This week we have Alison Levine. Alison is another one of these people who is super accomplished. It was such a fun time for me to get caught up with her. This is a woman who had to overcome a heart condition. She had way too many valves going into her heart. It took her three surgeries before it finally got fixed. Over her life, she has climbed the Seven Summits. She has skied to the North and the South Pole. Youcombine those two things together and you get the Adventurers Grand Slam. Think about that. She is also behind a really cool movie project called The Glass Ceiling, which is all about the first Nepali woman to climbed Mt. Everest. Then unfortunately on her way down, she fell to her death. She didn’t make it. It’s just really turned into this big deal. It was like Princess Diana. She describes it when Princess Diana had passed away in a tragic car crash.
She is the best-selling author of a book called On the Edge. She is the number one speaker on the public speaking circuit within the Keppler organization, which is a very well-known organization with really big-time names. She is number one because she is able to relate to the average person. She didn’t win the Heisman Trophy or win a gold medal, but she just did it one step at a time. That’s what she really talks about. She didn’t have a grand master plan about climbing all these mountains. She fell into it and just said, “I’m done with Corporate America,” she worked at Goldman Sachs, and decided to take this on full-time, got some sponsorships and then started to climb these crazy mountains all over the world. She did Everest once, got turned back, high altitude, crazy weather, she had all kinds of problems. She had to navigate, get through, did not make it and wouldn’t be until eight years later that she would go back and actually conquer that mountain. She is a bad-ass. It was really cool to talk with her. Alison Levine is the person on the pod today. As always, go in, rate and review. If you want to find out any more info about everything I’m up to you can check me out, MarkPattisonNFL.com. With that, let’s get into the pod.
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Alison Levine: Seven Summiteer, Featured on 60 Minutes, #1 Public Speaker and Producer of the film “The Glass Ceiling”
This week, I’m so blessed and grateful to have Alison Levine on the pod. She is an amazing soul, a go-getter and an adventurer, a public speaker. There are so many things that we’re going to get into. Alison, how are you doing?
I am doing well. Happy to be on the pod.
There are so many things I want to talk to you about. Just a quick set-up on your life, I want to dig into how you got there, why you started doing these different adventures and how that got into public speaking for you? For those that don’t know, Alison has done the Seven Summits and actually something called the Adventurers Grand Slam, which is skiing to the North and South Pole. There are only X amount of people who have ever actually pulled that off, let alone being a female and wanting to go down that path. Let’s start there. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in balmy Phoenix, Arizona.
As we both know, there are no huge peaks in balmy Arizona. Where did this whole love of climbing kick in?
When I was younger, I was always very intrigued by the stories of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers and the early mountaineers. It probably was because growing up in Phoenix and 122 degrees summers, I just thought, “I’ll read about these cold places and maybe I can transport myself there.” I would read these books and I would watch these documentary films. Long story short, I had my second heart surgery when I turned 30. About eighteen months later when I got the “All clear” from my doctor, this light bulb went on in my head and I thought, “If I want to know what it’s like to be Reinhold Messner and drag 150-pound sled across 600 miles of Antarctic ice, then I should go do it instead of just reading about it. If I want to know what it’s like to be these explorers going to all these remote mountain ranges, then I should go to those mountain ranges instead of just watching documentaries about them. If these other guys can go out there and do this stuff, then I can get out there and do it too.” That’s just how it started.
Let’s get back to a little detail that you threw in there that I want to understand better. You talked about going through this heart surgery at 30. What was going on with you?
I was born with a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which is an extra bypass tract in my heart that was not supposed to be there. I had one procedure when I was seventeen, one when I was 30 and then another one when I was 44. The first one was not effective. They were not able to correct the problem. That was when I was seventeen. When I was 30 by then, medical technology had advanced to the point where they are getting pretty good at this stuff. I had my second procedure done at UCSF and it was successful at closing off this bypass tract. Little did the doctors know, I actually had another little hole in my heart that had gone undetected that I had to have fixed when I was 44.
What were the obvious symptoms for you? Was it harder for you to breathe or was your heart racing?
