Alison Levine – American Mountain Climber, Sportswoman, Explorer, and Leadership Consultant

Episode 136

Whether it’s a mountain you want to climb or a challenge you want to surmount, you’re in for an episode of a lifetime! Today, we’re chatting with a friend and true inspiration, Alison Levine. American mountain climber, sportswoman, explorer and leadership guru. She is the author of On the Edge and the executive producer of a documentary, The Glass Ceiling. Listen to her extreme adventures and life lessons that helped her look at fear and persistence in an entirely new light.

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Kara Goldin  00:19

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara golden from the Kara golden show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest my friend and, and just true inspiration. Alison Levine here with me. And I’m so so excited. For those of you who are not familiar with Allison. So she not only is a renowned keynote speaker, she’s been at many, many conferences. She’s also a fellow Arizona in and we didn’t know each other back there. But she we knew a lot of mutual people that she’s a mountaineer and an author and a filmmaker. And some of you may be familiar with her as she’s is a history-making boundary breaking mountain climber Explorer, best selling author, as I mentioned, and she made history as a polar explorer and mountain near serving as team captain of the first American women’s Everest expedition. And she’s climbed the highest mountain on each continent and skied to both the north and south poles. I mean, just one of those things just schemed to the North Pole, but not the North and the South Pole. Amazing which only 20 people in the world have ever achieved, by the way. And in 2008, she made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile transfers across West Antarctica to the South Pole. Amazing, amazing. In addition to climbing mountains and adventuring, Allison spent time for several fortune 500 companies in sales and marketing roles as well as three years at Goldman Sachs. And after leaving Wall Street and 2003 shares, she served as deputy finance director for Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. So cool. And she’s become an inspirational leader. And speaker spending four years as an adjunct professor at West Point, so incredible. And she is the founder of the climb high Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women in western Uganda, which is featured in the PBS documentary living courageously the spirit of women. And there’s so much more, but I’m going to stop talking and I’m going to let you tell some of this stuff. So so great to see you. And by the way, Allison was here in Marin County, and she recently moved to Colorado. So prior to this, we were just catching up on her adventure, and so excited to see you really, really awesome. I’m excited to see you too. I’m excited to be here. So thank you for having me as your guest. I’m such an I know we’re friends, but I’m also a fan and your book affected me profoundly. Oh, that’s so nice to hear. So walk me through and walk everybody through. So Allison, Arizona girl, and what did you want to do when you did you ever think you were going to climb Everest?

