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  • Olga Roman

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

At the beginning of 2019, I decided to register to climb Denali, my fourth out of the Seven Summits—the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. In the prior years, I climbed and summitted Kilimanjaro (the highest peak in Africa), Aconcagua (the highest peak in South America) and Elbrus (the highest peak in Europe). I attempted to climb Denali in 2017, but we did not reach the summit because of adverse weather conditions.

Denali--also known as Mount McKinley--is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. Located in the Alaska Range just outside the artic, this mountain presents climbers with violent weather and extreme cold. While the West Buttress route is not technically difficult, the lower half of the mountain is packed with crevasses and there are steep slopes of up to 50 degrees and many dangerous and exposed sections above 14,000 feet. Another major challenge on Denali that each climber is responsible to carrying his or her own gear and food up and down the mountain, which could weight up to 150 pounds per person.

I admit that cold, altitude and carrying heavy loads made the Denali climb the toughest physical challenge I experienced. Generally, West Buttress expedition includes up to 20 days on the glacier and climbers spend every night of the expedition camped on the snow. There were nights when I could not sleep, shivering from cold in my -40°C sleeping bag. My body was constantly aching from carrying a heavy 50+ pound backpack--which I nicknamed the Monster— and dragging a sled with gear behind me. As we were ascending, I also started feeling the effects of high altitude on my body: tiredness, dizziness and headaches. Going without shower for over two weeks and pooping in plastic buckets (clean mountain cans) added another challenging to our adventure.

Every day I was just embracing my experience, focusing on the things that are within my control and what I need to accomplish. I reminded myself that it was my choice and my decision to climb Denali. I just kept pushing forward, focusing on one step at a time—no pun intended. Sometimes—especially on steeper slopes—I would ask myself the questions that I often heard from my friends and family: “Why are you doing this?”, “Why are you spending all this money to torture yourself on the mountain while you could have a relaxing vacation at a luxury beach resort?”

There are several reasons why I climb mountains. I enjoy the feeling of being connected with nature and being surrounded by magnificent views. I love traveling, exploring and meeting like-minded people from around the world. But there is also another aspect of climbing that draws me to the mountains. It is the way to test my limits, to see how far I can push myself and experience the pleasure of overcoming pain and discomfort. It helps me to discover my resilience and inner strength. Climbing taught me to look for humor even in the most challenging situations and stay positive. It’s the game that requires every ounce of my mental and physical strength and my mind can be either my main opponent or my main supporter.

You don’t need to subject yourself to the extremes of climbing mountains. Life can make you feel uncomfortable as you apply for a new job, decide to open your own business, train for a race or break up an unhappy relationship. Just remember, that uncomfortable feeling means that you are moving forward. If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you'll be able to handle whatever situation comes along in your own life.

As you are facing an uncomfortable situation, try the following steps:

--Recognize and embrace the uncomfortable feeling, knowing that you are getting beyond your comfort limits

--Focus on what’s within your control

--Remind yourself what you want to accomplish and why

--Recognize your progress, including your prior achievements

--Find some humor in a situation and give yourself permission to laugh or at least to smile 😊

--Just stay focused and keep going, no matter how badly you want to quit

Most of us try to avoid uncomfortable experiences, some of us, on the contrary, are seeking them. By pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, you evolve as person and discover your full potential.