothing else matters. I met wonderful people during this trip. I bonded with the Nepali mountain guides and porters and with the other mountaineers from around the globe. We had so much fun together shooting the shit around camp, laughing at each other’s horrendous mountain gas (HAFE — it’s a real thing), and complaining about the never-ending amount of oatmeal we had to eat to stay fueled.
- Life is a story that you can write for yourself. It’s ok to live differently. If others don’t understand your decisions, they don’t know you well enough. It’s not because your choices are inherently wrong or bad. Your choices are your choices. Live according to your own story, not everyone else's. And, if you feel inclined, make your life a story that others would be thrilled to read about.
Altogether, I was there for about a month. It was a brilliant decision that had a regenerative impact on my mental health, which allowed me to return to work several months later, recharged and ready for another big push up the ol’ career ladder.
Connecting with nature. Being part of a tribe. And a motto about living life as a story.
It’s often the simple things that help us reset and find our bearings.