Alison Levine  03:57

No. Okay, so when I was growing up in Phoenix, I wanted to be an Air Conditioning Repair woman. Because I needed air and Arizona right huge demand and job security. So I thought they’ll always be a need for air conditioning repair people in Arizona. So I thought that would be kind of a secure career to go for. But also when I was younger, I would read stories of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers, the early mountaineers, and I would read these books and I would watch these documentary films, I think because it was an escape from the oppressive heat, which I know you are familiar with Gregory, Arizona as well. But I never actually thought I would go to those places because I had some health challenges. I was born with a hole in my heart. So I’ve had three heart surgeries and also I suffer from a neurological disease called Raynaud’s disease, which affects the arteries and my fingers and toes which gives you and it basically causes the nerves to clamp down on the artery. And cuts off the circulation. So I never really thought I would go to places, you know any of these places. I thought I just had to read about them and watch documentary films about them. And then I had my first heart surgery and I turned 17. And then, unfortunately, that one was not successful. But I had another one when I turned 30. And about 18 months after my second heart surgery, this light bulb went on in my head and I thought, okay, hang on. If I want to know what it’s like to be this guy, you know, Reinhold Messner, and drag 150-pound sled across 600 miles of Antarctic guys, then I should go to Antarctica and try that instead of just reading about it. If I want to know what it’s like to be these, these explorers going to these remote mountain ranges, then I should go to the mountain ranges instead of just watching documentary films about them. And if these other guys can do this stuff, you know, why can’t I do it too? So I climbed my first Mountain 18 months after my second heart surgery, I was 32 years old. So I started much later in life. It’s not like I grew up, you know, doing that as a kid. And what were you doing at that point? What was your job? So at that point, I was working for a medical laser company called era dex, which is based in Mountain View. And we made let me conductor based lasers. For eye surgery, we treated the three major causes of blindness, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. So is working for this laser company. And I ended up applying to graduate school, I got accepted to an MBA program. So I quit my job two months before I started business school. And that’s when I climbed my first mountain. Amazing. And what was your first mountain? So my first mountain was Kilimanjaro. And I want to tell everybody out there who’s listening that this is such a doable mountain. And I’m probably a lot of you listening to this, have claimed it. But I love this mountain so much, because first of all, you definitely get a feel for the altitude as it’s over 19,000 feet in elevation, but you do not need any special training or any special equipment in order to climb this mountain. So I I bought my own hiking boots, I had a pair of hiking boots, but everything else I had to borrow, of I, didn’t own a fleece jacket, a gore-tex jacket, a backpack, I borrowed everything from friends. And I used all my frequent flyer miles and I went over to Tanzania by myself. And I found a local guide at the base of a mountain I think for about $200 and climb Kilimanjaro. And the reason that it was an important mountain for me is that it’s where I learned that I had that voice in my head that told me that I could keep going, even when I felt like quitting. And every time I thought I can’t do this, I feel sick, I have a headache, I feel sick to my stomach. I’m dizzy, it is too hard. I am too tired. I’m too cold. I just had this voice that said okay, well hang on. But you can take one more step before you turn around. And I thought, I’m definitely going to turn around and go down, I’m not going to make it to the top of Kilimanjaro. But before I turn around, I will just take a needle one or two more steps, I take one or two more steps. Okay, well, I know I’m not going to make it like I’m sure I’m gonna turn around. But I just took two more steps. So let me just take two more. And then I’m definitely turning around. And I would take two better, eventually, I found myself at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. And it was important because I really thought I couldn’t do it. But I realized that getting to the top of a mountain is just about taking one more step. That’s all it is, you don’t have to be the fastest, you don’t have to be the strongest. But if you can just put one foot in front of the other. That is how you get to the top of any mountain right literally or figuratively. So that’s why Kilimanjaro was a special mountain for me because it was my first one. And it was where I was sure that I couldn’t do it. And then I still did it.

Kara Goldin  08:52

How many days did it take you to do it?

Alison Levine  08:55

I think we did it in five days. Well, and it wasn’t you and then you had it was me and a local guide named Sammy this guy that I met at the base of the mountain and he brought a couple of porters along and that was it. Wow. And it that is so done you think that that was the first time that you heard that voice? Because I know that that voices? I know. Oh, I haven’t climbed the mountain. Yes, that book. I was like, Yeah, yeah, she has the same voice. So the voice that tells you that you can’t do it is the same voice that should tell you that you can you just have to train it to speak to you differently. Everyone has that voice in their head, right? And it’s going to tell you one of two things. It’s either gonna say you can’t or you can you always have to listen to I can write I loved your where you said at the beginning of your book, no means maybe and maybe means yes. And you have to have that mindset. So for me, every subsequent mountain that I went to when I felt like Quitting, okay, I can’t, I’m scared, I’m cold, I’m tired. I’m, you know, I’m hitting the wall. Hang on, I felt like this before. And I was able to take a couple more steps. So maybe I can do it again now. And every time I feel like quitting, I literally stop myself and say, hang on, you’ve been here before, and you made it. So you’re gonna make it now. And so it’s just listening to that voice and training it how to talk to you properly because everyone has that voice. And once you know it’s there, and it is there for everyone. You just have to listen to it, it’s always going to be there.

Kara Goldin  10:36

It is so true. And I share that exact same sentiment. And I and there are so many examples I talked about. When I was growing up, I did a lot of athletics and, I was a decent gymnast. But there was better gymnast than me. And I remember, my mom would pick me up at five o’clock from the gym. And if I was training, and something didn’t turn out the way that I wanted, and I wasn’t outside for my mom to pick me up, she knew that I didn’t, I wouldn’t leave the gym, on a bad note. And so it’s kind of the same mindset, right? Where it’s just, you know, you’re getting discouraged, you’re good? And I’d say no, I have to end it on a good note. And because I know I can do that. Yeah. And I think it’s sort of I mean, obviously very different from Everest and Kilimanjaro and etc. But it’s it really is kind of the same mindset. I mean, people, as you know, you read my book, and sort of the same theory to and even building a business, it’s just, it’s that these challenges that you’ve had along the way that maybe you didn’t think you were going to be able to overcome them. Then it’s all kind of the same whether it right, you know, as a kid, maybe it’s even health issues, too, when you know that you’ll get through this, and you believe, and it really is that same voice that sort of says, I gotta just keep going and figure out how to do this,