When I was growing up I would have my heart racing and hard to breathe and chest pains. I grew up in this very tough love family where there was no whining, no complaining allowed. I would tell my mom, “I think something’s wrong. I just feel like there’s this crushing feeling in my chest and my heart is beating really fast and I can’t breathe.” She would say, “You’re just nervous for your piano recital.” I’m like, “I don’t think so, mom, because I don’t even take piano lessons.” She’d be like, “That’s why you should be nervous.” I just ignored it, then when I was seventeen, I finally lost consciousness from it because no blood was getting to my brain. My heart was beating so quickly that it wasn’t beating strongly enough to pump blood. No blood was getting into my brain. I was unconscious and they rushed me to the hospital and that’s when the doctor said, “Who’s your cardiologist back home?” I was skiing at a ski resort at the time and I said, “I don’t have a cardiologist. I’m only seventeen.” He said, “How can you not have a cardiologist? Your EKG is completely abnormal.” I just explained I never really gone to a doctor when I was growing up. I got diagnosed at seventeen.
I’ve got lucky there have been a few people that have come to me with stories of loved ones that have died from this condition or loved ones that suffered permanent brain damage and are in a wheelchair for life, unable to walk or talk because of the same condition. I feel lucky that I was able to get it diagnosed and corrected.
When did you start climbing?
I climbed my first mountain when I was 32. I’m 51 now, so almost 20 years ago.
The reason why I tied that together is because, you and I are kindred spirits from the standpoint of loving the mountains and being in them and being at high altitude. You’ve been a little bit higher than I have been. Still, as you know, the higher you go, the less oxygen there is. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth and really regulating that is so key in success or failure in terms of getting to that top. You with this condition, it’s shortly after then, right? You said there were three surgeries: One at seventeen, maybe 30 and then 45?
Yeah, my last one was at 44.
Did you feel the impact between these surgeries and as you’re climbing and advancing your game in terms of your breathing?
Because I didn’t start climbing until after my second heart surgery, I didn’t know what it was like to climb before. I couldn’t really compare and contrast to the two situations.
Let’s just take the mountains out of the picture or skiing to the North Pole out of the picture. Dealing with a heart condition, it’s life and death. The gal that’s actually on today’s podcast, Emily Farkas, is a cardiothoracic surgeon. She has used this exact thing that you’re dealing. She’s amazing and she goes around all over the world and operates on these kids in third world villages that can’t afford it. It’s literally MacGyver with a knife and a spoon and other non-advanced tools where she’s going in and actually solving these problems and saving lives. In your case, it could have gone either way. Where did you go to college?
I was born and raised in Phoenix, went down to Tucson for college at the University of Arizona. I went to U of A for undergrad but I went to grad school at Duke. I have two great basketball schools to cheer for.
The reason why I bring that up is because this path that you took, you ultimately ended up at Goldman Sachs, right?
What was that like?
I went to Goldman after graduate school, after I finished my MBA. I was a Liberal Arts major at the University of Arizona. I had no background in finance or accounting or any quantitative skills. I figured if I ever wanted to start a company or become an entrepreneur or something, it would be a good idea to learn some finance and accounting and take some basic business courses. I went to grad school. When I was there I thought, “If I want to really stretch myself and learn some skills that are pretty far out of my comfort zone, then I should try to get a job on Wall Street.” I was a Liberal Arts major with a sales and marketing background, Wall Street was about the furthest thing from my comfort zone. I thought, “I want to be with Wall Street firms,” and I did. I ended up getting a job with Goldman Sachs and worked there for three years right after grad school.
Was it in between, before or after this whole vision board for you about this climbing? Did it evolve or did you have the picture in front of you from day one? How did that work for you?
It really just evolved. I never really had a picture in front of me. I’m more of the “Live for the moment,” I like spontaneity, I like improvisation. I’m more into that stuff than I am into long-term planning. I quit my job two months before I started grad school because I had never really taken any vacation. I graduated from college early, went straight into the workforce. When I got into grad school, I thought I want to go have some adventure that I’ve not had before. I ended up just going by myself to Tanzania and went to Kilimanjaro and hired a local guide at the base of the mountain and that was the first mountain I ever went to. Even though it’s just a tracking peak and it’s not technical, and basically anybody with some stamina and some determination can do it.
