Is all the stuff really necessary?
In 2011, I joined 11 other people on a fundraising trek to Machu Picchu. A 15th-century Indian citadel, set high among the Andes Mountains, the experience combined, severe altitude sickness on the first night in Cusco, a late night ride in a “MASH” style ambulance to find a hospital, and some touching acts of generosity.
Overall, however, my time in Peru taught me that, when we get down to it, we just don’t need as much stuff as we think we do.
Landing in Cusco, excited for the upcoming adventure, our team was dismayed to discover that our kit had not arrived with us. Of course, while missing luggage can be frustrating at the best of times, it’s more so when you’ve spent weeks carefully planning what you need to hike at 7,970 feet above sea level!
If that wasn’t enough, on arriving in Cusco, I soon began to suffer from altitude sickness. While, typically, this infliction happens at elevations above 8,000 feet, the city of Cusco is located more than 11,000 feet above sea level. And, despite drinking coca leaf tea to try to acclimatise quickly, my symptoms soon took a turn for the worse. I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro the year before and showed only minor symptoms, so you can imagine the panic of my fellow team mates when they realised I had altitude sickness before we’d even started the trek!
With blood running from my nose, a raging headache, vomiting and blurred vision, it became apparent that medical help was required. However, with our local guide having gone home for the night, I was wholly reliant on another member of our group to help me call for an ambulance. The vehicle that arrived was nothing short of a dilapidated army style jeep with a bed in the back and doors that swung open as we travelled through the backstreets of this ancient city in search of the local hospital.
After a fraught night spent with an oxygen mask, in a hospital that reminded me of the one in One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest, I was declared fit and well enough to make the journey to Machu Picchu. However, despite 11 kit bags finally arriving at the hotel, mine wasn’t one of them!
At this point, I was faced with the choice whether to carry on or give up. Not being one to back down from a challenge, with the help of my fellow travellers, who were willing to lend me things from their kits including a sleeping bag, meds and even knickers to help me continue, I decided to persevere. And I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing experience.
Not only was my trip to Machu Picchu wonderful in terms of the Inca Trail itself, but it also taught me that, while not having the tools we think we need can be frightening, reducing the stuff-load can actually be liberating.
In life, and in business, organisation is a great thing. However, sometimes what we need is not more organisation, but less stuff that needs to be organised. With the majority of what we need for success already inside us.
We live in a world with an abundance of resources and tools at our fingertips. And this trend is likely to accelerate, with an ever-increasing amount of ‘solutions’ being tailored and pitched to specific business needs and functions. However, we all know the drama that arises when such tools fail, and we all proclaim we’re no longer able to do our jobs! Certainly there can’t be many businesses that have escaped the pandemonium that ensues during an internet failure!
Of course, I’m not suggesting that I would have been able to continue my journey to Machu Picchu without any supplies. In fact, I have no doubt that I was only able to do so due to the generosity of others. But the people who are truly successful in life, think less about what they need to accomplish their goals and more about what success looks like to them. Because otherwise, as the notorious Tyler Durden said “The things you own, end up owning you”.
And lesson to self, always take the minimum kit on adventures and pack the essentials in your day rucksack!