Alison Levine  12:06

right. And part of it too is realizing that the way each of us chooses to approach and overcome obstacles is going to be different. So if I tried to, you know, achieve something that was hard for me, by doing the same thing you were doing, it might not work for me. But if I can find my own way, my own unique way, right, we, we all have a superpower, we all have an area of strength. But if you’re so focused on comparing yourself to other people in areas where they are strong, you may never uncover what makes you strong or what allows you to shine. So for example, when I first started climbing mountains, I would look at these men on the mountain that were six foot four, you know, with these super long legs and these big lungs, and I’m five foot four, and I would just think I’m never going to be as fast or as strong as Jake, you know, how am I going to do this? How am I gonna do this and then again, realizing well Wait, hang on, because maybe it’s not about speed? And maybe it’s not about strength, maybe it’s about being relentless. Maybe it’s about just having the right attitude, maybe it’s about being the person with a good sense of humor that can make the people on the team laugh and smile through difficult situations. And maybe you’re the person that gives people hope when they feel like all is lost. All of those things are strengths, just like physical strength, just like having, you know, long legs and big lungs. You know, that’s good in the mountains, too. But there are a lot of other factors that come into play. So you just have to figure out what you know, what’s where, what’s the area where you can shine, what’s the area where you can contribute, and it’s not going to be the same as somebody else.

Kara Goldin  13:47

So you went on to climb Everest for the first time. So for those of us that are not familiar with your story, so what was sort of your takeaway from that Everest experience? And tell us the first time and then you did it a, you know, a couple more times. And

Alison Levine  14:06

so I’ll give you the listeners, the Reader’s Digest version here, which is that you know, I served as the team captain for the first American women’s Everest expedition, we were sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. There were five of us, we were you know, set to make history. We had a ton of media coverage. We did the whole morning show circuit, the evening news anchors were interviewing us 450 media outlets followed our climb. And then we didn’t make it. We missed the summit by just a couple of 100 feet because of bad weather. And, you know, trust me when I tell you that it turning around and walking away from the deal, you know, walking away from the summit, I think can be harder than continuing on but we did not have good enough weather to continue. So it was, you know, we were physically exhausted. We were running out of oxygen. We We’re, you know, obviously just psychologically beat to shit. Yeah. And just like you can see it, it’s so close, like, you can taste it, and then you don’t get there. And so we didn’t make it. And then we had to come back and face the media and do all these interviews about the fact that we didn’t make it and everybody was super focused, on our failure. What was it like to, you know, work so hard and get that close to not make it? Is that gonna, you know, something that’s going to haunt you forever? And I’m thinking, we’ll know only when people like you say stuff like that.

Kara Goldin  15:37

Doubt and, you know, a form of doubt, right? And rub it in, right, every

Alison Levine  15:42

man, this is probably really hard to get over? Well, you know. And so it’s just hard to have a public failure like that. It feels like a big punch in the gut when it’s so high profile. And nobody seemed to really focus on the fact that we were the first team of American women to try something like that we were that it was, I mean, it was an altitude record for every single member of the team back in 2002. There were very few women climbing at 8000-meter peaks. And I was really proud of the team, but everyone was so focused on the fact that we didn’t make it.

Kara Goldin  16:14

Wait. Sorry. So backup, so how did you get from Kilimanjaro to being to running this team up Everest?