I loved the experience. I just felt this sense of empowerment from being in the mountains and realizing that everything you need to get by in life, you can carry on your back: a tent, a stove, some pretty stride foods, some warm clothes, sleeping bag and you’re good to go. It was also an important mountain for me because while it’s not super difficult, it was my first time in altitude. It’s over 19,000 feet, so you’ll feel the altitude. It was the first time I felt, “I have a headache, I have a stomach ache, I don’t feel good, I need to turn around. I’m just going to take one more step before I turn around, one more step forward. Maybe I could just take one more step forward before I turn around. Maybe now just one and two more steps before I turn around.” Then all of a sudden, I found myself at the summit. For me, it was a life-changing mountain because it taught me that you can always take one more step. If you can take one more step, then you can take one more step after that. Every time I feel like, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. I need to turn around.” I go back to that day, that summit day in Kilimanjaro in 1998 and I thought, “I didn’t think I could keep going and I did it then, so I can do it now.”
There are two things that you said in there that I really resonate with. Number one, you can carry these things on your back, the things that are important. This last February, I was fortunate being invited by Chris Long who plays for the Eagles and he has a foundation called Waterboys, which is all about raising money to build water wells for the people in the Maasai tribe in the Serengeti. A bunch of other NFL guys and some green berets, we all went down. It was really amazing because you go in there and these people have nothing yet their happiness factor is just literally off the chart. The currency is a goat and they don’t have cars and they’re out there and are very traditional. Women are cooking and making their arts and crafts. They’re just incredibly happy.
The other point that I certainly connect with you on what you said about one step forward. I crashed on summit day on my first time five years ago at about 16,000 feet. I got out of the gate and just hadn’t really figured out and understood the nutrition game. I just lost all my energy. It was that thing where I sat down and my porter was slapping me in the face and punching me around and shoving a protein bar down my mouth and it got me up. It was that same thing, just to get to the next point and rehydrate and keep going. I did make it to the top. It was when I was going through a tough time personally and because of that it was really symbolic in a way that if I could do that, I could get through anything; a lot of what you’re talking about, one step then one step then one step. You can keep going. I love that.
The calorie intake, the food thing and the energy is so important too. It’s hard because people lose their appetite in altitude so they don’t eat enough and then they balk. When I’ve taken people to the mountains and I’ll say, “We’re stopping for a break. Grab a snack.” “I’m not hungry.” “I don’t care, grab a snack anyway.” They think, “I’m not hungry,” and then all of a sudden, they completely run out of steam. It happens to everybody.
That happened to me. I just had to learn mountaineering. It wasn’t really until when I was in Elbrus or something where I was really starting to figure it out and hydrate and have nutrition higher up. You’re right. Exactly what you said, these people just don’t understand that the higher you go, your appetite gets suppressed in those moments.
Even my husband who’s a tough guy, he went to West Point, he was in the army, same thing happened to him. We went to Mount Shasta and he didn’t eat, didn’t eat, didn’t eat and by the time we got to the 10,000 foot camp, he literally couldn’t go up anymore just from lack of eating. He’s a strong guy but did not take in enough calories.
You go up and you have this enlightened moment, for lack of a better word, about one step, one step and getting to the top at Kilimanjaro. Like me, it’s not technical but it does test your altitude and how you do up there. Where did you go from there? Is the, “I want the Seven Summits” thing starting to come in to view a little bit more?
No, not necessarily. I started grad school after that and we were on six-week terms at Duke. I wanted to go somewhere every time I had a break from school. I didn’t have any money because I was living off of student loans but I had a ton of frequent-flyer miles because I had lived and worked in Asia prior to starting grad school. I figured out every time I had a break from school, I could go to another mountain. I could basically get there for free and throw everything I needed in a backpack so I could see the world on every break that I had and do it for free , but I couldn’t afford hotels or rental cars or anything like that. Going to the mountains seem like a good way to travel and have adventure without really having to spend any money. That’s how it started.
I did Kilimanjaro and then Elbrus right before I started grad school. Then once I was in grad school, I went to Carstensz Pyramid, I went to Aconcagua, did Denali right when I finished up. Then shortly after when I started the training program for Goldman, I got this offer to go to the Vinson Massif in Antarctica. It was someone that was involved in a logistics company at the time. It was a way to get there in a pretty inexpensive manner because I think at the time, it was $30,000 or something crazy. I didn’t have any money. I was working at Goldman but I was a new associate. We had a five-figure income. I’m living in San Francisco, which is an expensive city on five figures with $70,000 of debt. You’re not living large by any means, so there was no way I could afford to do that trip the normal way. It was this opportunity. I was on a training program. I went to the guy that ran the training program, his name was Peter Greeve, I’ll never forget this guy. I said, “I have this opportunity.” I thought he would say, “Do you know how many people would kill for your job? If you’re not focused, you shouldn’t be here,” some lecture like that. He just said, “I totally understand. This is a great opportunity. We’re going to let you leave the training program and go do this climb.” I’ve got to do that in the end of December 2000, beginning of 2001. That was my sixth of the Seven Summits and then just had Everest left.
