When Neha Misra climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, she raised funds for her nonprofit, but collecting donations was just part of the reason she went to Tanzania.
Solar Sister, the group Misra co-founded, helps women in East Africa build businesses selling clean energy. Her six-day climb in July paralleled Solar Sister’s “journey in seeing a seemingly insurmountable problem and trying to solve it,” Misra says, referring to the fact that 1.2 billion people worldwide have no electricity.
Here, as told by Misra, are five inspiring lessons she learned on her trek that anyone can adopt -- without necessarily summiting the highest peak in Africa.
Think Beyond Your Limits
To me, the whole climb was like a meditation: to go beyond oneself, to test one’s limits and what we tell ourselves. I did not grow up in an ultra-adventurous setting, so for me it was really a test to go out and do it.
I’m not a professional mountain climber. I’m a fairly healthy person, fairly active, but not an extreme athlete of any kind. What I see in common with being a social entrepreneur, and what it meant to me personally, is that it is possible to climb a mountain—you just have to start and take one step at a time.
Brave Uncertainty and Discomfort
I called the whole climb “brutally beautiful.” To me, part of the challenge was knowing that you can get altitude sickness as you go up. But you do not know until you are in it. [You’re facing] uncertainty, because each day you’re gaining elevation and you’re exhausted. Sometimes, at night, your heart might be racing and you wonder: Is it because I’m exhausted, or am I getting altitude sickness? Also, to be disconnected from your everyday comforts, that was challenging. Not taking a bath for seven days—I’ve never ever done that in my life. It’s all small things, but it just puts things in perspective.
Keep Redefining What’s Possible
It’s been such a transformative experience. [Now, when it comes to other things], I’ll tell my family, “I can do it. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.” [It changed] what I think is possible, because I still cannot fathom how I did it.
Some days we were walking seven or eight hours straight in the sun. It was scorching hot and I’d think, did we just walk for four seconds, or has it been four hours? I can’t believe how I did it. I went all the way to the peak of the peak. It made me realize what you can do is so much more [than you think].
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Take on Long-Distance Goals With Short, Careful Steps
There were times when I’d worry this is too difficult. But somehow if you just focus on the very next step, you can get there. If you keep thinking, I have to walk six hours more, it seems too difficult.
I found that if you get too lost looking at the scenery, you might trip. You have to walk carefully, one step at a time, but it is important to pause and look at the scenery, it’s just so breathtakingly beautiful.
At Solar Sister, every day we have to get the work done. There’s so much more to do and we have to focus on each of those steps, but it’s important to pause and remember why we’re doing it. That breathtaking view is important.
See the Big—and Small—Picture
We do something with the women we work with called dream weaver, where we help them articulate what their dream is. A lot of the entrepreneurs [I recently met on a trip to India] said nobody had asked them before what their dream was, and this was the first time they really thought [about it]. The dream might be something really big and breathtaking in the far distance, but you need to know what it is and then take every step to get there. Concentrate on those small steps.
During the climb, I saw these succulent [plants] on the way up. They’re sensitive to light, so when there’s good light, then they open up, and if it’s too dark, they close. I was thinking that is so symbolic of our work and to everything in life. It’s about creating the right kind of light so that people can bloom.
If the light is good, we can bloom, but if the light is not right, often we cringe and we close. It applies to our entrepreneurs, it applies to me, it applies to all of us. How do we nurture and create the right kind of light, surrounding ourselves with positive people—people who uplift you, people who can ask, “What is your dream?”
Comments edited for length and clarity.