Alison Levine  16:21

Alright, so every time I had a break from grad school, I went to a different mountain, just usually by myself, or, or sometimes I’d sign up for like an organized expedition, or sometimes I would go on my own, but I realized I was in graduate school, and I didn’t have any money. But I had a ton of frequent flyer miles because I had lived and worked in Southeast Asia prior to starting grad school. So I knew I could get anywhere during my breaks, I could get anywhere for free. I just didn’t have money for hotels, or rental cars, or anything like that. So I figured out pretty quickly that if I could throw everything I needed in a backpack, everything I needed to get by, right, a tent, a camping stove, warm clothes, a sleeping bag, freeze-dried food, all that stuff, I thought I could travel basically, without spending any money on every single one of my breaks. So I went to grad school at Duke and we had broken every six weeks. So every end if you add the weekends on, so that’s, you know, five days during the week, 56789, you can maybe skip the first day or the next term, you could have 10 days of vacation. And so I went to a different mountain, every time I had a break from school. And so by the time I finished grad school, and I was in the training program at Goldman Sachs, I climbed the highest peak on six continents, and Everest was the only one that I hadn’t done. And I thought I’ll never ever climb Everest because it’s too expensive. It’s $25,000 per person. And I’ll never have that much time. It’s two months to climb that mountain. But again, if you have that undaunted spirit, and you you know, if you don’t ask you don’t get you to know that you have to act, the worst thing anyone can say is no, it’s always worth asking. And as my friend john Zhang, who’s, who wrote a book called rejection proof he reminds us, rejection is just one person’s opinion at one point in time, that’s all it is one birther opinion at one point in time, and if you maybe ask someone else, or you ask it a different time, the answer might be totally different. So, you know, I met women along the way, there weren’t that many women, mountaineers, you know, doing the high altitude stuff, and I met women along the way, and that I became friends with and stayed in touch with. And so then this idea came up about the first American women’s Everest expedition, but I just got this new job at Goldman Sachs and I had $70,000 of student loan debt. And the Goldman job was, it was kind of always considered a good job to get. And I had no finance background. You know, I went to the University of Arizona, I was a liberal art major. I never had any kind of finance or accounting or anything. And so as a total long shot, the fact that I even got this job, which is another story, but another like story that reminded me of when I read your book, I was like, this is kind of what I did to, to get this job, but I got this job and I had total imposter syndrome. And I thought, as soon as they figured out that I was a hiring mistake, I’ll probably get fired. But until then, I’m going to do my best at this job. But I so I had this job at Goldman Sachs and I never thought I would get and I thought I can’t quit this job because it was a good job to get have. And I had all this debt that I had to pay off. The Goldman job gave me a solid five-figure a high five-figure income. Okay, so it wasn’t six. It certainly wasn’t seven, but high five figures. When you’re living in San Francisco with a lot of debt, you’re not living large by any means. So it wasn’t like, oh, I can’t leave this job because I Getting paid so well. It was just like, I need this job. And I feel like I’m gonna learn in this job. And like you said, You don’t like to be bored in jobs like you like to do jobs that are hard because you’re learning. So as long as you’re learning, you know who it’s interesting. So I felt like I was learning I didn’t want to leave a job but the opportunity the to serve as the team captain for the first American women’s Everest expedition was presented to me and I thought, Oh, I can’t the timings not good. I have this new job. And I was like, oh, there’s only going to be one first American women’s Everest expedition. And if I don’t step up to the plate to be the team captain, somebody else is going to do it, somebody else is going to be living my dream adventure. So I better get up the guts to ask. And the worst thing they’re gonna say is no. And if that happens, I’ll just figure out, you know, figure out what to do then. But in the meantime, I’m going to ask and so I asked, and I was granted a two-month unpaid leave of absence. That’s

Kara Goldin  20:56

so you, so you get to Everest, you don’t make it to the summit. No deal with all the people saying, Oh, my gosh, Allison, what does it feel like? Wow, not good. Right. Yeah. And, and how do you? How do you get back up at that? I mean, what was the feeling at that moment?