What a blessing that you had a guy at Goldman to say that to you. To your point, most people would not have that same answer, that response. The American dream, I think, at times can be a big lie, like you have to do it this exact way.
The other thing is it’s much more common now for people to take these extended vacations and unpaid leaves and do a gap year or go on Sabbatical. That’s very popular now but this is sixteen, seventeen years ago. People didn’t do that. People were just so grateful to have a job and it was scary to even ask for the time-off. I was afraid they would think that I wasn’t appreciative of the job or I wasn’t dedicated to the job or I wasn’t a hard worker or I was not focused. I was afraid to ask and I thought I might never get another opportunity to go back to this mountain especially on a five-figure income with so much debt and living in such an expensive city. I just thought this is once in a lifetime. It was an important lesson. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. If you don’t ask, you’re for sure not going to get the opportunity. 100% guaranteed, it will not happen for you because you didn’t ask. There is some risk in asking, I realized that. At the time, sixteen years ago, people weren’t saying, “Take a couple of weeks off,” even though you just started this new job. That’s basically what they let me do, so I was super appreciative. Of course, it took a huge Goldman Sachs banner to the top of the Vinson Massif to say, “Thank you.”
Did you ever feel any bias as a woman?
When I started climbing, there weren’t that many women in the mountains at the time. I think it can work for you and it can work against you. There were definitely super chivalrous people I ran into that were always offering to help me, “How are you doing? Checking in. This is so hard for me, you’re half my size, it must be hard for you,” because I’m 5’4’’ and 112 pounds. Then there were definitely times where people would make little side remarks. Even one time I remember in Antarctica, and it wasn’t someone on my trip, another guy just super drunk, literally trying to pull me on to his lap. He made me sit on his lap and there was not one other woman anywhere in site and everyone was laughing and thought it was so funny. I was literally struggling to get away from this guy, literally pulling myself away thinking, “This is not funny to me.” Nowadays, it’s so much more common to see women out on peaks all over the place and women traveling alone. It’s so much more common now but back in the day, there were definitely times where it was challenging.
I was just on Denali last May. I did not make the top. It was minus 60 up there and valued my life and limb, fingers and toes more. We were stuck at that 14,000 foot camp, didn’t make it up that wall to 16,000. I’m almost 200 pounds and I was pulling 126 between my backpack and my sled. You just said you’re 100 and not much. How did you do that? How did you carry that weight?
It’s so hard. I had to put more of it in my sled than in my pack. Everybody distributes their weight differently based on what feels right to them. For me, most of the stuff was on the sled so it was so much easier to pull it. That said, when I did my South Pole expedition, which was crossing 600 miles of Antarctica ice on skis, it’s all sled. You’ve got 150 pounds in your sled. I was definitely really, really struggling to keep up with my teammates who are 6’3”, 220 pounds. I’ve wrote about that in my book called On the Edge. Chapter six is all about that struggle of how does it feel when you trained your ass off but you are still the slowest, weakest person on the team? How do you find a way to contribute and be valuable when you clearly are not going to be able to keep up with your teammates? That for me was a challenge; not just the physical challenge but the psychological and emotional challenge of feeling like I was holding my team back and being a drag on them. That’s hard to deal with.
How did you come in terms of that?
It was a great leadership learning moment for me because I took a cue from our expedition leader in Australia named Eric Phillips who is amazing. He, basically in a very respectful way, ended up taking weight out of my sled to make my sled lighter. I overheard Eric talking to one of my teammates, George, in their tent and I heard Eric saying, “I feel so bad for Alison. She’s really struggling with the weight of her sled.” George said, “I know. She’s so much smaller than everybody.” Eric said, “We should help her out. Let’s help her out tomorrow.” George was like, “Good idea.” The way they handled it was brilliant because Eric got out of the tent and instead of saying, “You’re clearly slower than everybody, we’re going to take some weight out of your sled so you could keep up.” He said, “Before we start off skiing today, I just want to weigh everybody’s sleds and make sure they’re all about even. George, grab the end of your sled, let’s weigh yours.” They each pick up the end of this humungous, big fiber glass sled and they weigh it, “This one feels good. Let’s grab my sled, let’s weigh that one. Grab the end of the sled, we’ll weigh that sled. That one feels good. Grab the end of Alison’s sled. Let’s weigh that one.”
