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5 Things I Learned Standing at the Base of a Mountain


Dotted Line founder and CEO Lauren Sweeney on the wild challenge of Everesting

5 Things I Learned Standing at the Base of a Mountain

Several weeks ago, I stood at the base of a mountain, ready to start one of the wildest, hardest things I have done.

I looked up, excited, and took off on my hike up that mountain. Over the next 36 hours, I found myself at the bottom 12 more times, struggling each time to gather the energy to repeat my ascent. By late afternoon on my second day, I had hiked 29,029 vertical feet – covering 30 miles within the allotted time.

This was Everesting. It was not just a challenge – it was a physically gruelling reckoning with everything I thought I knew about myself.

Entrepreneur and business leader Jesse Itzler calls it a Misogi challenge, something designed to help us uncover what we’re capable of and tap into possibilities we don’t see now. Over the past four years, I’ve learned a lot from these forms of goal setting, with an eye on applying these lessons to push my agency, Dotted Line, forward.

But perhaps no learning was as big as what I discovered as the hike was getting started: Why I signed up initially wasn’t ultimately why I was there. I originally came to Everesting to push beyond what I knew I could do and have a memorable experience, as I interacted with like-minded individuals. If you want a unique, memorable life, you have to be willing to find those opportunities and show up.

Taking on Everesting forced me to realistically self-reflect: In the face of adversity, how truly strong am I? How prepared am I?

My actual experience on that Utah mountain tested the limits of my emotional and mental psyche. I’ve had this article sitting in my drafts folder for weeks because I’ve still been thinking about and recalling those hours and how that mountain gave me much more than I anticipated. Here’s what I learned:

1. Tackle your goal with grit and perseverance.

Meeting and even exceeding every challenge requires you to follow key steps and develop grit and perseverance on that journey. No matter the challenge – weight loss, a new business or hiking mileage gained – you’ll begin at the same place. You likely start with some fear about the goal and self-doubt about whether you can reach it. Proper planning and consistent execution go a long way in moving you forward.

Any challenge comes with unforeseen problems, so we shouldn’t be surprised when these issues surface. Working through problems and adversity often separates those who will achieve their goal and those who don’t. The difficulty of the challenge is what makes your success that much sweeter. That conviction when reaching the goal fuels a mindset of greater confidence and mental fortitude.

Each ascent up Snowbasin Mountain took me 90 minutes to two hours, depending on where I was at that moment. In my first three ascents, I felt strong because I’d planned, prepared and gathered guidance from my coaches, peers, and friends. Each climb generated new meaning and purpose.

I see the Dotted Line journey as our own Everesting challenge. Entrepreneurship is about investing in something new or doing something that exists in a new or different way. Entrepreneurs find and fix problems to create new opportunities.

Take my personal ownership and leadership journey, for example, which always gets people’s attention. I didn’t come from an agency background. I consider that a benefit because I look at industry issues and opportunities with a different perspective; I’m not burdened down by both good and bad experiences at other firms. Growth and learning go hand in hand, and this has been an asset to the agency and how we work with our clients.

2. Attitude means everything.

When my hiking partner and I first arrived at the Everesting challenge, the sheer height of the Utah mountains seeded early doubts. Back in Virginia’s section of the Appalachian Trail, we’d completed nine training hikes, but those paled to the vertical pitch here in the West. We had put in the hard work – 10 months of training, gear preparation, hydration and nutrition consulting, and mindset coaching – and we had fulfilled the preparation goals. 

On that first day, we stood at the base of the mountain and said to ourselves, “When the race starts, we will put one foot in front of another, and we’ll go climb another mountain.” We believed we could accomplish the goal. We believed we would succeed. We believed in the end of our climbing story.

As a mentor has shared with me about agency ownership, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” That’s because our thinking and beliefs drive our behaviours. In our eight years, Dotted Line has ridden that coaster of highs and lows, ups and downs. If we believe we can tackle a pitch, we can. If we believe we can answer creatively to the toughest client test, we can. Positivity makes everything come together in magical ways.

3. Break it into bite-sized pieces.

Hitting Ascent 7, a little more than halfway in, started a gruelling stretch of hiking. By this point, I’d been hiking on a 20-40% pitch for 14 hours. Even though I was hiking with others, the mountain created a feeling of solitude, particularly as we realised how much of the challenge remained still ahead of us. Doubt started swirling and risked becoming overwhelming. 

At each critical point, I wrested back control and broke down the mountain into bite-sized (or hiking-boot-sized) chunks. As I persevered and advanced, we shrank the size of those chunks. At first, I simply aimed to reach the next aid station. Then, I’d try to get to the next light pole. At times, I counted and took 25 steps before I’d allow myself to pause. The challenge had evolved from physical to emotional demands, so these small, routine steps helped us push through the growing mental fatigue.

Scaling a team, a product, or a company is a similar uphill challenge but breaking the effort into individual steps focuses you on smaller pieces to complete and then move on to the next. You control the pace of that progress, including if you need to break down one step into micro-steps. The important thing is that you don’t stop but simply keep moving forward with progress.

4. We are the stories we tell ourselves.

Ascents 10-12 got harder with every step. The final push on each ascent got more and more brutal. You reached the top, rode the gondola down, and then were back at square one: looking up at that mountain as you drummed up the courage and energy to go at it again. You can’t succeed if you don’t try. While I had prepared, was I expecting it to be too easy? Too familiar? I allowed myself to fully realise that the journey was the ultimate success. Yes, I craved that red hat given to everyone who completes that final ascent in time, but succumbing to the process is part of the journey. I wasn’t going to allow myself to quit, and this dedication to perseverance kept me going when I emotionally was questioning why I was still there. In agency ownership, there are seasons when we have momentum, and every move feels like a win. Then there are years when we don’t achieve our goals. This happens in business, and I’ve learned the hard lessons of remaining optimistic, learning from our misses, and keeping focused on my purpose and ultimate desired outcome.

5. The journey is the ultimate success.

Ascent 13 – the final climb – was the toughest. Success was so close, and I was ready to cross that finish line and reflect on what I’d accomplished. Yet, given my pace at that moment, I still had another two hours of climbing ahead of me.

That final ascent turned out to be the most memorable, not just because of its difficulty. Seeing the other participants at various points in the challenge putting forth all they had to get the most out of their individual experiences propelled me to keep going.

And I was inspired by those participants who were choosing to keep going even though they knew they wouldn’t finish the challenge in time. They refused to quit. I spoke with a woman in her 50s who was celebrating that she made 10 of the 13 ascents, and she wanted to see if she had one last climb in her. These participants were my heroes and reminded me that no matter the outcome, the effort and the decision to not give up outweigh any trophy.

Part of the mantra at Everesting is “the journey isn’t about winning or losing; it’s about winning and learning.” This year at Dotted Line, we’ve seen success with notable, new clients, award-winning creative work, and business expansion. We’ve learned about shifting our culture and people priorities to align with where we’re headed next. We’ve learned about operating in our sweet spots and how to focus our talents. These are just a few accomplishments. 

I recently spent time reflecting on this year and considering what’s ahead in 2023. When I was finished, I had written down 27 hard lessons and takeaways from this year – this might be more than any other year of business ownership. It was a reminder to me that no matter the season – whether it be a year of peaks or valleys – there is support, growth and much to appreciate in life. 

Everesting pushed me to emotional and physical limits, but I hit the top of that mountain on my final ascent with a clearer understanding of my true potential and ability.

Lauren Sweeney is founder and CEO of Dotted Line.


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Dotted Line, Thu, 01 Dec 2022 14:19:21 GMT