Alison Levine  21:15

So because it was such a high-profile failure? I was so concerned about it, right? Felt like this punch in the gut. And I was so worried about if I have another one of these will I ever get another sponsor, right? Because the Ford Motor Company had sponsored us and they had all this publicity going on. Like I said, 450 media outlets for the climb, and then we didn’t make it and I thought, what does this say about me? Is this a reflection of me? Is this a reflection of the skills of my leadership? I knew you know, intellectually, I knew it was a reflection of bad weather. We literally had a storm come in a freak storm at 630 in the morning. But when it comes to climbing that mountain, you either make it or you don’t you know, there’s no you know, no one wants to hear all the excuses of what happened. You know, you either you summit or you didn’t summit, and everyone’s very focused on that. And I was very focused on that, too. And I never I did not think I wanted to go back again, because I thought if I don’t make it again, how is that going to look? And what is that going to do to my reputation, but then I realized that I was, you know, constantly preaching all of this stuff about fear, and not letting fear stop you and being undaunted, and being relentless. And I wasn’t listening to my own advice. You know, I had this dark cloud hanging over me of like, don’t be scared, you know, push through fear, don’t listen to know, unless it comes to going back to Everest. And in that case, just like Lello Yeah, right. So that was my Achilles heel, I just thought, I’m not going to risk this, another big public failure. And then I thought, Wait a minute, I’m being such a hypocrite, because I’m telling all these people to be relentless. But the thing that can stop you from being relentless sometimes is fear. So what you have to do is you have to learn how to process fear. And you have to learn how to deal with it differently. Fear. So I think if most people had to put fear a in a basket of positive or negative emotions, you have to pick one, most people would say it’s a negative emotion. I look at it very, I used to look at it that way. I look at it very differently. Now I look at fear. And if I feel scared, it means, First of all, I’m paying attention that’s a good thing means I’m awake, alert, paying attention to what’s going on around me. And I realized that fears only bad if it paralyzes you. But the biggest thing that I learned about fear is that you should let yourself feel it. Right. It’s a normal human emotion, let yourself feel it. But you can be scared and brave at the same time. And that was the biggest breakthrough for me is realizing that I could be scared and brave at the same time, when I would feel fear in the past, I thought that was a signal that I’m not supposed to be doing something if I’m scared to back off, right. And now I know when I’m scared, go forward. So I looked at fear very differently. And I realized I can be scared and brave at the same time. And because I’m scared to go back to the mountain, that’s not a reason not to go. It’s a reason to go. I’m scared of this mountain. It’s a reason that I need to go back there. I need to push through this fear. And if I don’t make it, that’s okay. I can go back a third time I can go back a fourth time. I can go back as many times as I can, you know, find sponsors or pay for the trip or whatever to get get back to Nepal. The only thing that was stopping me really was me and my that just that mindset focusing on fear rather than focusing on pushing through it.

Kara Goldin  24:55

Well, and I think you touched on something that I truly believe too. That you, you have a choice, right that you don’t have to do anything, right? I mean, we live in a world where, you know, you can make choices as to whether or not you’re going to go and climb this mountain. But the reality is, is that you just didn’t want to wake up and be afraid. And I think so often when, when you challenge people in that way that it’s and kind of put it in front of them. And that perspective, I don’t think people do want to live in fear. They just think that it’s something that maybe they’re not meant to do. But how do you know that unless you actually go and

Alison Levine  25:37

yeah, you have to, you have to get out there and try. The other thing is, do you want to live with always wondering, right? I don’t want to live with that. I don’t want to wonder, I want to know. And if the answer’s no, I don’t have what it takes to get to the top of the mountain. That’s okay to but I don’t want to wonder. So if I feel like I don’t have what it takes to get to the top, then I come back down and I figure out what the hell I do need to get to the top and I put you know that process in place to make sure that I can make it up there the next time. And I also really like to learn from the people that have paved the way before me. So the first female Sherpa to summit Mount Everest, her name was pissant llama Sherpa. She didn’t summit till her fourth attempt. And I thought if pissant lava Sherpa has the guts to go back four times. Certainly, I have the guts to go back a second time.

Kara Goldin  26:29

That’s amazing. And so I know through all of your stories, and or I should say all of your mountaineering and you have so many stories along the way. Is there one person that really inspired you, that you think about when you hit those challenges along the way that if they can do it? I mean, you mentioned