They each pick up the end of this massive sled. They pick it up three inches off the ground. They both drop it simultaneously and start clutching their backs going, “What’s in this sled? This is crazy. Your sled is so much heavier than everybody else’s. We’ve got to make this a little more even. George, you take her fuel canister. I’m going to take her food bag.” They’re now offloading weight from my sled. I knew what they were doing because I overheard them and I knew my sled was not any heavier than anybody else’s. The way Eric handled that really allowed me to keep my pride intact and sent me a strong message that I was an important, valued member of the team. I’ll never forget the way they did that. Of course, now I’m thinking, “I need to pay these guys back. What am I going to do to make up for the fact that they are carrying more weight than they should be carrying?” I just went into observation mode, “What can I do to be a valuable member?”
At the end of the day you have to shovel snow around your tent to build a barricade to protect it from the elements. What I noticed was these taller guys were wrenching their backs using this very short snow shovel trying to make the snow barricade. Of course, I’m shorter to the ground at 5’4” so I can use a snow shovel without wrenching my backs. That next night I said to them, “Can I shovel the snow around the tent? I’ll make the barricade for you.” Eric said, “You want to do what?” I said, “I want to shovel the snow around your tent.” He said, “Why would you want to do that?” I said, “Because I love to shovel snow.” He said, “Come on, you love to shovel snow?” I said, “Yes, I am from Phoenix and we never got to do that when I was a kid. It’s really a treat for me.” I became the person that shoveled the snow barricades. I found a way to contribute to my team. I found a way that one of my weaknesses, being small and short, actually ended up to be a strength.
It was such an important lesson because I learned that as leaders, we need to help the weaker people on our team to not overcome but to compensate their weakness. There are some weaknesses that people will never overcome. I was never going to overcome my size and my weight, but I could compensate for it. For me, it was just a great lesson. As leaders, we need to help people find their sweet spot and make sure that they feel they’re a valuable contributor to the team. If you can do that for someone who’s a weaker performer, you will often get a higher level of performance and value out of them than you would have gotten out of them if they had been an on par performer with everybody else to begin with.
Essentially what you’re talking about here is there’s no ‘I’ in team. I think from a corporate leadership standpoint, what you said makes total sense. What people don’t understand though is in the world of mountain climbing that becomes such a valuable key that people are tethered together on ropes and you have to work in tandem, in unison, to put up the tents and cook and pull your weight. Some are stronger than others in different areas. What you’re talking about compensating in other ways is so important to the success and the eventual outcome of the team.
I think for everybody’s mental well-being, if you see someone that’s a weaker member, it’s so easy to be like, “We’re with this person. I wish these persons weren’t on our team because they’re slowing us down.” Then everybody gets down about that. Instead, you just have to look at that person and take it upon yourself to think, “What am I going to do to make this person a better performer?” Instead of just looking at that person and thinking, “They’re terrible, I wish they weren’t part of this team.”
We dealt with that on Denali. There was a guy that wouldn’t do all the things of compensating. We had to carry all his stuff. He quit on that 2,000-foot phase going up on the fix lines on Denali. In terms of building walls there, as you know you have to build these three-foot, four-foot walls around your tent to protect you from the wind and the elements. He wouldn’t dig, he wouldn’t help. As you know, you get stressed. Your patience gets very limited. It’s hard to say, “How can I help?” Even the team leaders were like, “You need to do this. You need to do that,” and we’re willing to do other things for him. He was not even willing to do those things for himself.
That’s what the difference is. For me, I so wanted to contribute and I so wished that I could be out in front the strongest, fastest person that was helping everybody but the law of physics basically dictates that someone my size can’t do that. That’s the difference. The motivation has to be there. You’re talking about somebody that is not at all motivated to be a team player and to help the team. That’s a much more difficult situation to deal with. Funny, I had someone like that on my Denali trip too who would just do her thing. When she was done, she would just sit down while the rest of us were busting our asses like break down camp. As soon as she had her backpack packed, she would just sit there and I’m like, “Could we get a hand in breaking these tents that you just slept in?” To me, it’s amazing that you have to remind people of that because when they’re sitting there watching everybody work, I’m thinking, “How does it not occur to you to get off your ass and help everybody?”
