Lessons from an Everest Summiteer

Vikas Joshi
May 17, 2017

Last month, we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Murad Lala, an onco-surgeon at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, as the Chief Guest at Harbinger’s Annual Day Event. Among his many achievements, Dr. Lala has the distinction of being the first Indian civilian doctor to summit the Mount Everest. He is an avid adventure sports enthusiast, and has been trekking, mountaineering, going on car rallies, scuba diving and bungee jumping for several years. Yet, Dr. Lala is, self-admittedly, far removed from the typical mental image that most of us have of a mountaineer.

Dr. Lala steered away from any pontification and just focused on giving us a fascinating account of his journey to the summit, but his talk held some great lessons nevertheless. I am sure our enthusiastic bunch of Harbingers benefited from hearing about this extraordinary journey, especially as we brace ourselves for a growth acceleration drive at Harbinger in the coming months.

There are several points that he made during this talk that I believe will resonate beautifully with everyone.

It’s not the mountain that defeats you, but the little pebble in your shoe

As an example of meticulous adherence to processes, Dr. Lala shared how it is pertinent to clean the sweat between your toes as soon as you reach camp; no matter how exhausted you may be. Neglecting this can cause this sweat to freeze – a sure-fire recipe for frost bite. This is in stark contrast to the imagery of the mountaineer striding up the mountain fearlessly, which elicits a sense of awe.

This is so true of entrepreneurs too. While the enduring image of an entrepreneur is that of flashy client presentations or cool product launches, the reality is quite different if you look close enough. Most of the time, it’s always the small, monotonous, unglamorous stuff – following up for payments, debugging your code etc. – that can make or break your business. Just like not being meticulous about cleaning the sweat off your toes is enough to dash your summit hopes; it’s the little, seemingly unimportant, details that can sometimes derail you.

There are no spectators to cheer you on. It’s a lonely battle between you and the elements

After his talk, someone in the audience asked Dr. Lala if he considered his Everest climb a physical or mental effort. Without hesitation, he said that it was almost purely mental. Of course, there is some basic physical fitness required, and you need to follow all the rules about acclimatization etc.; but beyond that, it’s all about resolutely putting one foot in front of the other, irrespective of who’s watching and how bad the wind is.

In life too, sometimes, you need to be your own cheerleader and forge ahead, no matter how tough things get.

This climb would be impossible without the support of the Sherpas

Dr. Lala recounted how, on the final day of his summit push, his head light gave way, and he had to take the call of whether he should turn back or keep going. At that time, his Sherpa and another team member assured him they would ‘share’ their light and encouraged him to keep going; and Dr. Lala continued his climb. This incident speaks, on one hand, of team spirit, because the team members went out of their way to ensure that their cohort succeeded. On the other hand, it’s about trust. Dr. Lala felt confident enough in his team to trust them with his life, literally.

This is a beautiful example to demonstrate how every individual accomplishment is actually a social accomplishment. Often, it’s only the individual who is celebrated, but that’s just attribution. For every successful individual, there are so many people in the background who are ‘shining the light.’

Sometimes, you just need to sit tight and wait for the bad weather to blow over

In mountaineering as well as in entrepreneurship, it’s all about opportunity and timing. In an earlier blog, I had spoken of the pitfalls of adhering to a predetermined calendar that is divorced from ground realities. When it comes to an endeavor such as summitting the Everest, this could literally be a matter of life and death. Irrespective of what you plan in advance, your actions will ultimately depend on real-time conditions on the ground. Even if you pick a particular date as your potential summit date, you need to be extremely flexible about changing the date or even abandoning your climb altogether if the weather, or your own health, plays spoilsport.

Your success is defined by finding the right time and opportunity and then making the most of it.


Beyond all this, perhaps the biggest lesson in this remarkable feat by Dr. Lala is that it was a product of sustained actions and behaviors rather than any particular notion or traits associated with mountaineers. I’ve always believed that there are no ‘born entrepreneurs.’ Similarly, Dr. Lala’s talk proved that there are no born mountaineers.

It’s your effort and actions that matter, along with the courage to leave behind your comfort zone and venture into the unknown.

Image source: http://cityairnews.com/content/first-indian-doctor-who-summited-mount-everest-visits-cmc-ludhiana

You can listen to Dr. Lala’s talk at the Harbinger Annual Day Event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvO6eoKlAks&t=2014s