Alison Levine  26:50

Yeah, pissant mama sure. But she’s the person that really inspires me the most because this woman couldn’t read, couldn’t write, couldn’t even speak the national language in Nepal. And she was actually told she could not climb the mountain because, at the time, this is back in the late 80s, early 90s. Nepal would not let female Sherpas climb, they would only let the men climb. And this woman saw her uncle’s her brothers her father climbing Everest and she wanted to climb too, but the government wouldn’t let female service climb. So her point was, look, you let all these foreign women come here and climb our mountain yet you won’t let me because I’m sure but and again, here’s a woman who was told no who was told this isn’t how things are done. This is you know, female surprise stay at home and cook and clean and take care of families. They don’t climb Everest and she was like screw that. I’m changing the story. And she went and climbed it and became the first female stripper to climate she’s on Nepal’s postage stamp she’s, you know a hero to her country. Long story short, sadly, she actually ended up dying on the mountain on the way down when she stopped to help another Sherpa who was struggling but to me she just she was a boundary breaker and she broke through those barriers and she, you know, whatever. See her No, she was like what she’s like, I don’t think so. And we have great footage of young Nepali women now saying we have footage because I’m working on a documentary film about Pachamama Sherpa, but there’s this one, my favorite scene is when this young Nepali woman cares. Now, because of pissant Lamu Sherpa, when someone tells me I can’t do something, I just look him in the face and say, watch me. And you know, people are always going to tell you that something can’t be done. I mean, Kara, how many times did you hear that throughout your career, even prior to hint, and then with starting here, it can’t be done. People tried it, it can’t be done. focus your energy somewhere else. People are always going to tell you something can’t be done. And you can find a way right. If you are undaunted, if you are relentless, you will find a way. You just have to be creative. And you can’t go about it the same way other people went about things. I mean, look, even when I was applying for jobs at Goldman Sachs, my classmates said, Oh, you’d be great and consumer packaged goods, because you’re really creative. And I just don’t see you in finance, and you have no finance background. And, you know, the people that are getting those jobs are the ones that worked in, you know, financial services prior to grad school. And I was like, screw that, like, I’m getting the stupid Goldman job. And I missed all that like all my classmates were going to weak on Wall Street during breaks. And they were meeting all the decision-makers and the recruiters and the hiring managers at these big Wall Street banks, but I went climbing every break. But what I did is I wrote Postcards from the mountain to the recruiting staff at Goldman Sachs at Morgan Stanley at JP Morgan and as people were climbing down the mountain when I was going up, I would hand them the postcard that I had written and I’d be like, are you going back down into town? Can you do me a favor and mail this postcard? And it was literally like, Oh, my dear, like recruiter from Goldman Sachs like whoever How would you be? Hi, my name is Alison I know my classmates are at week on Wall Street this week, but I’m actually camped out at 20,000 feet on Arkin cogwa in Argentina, so I cannot make it. However, when I get back down from the mountain, I’m looking forward to sharing the stories, you know, sharing my stories of climbing and what I learned on the mountain, you know, I can’t wait to share these with you. Because I think there’s a lot of parallels between climbing this mountain and working at, you know, XYZ,

Kara Goldin  30:23

and who did they remember?

Alison Levine  30:25

So? Uh, yeah, I got offers from JPMorgan, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, I know, my classmates were like, how are you getting all these offers like you have no background in finance, you know, show

Kara Goldin  30:36

the week and the whole thing. But people wanted to know who she was right, you just

Alison Levine  30:42

have to be you, you just have to be different. We’re all different, right. And when you try to conform, and you try to do things, the way other people are doing things, you don’t shine that way. And if I had tried to just do it, like all my classmates, were my classmates who went to Ivy League schools, when you went through the same thing with some of the jobs you were going on. It’s all Ivy League applicants, and people with the perfect background. And, you know, I’m like, I have no experience in this, I do not have a good background, and, you know, for this job, but I’m just gonna go for it because I have nothing to lose. And that’s what I really want these listeners to remember and to think about, what do you have to lose? Ask yourself that, what do you have to lose? And I will tell you nine times out of 10, it is worth taking the risk?

Kara Goldin  31:29

Absolutely. And here, you know, going back to the beginning of our conversation, I mean, you had some health issues, right, that were that you, you know, really decided that this is your path, and this is your journey, and you’re gonna live. I mean, you take care of yourself, obviously, along the way, but there were plenty of reasons why you were not supposed to do what you’re doing. Right. And yet, you wanted to just move forward and really live a life that you wanted to which and I think