Jim Collins has got this book called Good to Great. He talks about if you don’t have everybody on the bus, you need to get that person off the bus. Of course, when you’re at high altitude and you’re just figuring these things out, you just can’t kick people off the bus. You’re just really hoping that in future endeavors that you do like that, you are with the right team members that really understand the whole team work concept. This is an ignorant question on my end, so excuse me in advance of this question. Did you run in to any polar bears out there?
No, we did not.
What pole was that?
That was South Pole but they’re North. I did North Pole as well and we had loaded guns with us not to shoot a bear but to shoot into the air to scare them if need be, but we didn’t run into any.
Let’s talk about Everest. It took you two tries to get to the top of the Everest. Tell me what happened on that first Everest trip.
How high up did you get?
You’re literally 100 yards away from the top?
Yes, less than the length of a football field to put it in your perspective.
If you would have just climbed at your pace to climb the length of a football field at that altitude, how long does that take to do?
The thing is we still had the Hillary Step in front of us. Even though 75 feet feels like it’s doable, you could just run and touch the top and run back down, but that would take us several hours because of the obstacles that were in front of us and because of that elevation, as you know, you’re taking multiple breaths for every step at times.
You’re competitive obviously. You want to go but you’re also thinking about your life. How were you processing that?
What made it more difficult was the fact that we were the first American Women’s Everest expedition. We had this big sponsor in Ford. We had 450 media outlets following our climb. CNN was doing live up into the mountain and you just feel so much pressure to succeed because of all of that media attention. It’s hard but what you have to remember is that the summit is never the goal. The summit is the halfway point only. That’s it. It’s only halfway. You have to be able to get yourself to the summit and back down. Whether you’re dealing with low energy levels or you’re cold, you’re becoming hypothermic or you’re dealing with weather, you can’t think, “Will the weather hold long enough for me to get to the top?” You have to think, “Will the weather hold long enough for me to get to the top and back down?” As you know, it’s always important and it’s always best to air on the side of being conservative because any mountain is just a pile of rock and ice and you can always go back. If you do something dumb up there, you may not have the opportunity to go back.
How were you feeling at that point despite the storm?
I had all kinds of problems with my oxygen tank. I don’t even remember all that well exactly how I was feeling. My tank had malfunctioned so I had been climbing for 45 minutes up in the death zone with no oxygen. I think less than 1% of climbers summit Everest without oxygen. They’ve been without oxygen the whole time. When you’ve been using it from the high camp up or from Camp 3 up and then all of a sudden you don’t have it, it really takes toll on your body. Having an oxygen tank malfunction was no fun. I would not recommend that. I just remember feeling very relieved when we were going down because I knew that we were going to make it back down to the high camp at the South Col. I was really confident we were going to make it. That was all I was thinking about, just getting down safely.
How many years later did you go back to Everest?
Eight years later.
Was that eating at you the entire time during those eight years?
It really wasn’t at all.
Was it still part of your goal at the time?
I wasn’t really thinking about it. It wasn’t like it was something that was hanging over my head by any means.
Let’s talk about then eight years later. Now, you’re on the mountain, you’re going up and you get to Camp 4 so now you’re at 26,000 plus up there. How was the weather?
You’re reminiscing eight years before like, “I’ve seen this movie.”
I write a lot about it in my book actually about what that summit day was like.
You did persevere and you got at the top and you touched it. That was your seventh, right?
Was it a glorious moment? Did you stay out there for a while or did you descend immediately? What did you do?
Yeah, we were up there for about 30 minutes.
When you came down, could you see? Was it clear that way? Were you above the storm?
No. We had no blue skies. We had no clarity at all the whole time.
I’ve seen pictures of people up there, which you can see literally to the end of the Earth.
We were in the white out.
That’s the way it was for me in Elbrus in Russia. It was 10 feet in front of me and that was it. I couldn’t see all the beautiful mountains that were out there that we’d seen the days before. In terms of the Adventurers Grand Slam doing the North and South Pole and the Seven Summits, did you do the skiing to the North and South Pole after you did Everest? Was it sandwiched in between those eight years?
I did not. It was before that.
How many people in the world do you think have actually completed that?
