What I Learned About Coding from a Tibetan Monk

Sunrise on Mt Everest from Everest Base Camp (Tibet)

This past summer I checked a really big box off my bucket list. I got to watch the sunrise on Mt Everest with my brother, Kendall. We have always been really close and have seen a lot of the world together, but these days, we live on opposite coasts and don’t get to see each other as often as we like.

When we arrived in Lhasa, our guides drove us to the hotel and strongly urged us to heed this advice on acclimating to the higher altitude:

“Take it easy on the alcohol, don’t eat too much, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.”

Well if you know anything about my brother and me, you’ll know we didn’t listen to one word of that speech and spent our first night out in Tibet catching up over many beers and an array of tasty Tibetan dishes! We hadn’t seen each other in months and we were IN TIBET! How could they expect us to just go watch tv in our hotel room? Honestly, we didn’t go crazy at all, but trust me when I say that it doesn’t take a lot at 12,000ft to truly wipe you out. Without going into too much detail about the difficulties of our ascent up to 18,000ft over the next few days, let me just admit now that we should’ve listened to our guides…

Fast forward to a month ago as I started preparing for yet another big challenge: a 13-week, intensive coding boot camp at Codesmith. Once again I heard all the stories about the stress I was about to put on my body and mind, as expected I thought I knew better than everyone else. After all, I’d worked in restaurants my whole life and was no stranger to long, 14 hour days of intense work.

While I did start going to sleep earlier than normal, I was getting up way earlier, so I still wasn’t getting as much sleep as I was used to. I continued to eat the heavy foods that I had always eaten, and I didn’t make time for any exercise to replace the hours a day that I was normally on my feet.

photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

The first couple weeks were stressful and hard but in the best ways possible. I was alert and excited every day. I was so happy to be learning and challenging myself. The days flew by and every mountainous challenge I figured out how to conquer pumped adrenaline into my system at an unprecedented rate. Toward the end of week 3 though, my body decided it had had enough. All of a sudden it just shut down. I was more run down than I’d been in a really long time and I couldn’t focus on anything. I was dehydrated, void of nutrients and just plain exhausted.

Crazy I know, but as it turns out, we have to provide proper sustenance, movement and rest for our bodies to function at their highest potential. Without exercise, our mind and muscles deteriorate and lose their natural ability and potential. As a result, we don’t feel good physically, and our emotions, moods, and self-esteem are greatly affected.

As I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on my lack of preparation, this is the advice I would offer anyone taking on a similar challenge:

  1. Sleep: Everyone is different, but at a bare minimum, you should be getting 7–8 hours of sleep a day to give your body the best chance to start the next day with motivation, energy, and clear thinking.
  2. Eat Right: Snack healthy throughout the day to keep your brain fed and your mind clear. Don’t go for long periods without eating. Drink lots of water. Try to avoid too much caffeine and sugar so you don’t have those highs and lows.
  3. Exercise: Find the time for it, whatever it takes. It will increase your energy levels and allow you to focus on the task at hand. If you can’t fit it in early mornings or late in the evening, make time for it during the day. Go for a walk on your lunch break. Even just 10 minutes of stretching several times a day can drastically change your physical and mental well being.
  4. Meditate: Even just 5 minutes of meditation a day can provide increased focus, improved memory and a drastic reduction in fatigue, anxiety and stress levels.

Like climbing the highest peaks, boot camp style learning can be thrilling, but if you don’t condition your body and mind properly, you’ll become unhinged and fall flat on your face. If you’re thinking of taking on either one of these challenges or another like them, make sure and heed the advice of my Tibetan guide: “Take it easy on the alcohol, don’t eat too much, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.”


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