Alison Levine  32:01

part of it too was that I did not even know I was born with a hole in my heart. I did not get diagnosed until I was 17. Because I grew up in a very tough love family. No whining, no crying, no complaining. So when I had trouble breathing, or I had severe chest pains, and I would tell my mom, I think something’s wrong with my heart. I can’t breathe. Just my chest feels weird. And she would say, oh, you’re fine, Honey, I’m sure you’re just nervous for your piano recital. And I would say, Mom, I don’t think that’s it, she’d say, but how can you be sure? And I’m like it because I take guitar lessons. Like I don’t play the piano. And my parents were just like, ignore Oh, you’re fine. You’re fine, you know? And I said, No, I really feel like I need to see a doctor and my mom said, we’ll go down the street and talk to our neighbor, Dr. Clark, he hasn’t he’s, you know, they just moved in. He has an excellent reputation. He’s supposedly a very good doctor. And I was like, Mom, Dr. Clark is a veterinarian. So like, unless I want to get spayed or microchipped, I do not think that he’s going to be able to help me. So that’s why I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 17. I think through childhood, just learning to push past pain, push past discomfort. I think that that, you know, helped me in my adult life, learning to push past pain and push past discomfort. Look, if you feel like you have some kind of, you know, heart condition, please go to a doctor, you guys. I mean, anyone listening, of course, go to a doctor if you feel like you have a health issue. So I do not advocate for that. But I’m just saying that sometimes when we go through painful or difficult things, and at the time, we might wonder why am Why is this happening to me? Why am I going through this? Why am I feeling like this? The answer comes later in life. The answer comes down the road you get your answer as to why you went through that. And those those those times those experiences where you were struggling, can serve you well down the road. I feel like that’s where we build our strength. We build our strength through the struggle.

Kara Goldin  34:06

I 1,000%. Agree. So tell me about a story when you’re on the mountain. What’s the gnarliest story that you have where you just thought I don’t know. This is I don’t know how this thing is all going to turn out.

Alison Levine  34:22

The gnarliest Story was probably 2002 on Everest going through this area called the Khumbu Icefall if you are not familiar with the Khumbu Icefall which there’s no reason you would be unless you’ve gone through it, but you guys can Google Khumbu Icefall and see what this is the Khumbu Icefall is the first part of the route when you leave Basecamp and it’s basically 2000 vertical feet, these massive ice chunks. So imagine looking up and you see these huge ice chunks of the size of apartment buildings, and you’re just they’re all over. It’s 2000 vertical feet in front of you. And what happens is the sun comes out, everything starts to melt. So these big huge ice chunks, start to shift around. Right. So the last time coming through the icefall, and you go through the icefall multiple times throughout an Everest expedition because you, you have to do these a climatization. These like climatization rounds where you climb up, you climb back down, you go high, you come back down, you have to get used to the altitude very slowly. So you do these rotations up higher on the mountain, and then you come back down lower again, and then you go higher again and come back lower. But it was our last rotation or last time going through the Khumbu Icefall, you cross these rickety aluminum ladders, that kind of sway in the wind, and you look down, and there’s, like, 1000 foot drop below you, and it’s so scary. And so you’re crossing these rickety ladders over these big open crevasses, and you’ve got the big towering ice blocks around you. And there is an avalanche and the icefall and like 10,000 tons of ice was coming, crashing down the mountain. And it literally missed us by a matter of a few feet. And so for me, that was the scariest experience I’ve ever been in. And it’s also a reminder that you know, there are all kinds of risks when you go to these environments. When you go to these big mountains, there’s all kinds of risk and things can feel very calm One moment, but can change really, really quickly, within a matter of minutes. what felt like a comfortable, safe environment can turn into anything but that. So that’s why it’s important to you know, stay on your toes, pay attention to what’s going on around you. And never be complacent. So you know, when I give these speeches, I have this line that I always use where I say fears, okay, right, just a normal human emotion, we talked about that. complacency is what will kill you. complacency is what puts you at risk. In life and in business, right? in business. You cannot be complacent even when your company’s doing well. And you’re you know, you’re crushing your competition, you’ve got more profit and revenue and market share than you ever dreamed that you would have one small shift can change everything and can turn it all upside down. So that’s why I remind people, even when you feel like you’re in a comfortable position, you cannot become complacent because complacency puts you at risk.