Probably a couple dozen, I’m guessing by now. When I did it in 2010, I think there were less than twenty or twelve people maybe. Now, I think there are a couple of dozen.
There’s a guy named Colin O’Brady who I talked to on the podcast and he did the Grand Slam, everything that you did, in 139 days and set the world record of running up and down these mountains. It’s just incredible.
I think it would be so much easier to do it that way because you’re totally acclimatize. You can clearly afford to not work for that long. For the real us, common folks, that have to have jobs and pay the rent, it’s so much harder. If you can just do it straight through, you’re totally acclimatize, you’re in the element the whole time, you don’t have other distractions, you don’t have to worry about anything else. I think it would be just so much easier to do it straight through.
The thing that’s cool about that is that the Guinness Book of World Record does not start until you touch the top of your first mountain or your destination like the North Pole or South Pole. I want to switch gears here and I want to talk about The Glass Ceiling. I saw that preview and I was really moved by it. I know it’s an Indiegogo project that you’re up to that you’re behind. Can you tell me more about that project?
We’re actually going to launch the Indiegogo campaign next month for this film. It’s called The Glass Ceiling. I just think it’s so important in life to honor the people who have paved the way before you and who have done really hard things that allow other people to achieve goals. For me, one of my heroes was a woman named Pasang Lhamu Sherpa who was the first female Sherpa to climb out Everest. I know a lot of people may think that Sherpa is a job of carrying things up the mountain, but Sherpa is actually an ethnicity. The Sherpas are an ethnic group. There are Sherpas that are doctors and lawyers and accountants and things like that.
Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was a female Sherpa that grew up in the Nepal. She had this dream to climb Everest because she saw all these men in her village climbing the mountain and working on the mountain as mountain guides and porters. She wanted to do the same thing but Nepal would not let Sherpa women on the mountain. They would only let the men. This one was dirt-poor, couldn’t read, couldn’t write, had no education yet had the courage to fight the government of Nepal for female Sherpas’ right to climb that mountain. Her argument was basically, “You’ve let women from sixteen other countries come here and climb the mountain that’s in our backyard, yet you will not let local women climb,” which made no sense. She tried three times unsuccessfully thwarted by bad weather or climbing politics. Sometimes she got all the way to the high camp and the expedition leader who was a guy from France wouldn’t let her try for the summit. He basically said, “She was just a housewife. She was never going to make it. We didn’t want to waste our supplies and our oxygen supplies on her because she’s just a housewife.” She was just furious by that. When she came down she realized the only way she was really going to have a shot was to organize her own expedition. She organized the first Nepali Everest Expedition. She finally summited on her fourth attempt in 1993 becoming the first female Sherpa and the first Nepali woman to summit. She died on the descent so she did not live to see her legacy and she left three small children behind.
Everyone in Nepal knows about Pasang. Her funeral was like Princess Diana’s funeral. The whole country is out in the streets sobbing, carrying posters of her because she had become this person that the whole country put their faith in to put the country on the map. She’s got a museum named after her and a street named after her. She’s on a postage stamp in Nepal but people outside of Nepal don’t know her story. I think it’s such an important story to tell because it just shows you that no matter your race, gender, socioeconomic background, level of education, anybody can be an architect of change. You can change your country. You can change the world if you just have courage and determination. That’s all it took for her to really make those changes and break through that glass ceiling for women in Nepal. If you want to learn more about the film, you can go to our website, TheGlassCeilingMovie.com. There’s a little email sign-up if you’re interested in helping us spread the word for our Indiegogo campaign. Just put your email in there and we’ll send you an email about it. We really appreciate any help that anyone can give us. I know not everyone can afford to contribute but everyone can help by just forwarding and sharing on social media.
What I saw was a two, three-minute clip of what this thing is about, the trailer. Now, what you have to do is this money is going to help you actually produce a film, is that right?
Yes. We have to raise all the money for the post-production cost. This film actually costs a few hundred thousand dollars for post-production, so we’ve got to acquire all the high altitude aerial footage and the color correction, the editing and the sound. We’ve got an award-winning composer who’s going to do an original score for the film. Part of what’s been challenging is that you can imagine the types of video cameras that Sherpas had back in the early 90s. They were not good. The quality is so poor so we’re going to have to license a lot of footage and also try to spruce up the old archival footage that we have and make it useable for this. That really takes a lot of artistic work to work on that old archival footage to make it something that’s acceptable for film standards today. That’s why we need to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars from this campaign.
