How one 30-minute meeting changed my life
The story of how an Everest summiteer inspired a London teacher to quit his job and travel the world
by Peter Watson
No-one likes to admit that they live an ordinary life. In our 20s, most of us are convinced that we’re different; that we will ‘make it’, whatever ‘making it’ actually means.
In our 30s, we realise that we’re not unique, that our lives are disconcertingly similar to nearly everyone else we know. We wake up earlier than we desire and surrender copious hours to our employers. We try our best to eat healthily and exercise, but we so often can’t find the time. We hold together the threads of life and try to weave them into something cohesive — all the while leading ordinary lives.
That’s roughly where I was when I met the man who would change my life.
It was January 2012 in Glencoe of the Scottish Highlands. I sat by the roaring log fire of Ballachulish Hotel seeking refuge from the bitter cold and biting wind that swelled in the grounds outside. I had just completed day three of a week-long winter mountaineering course — my first tentative step towards my dream of climbing big mountains across the world.
My fellow would-be mountaineers and I gathered for an evening presentation arranged by the course administrators. The speaker was named Andy, a mountaineer who had summited Everest the year before and successfully trekked to the South Pole.
Andy explained that he decided to climb Everest after watching a documentary on Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the very first summiteers. He spoke of tenacity and discipline, of practice and precision, of the ultimate physical triumph: summiting the great beast that is Mount Everest.
The presentation was intriguing but it was my meeting with him after that really set in motion the decisions that would change my life. Andy, an unassuming, bespectacled man, didn’t speak of danger or daring. He didn’t riff on risk and glory. Instead, he versed his achievement in prosaic terms like ‘cautious’, ‘diligent’ and ‘methodical’.
Andy spoke of his humble beginnings as a shop assistant at Cotswold Outdoor. He was no son of a millionaire; he didn’t have access to the sort of funds you need to climb Everest and travel the world but he was living my dream regardless.
Over the course of our 30-minute meeting, he explained how he overcame his two main challenges: financial and physical. He explained that he saved every penny of his disposable income for four years. He cancelled all unnecessary subscriptions, sold half his possessions and gave up his luxuries and vices. He trained four times a week and put in place a logical route to the top (first Kilimanjaro, then Elbrus and the rest of the seven summits one by one).
As well as sharing practical advice, he convinced me in that 30-minute meeting that there was no magic behind what he did; that with time and dedication, I too could do what he had. He showed me that I didn’t have to be rich, privileged or superhuman to travel the world.
Andy’s words shifted my perspective. From that day, I followed his advice — both practical and motivational. I saved every penny I could, sold my possessions and gave up my luxuries. I started training more regularly and refining my travel plan.
Almost exactly 18 months after my meeting with Andy, I walked out of my inner London school for the last time, on the cusp of a great adventure. I packed my bags with joy and trepidation and left the shores of Britain on a 36-hour trip to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the first stop of my 18-month journey across the world.
What followed was incredible, enriching and just as stunning as travel-movie trailers would have you believe.
I’ve trekked an active volcano in Vanuatu, swum with whales in Tonga, dived with sharks in the Galápagos and marvelled at the beauty of Easter Island. And, of course, I’ve climbed a mountain or two as well. Everest is still a way off but I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and plan to climb my second of the seven summits, Mount Elbrus in Russia, later this year.
I occasionally wonder where I would be had I not met Andy. Perhaps I would have arrived here myself or perhaps I would still be at my desk, dreaming of seascapes and mountains. What I do know is that he changed my perspective.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t wait around for your dreams; you have to be proactive even if it’s only to leave the house and meet someone new. You never know. They might just change your life.
Want to learn more about Peter’s travels or need help planning your own? Meet him in London via Thirtymin, a new app that lets you book a 30-minute meeting with anyone, anywhere.