Kara Goldin  37:23

Absolutely. And I think about that all the time. I mean, I think it’s a challenge for all large experienced companies. And I think it’s, it’s really being able to innovate and pay attention, but also keep moving more than anything

Alison Levine  37:38

fun. Yeah. And find solutions, right? Sometimes you’re going through the Khumbu Icefall and you think you’re gonna go a certain way, and then you realize there’s, you know, there’s been a big ice avalanche, you got to change your route. And I mean, I got so much of that from your book, too, is just having to change things up when this wouldn’t work. You try that when that wouldn’t work, you try something else. But what I think we what I love the most about the book, well, there were a lot of things I loved. And I know we’re not this podcast isn’t about your book. But one thing that made me laugh so hard as you would be talking about something horrible that happened, and you’d be like, and then this happened, and this happened. And we thought things, you know, things couldn’t get any worse than I thought the next chapter would start out. And then things turned around, but the next chapter would start out, and then things did get worse. Yeah. So I just loved the honesty of just when you think things couldn’t get worse. Oh, yeah, they got worse. And but for the book just gave me hope that when things you know, when you think things are going in the wrong direction. At some point, if you are creative, and you are relentless, and you are undaunted, you can turn it around. Absolutely. And

Kara Goldin  38:44

I think that that’s, you know, what you and I haven’t talked about this, but the thing that really has inspired me is hearing from so many people who picked up the book who are not entrepreneurs, and, you know, some of them are CEOs of companies, some aren’t, but just the idea that it was hairy at times, and at times, it kept getting worse. And I kept believing that if I kept moving that and I wasn’t complacent, that eventually, it would get better. And it did. Yeah. And that’s the thing that I think it is just those are the biggest lessons but also the biggest inspiration for me because I felt like just by hearing my story, and part of the reason why I think you’re doing a ton of public speaking and people love your book, that was what published 1011 year almost

Alison Levine  39:39

alive. 2014

Kara Goldin  39:41

Yeah, seven years ago, seven years ago, I thought I was even older than that. But it was it’s just through your story. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never climbed Everest or you will never do it. It’s just it’s really the story of stories. Actually. help people to find strength. And yeah, and I think that that is what so many have gotten out of my book and sort of the story of building camp, but also your story.



Alison Levine  40:11

your whole career, like all the different barriers you smashed through throughout your career before you started hint, I felt like those experiences are what led to the mindset. When you were starting and running hint, right? Like that mindset of like, I’ve done somewhere like I’ve broken through similar barriers before I’ve had, you know, point oh, 1% chance of this working before, and I got it to work. So I did it before so I can do it now. And I feel like when you go, you know, you, you have to have your own breakthroughs in order to find that light, right, that voice we talked about that voice in your head. Once you know it’s there, you remember that voice when you need it. And sometimes it’s that voice that keeps you going in your darkest hour that keeps you going during your times of incredible debilitating self-doubt. You find that voice right because it’s there. I

Kara Goldin  41:12

absolutely love it. So where do people find Alison Levine and read your read more about Alison and on social? So

Alison Levine  41:25

I know I need to get better about social media. I’m not really good at it. And mostly it’s just pictures of my dog. But I am on social media. On Levine’s underscore, Alison, I also have a website, which is Allison Levine calm. And if anyone wants to get in touch or has a question, feel free to email me through my website, there’s a contact form there. And if you ask me a question through that contact form, your email will come straight to me not to my assistant because I do not have one. But I promise you that I will respond to anyone that gets in touch if you have questions. But yeah, I’m inspired by so many other people’s stories. And I know people listening to this have their own stories too. So I would love to hear them. And yeah, I’m just really honored to be on this podcast because I’ll tell you when I did a post about you and your book on LinkedIn. And it’s been my most popular ever, ever, ever. post on LinkedIn. Oh, like and I think everyone can relate to your story and how you handle these setbacks and just, we all have the ability to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. That’s all you have to think about you guys. And just please do that. Just do that when you face the unknown. When you face difficult situations. When you feel that self-doubt, just realize all you have to do is take one more step.

Kara Goldin  42:46

Thank you so much, Alison Levine. And thanks, everybody for listening and come see us every Monday and Wednesday and come here from Awesome, awesome people like Alison, and thank you again, Allison, really, really appreciate it. Everybody have a great week. before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head-on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book calm and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight? send me a tweet at Kara golden and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn at Kara golden thanks for listening