“It’s Not the Mountain We Conquer, But Ourselves”: On Mountain Climbing & Starting a Business

Thoughts from GemCap UK CEO Stuart Alexander on climbing mountains in the Cairngorms and the parallels to starting a business.

A few days ago, I spent a very enjoyable three days climbing in the Cairngorm mountains in the Scottish Highlands. A place that is both bleak, cold and wet but with beauty everywhere, stunning vistas and a place where you can find yourself outside your comfort zone very quickly, particularly at this time of year. As someone who has always enjoyed the outdoors and putting myself in challenging situations, these three days have certainly met all my expectations and more. Along with four friends, we were pushed by our guide to dig deep and conquer any fears we may have as we ascended icy slopes with ice axes and crampons. We learnt how to build emergency shelters as the wind bit into our faces with a windchill of -25 degrees and windspeeds of nearly 100mph. We had chosen the one weekend when two storms battered the north of Scotland (Storm Malik and Storm Corrie) and oh boy did we know it!

Climbing up a steep face and dropping to your knees as a gust of wind nearly sends you to the bottom is something that makes your heart beat just a wee bit faster as the adrenaline rushes through your veins to every muscle in your body. The feeling that one slip, one badly placed foot or a failure in the rock you are holding onto makes your senses tingle, your eyes focus and your whole body tense up which, in reality, is one of the things you should not do – but instead remain relaxed but focused on the job in hand. Thankfully we all made it down with stories to tell on Instagram!

Being pushed to extremes is something that many people enjoy. Being out of your comfort zone. Going beyond what you normally do. All of these are elements that many people who run their own businesses can relate to: sometimes it’s that little bit of fear that makes us all excel. To step into an area we are not comfortable but to get a buzz as a result.

When I launched GemCap back in 2009 I had that same sense. What the heck was I thinking? What if it all goes Pete-Tong! And more importantly can I do it? Well after passing 13 years last month, I would say it has gone rather well. Not there yet, and still being pushed into areas that make one think, ‘Can we do that?’. Exploring new opportunities all the time. In fact, the number of opportunities to build and diversify the business have never been so prolific as they are now. An opportunity to grow a business is something anyone in that position recognises as a privileged position to be in and not one to throw away. But sometimes you will have doubts, imposter syndrome almost. A sense that it is all getting too much and that you won’t be able to make it. In reality, the previous years have just been about building and ensuring everything works. Overnight success only really happens rarely, perhaps only on a reality TV show. It takes time to build a strong business and to build a team. And it is vitally important to have a good strong team with you.

We would not be where we are without them. They help you when you ask and many times when you don’t. They can pick you up and drive you on to the next initiative. They can give you the inspiration to keep going and ensure that they have your back. At GemCap we have a very open and collaborative approach to the way we manage the business. Everyone has a voice and as a result everyone contributes to the success of the business. It is the same when climbing a mountain when the weather turns pretty nasty and all the elements are against you. You need your teammates to help you get up that mountain. Sometimes as a leader it’s important to have a reason to be the leader, by pulling people up that mountain. Other times you need that little bit of a push, and that’s where the team come in. They can push you to excel, improve your own game. They can be the inspiration you need. You don’t need self-help books or classic quotes. You just need to look left and right. The advice is there within your grasp.

Climbing those mountains a week ago was so much easier with a team by my side, all of us helping each other to achieve the common goal: get to the top, alive! So, the next time you have any self-doubts or you are wavering as to the next step to take, turn to your team. They may just help you climb that proverbial mountain!

Have a great week.

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