The trailer is awesome. I would really encourage anybody to go see this, the trailer and fund this if you can, TheGlassCeilingMovie.com. Last question, how do you get on 60 Minutes? You were a rock star. I’m like, “What?” I checked it out. I would freak out if someone pound on my front door and there’s a camera and they’d go, “Hi, this is 60 Minutes.”
I was like, “What did I do wrong?”
You were in Goldman Sachs, right?
No, that was years before that. Speaking of that, I’ve got a random email from somebody who I remember because I was training in Colorado. Some random person was like, and it was after the real estate market crash, “How do you feel having worked for a company that helped ruin this country, while you pocketed millions of dollars in the mean time?” I was like, “Millions of dollars?” I’m laughing and I’m like, “I had a five-figure income. Try Lloyd.Blankfein@GS.com,” the CEO, “because clearly I had a five-figure income. I did not pocket millions and I haven’t worked there since 2003.” People just hear the story and relay the story and a lot of it is what they’re looking for at the time. I was nervous at first. I was like, “What is the story going to be about?”
Alison, I want to pump and this feeds into some of the things on that 60 Minute-piece. For people who have not heard of you, Alison Levine, I just want everybody to know that you’re one of the top motivational speakers in the country. You just have such a great message about leadership, about overcoming things, about pursuit of your dream, about not giving up, about team work, about a lot of these different things that you’ve done, you’ve accomplished first-hand. You’re not reporting about somebody else. You actually are the doer and then just talking about all the stuff.
It’s crazy because I’m represented by one of the largest speakers’ bureau in the country. They represent a lot of big famous names that people have heard of. For whatever reason, I’ve been their most frequently booked speaker for six straight years or maybe seven now. I think it’s because I am just a normal person. I’m just a normal girl that grew up in Arizona. I didn’t have any special anything. I didn’t train since I was four years old at the Olympic Village. I’m just a normal person. I’m small, I’m not incredibly athletic. I’m just a normal person and I think that’s why I get booked so frequently is because I can relate to audiences and they can relate to me versus when you see some amazing Olympian. For me, I look at them and I’m like, “That person is amazing,” but I could never do that because this person trained as an Olympian from the time they were eight years old and their parents moved into the Olympic Village and they spent eight hours a day everyday for however many years to perfect their skills. That’s just not me. I’m just a normal person with a dog that’s does normal things. I think people can relate to that more easily. I remember sitting there going, “Good for you, you’re amazing,” but I want to hang myself in my cube every day. What do you know about what it’s like to be me?
When I speak, the reason my talks resonate is because I just think about the audience. I think about, “It’s about the audience, it’s not about me. What am I going to tell these people in the next 45 minutes to an hour that’s going to make them walk out of this room and say, “There’s nowhere else I would have rather been in the past hour than listening to Alison.” I try to think, “What am I going to do to make that happen?” Just remembering it’s all about the audience, it’s not about you. That’s why I ended up getting booked as often as I do.
You certainly have a gift. I’m so grateful that you were able to share that with us today. Where can people find you?
My website is AlisonLevine.com. It’s really old and it’s crappy but I’m redoing it soon. I’m on social media on Twitter and Instagram as @Levine_Alison. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. You can also email me through my website. If you do that, your email will come straight to me not to my assistant just because I don’t have one. That’s how normal I am. I don’t even have an assistant. It’s just me. I promise you I’ll answer any questions that you have.
That makes two of us, I don’t have an assistant. I am the CEO of everything. It works best that way. You have touch points at all phases of the game and you really understand it. Alison, thank you so much for being on this pod and you’ve just enriched my life. I know you’re going to enrich others. You just have awesome things, great messages. We look forward to seeing your adventures into the future.
Thanks and good luck to you on your future climbs. Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your podcast. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the podcast this week. We had another great guest. It’s so awesome to continually have these different people on, talk about their different adversity, how they’ve overcome that and what they’ve done to affect change in their life to become very successful. I really appreciate you tuning in. As always, we love the rating and reviews that you do on iTunes. If you haven’t done that, please go do that. It really helps us in terms of increasing our visibility within Apple iTunes. It’s just fun to share the love and what these different stories, these different people are all about. Make sure you’re tuning in next week. We appreciate it.
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