Thanks to STEP, I was able to travel to Seattle during my summer break to successfully summit Mt. Rainier. The semester beforehand was spent training for the climb and getting into the best shape of my life in order to make it to the summit. During the climb, I worked with fellow climbers and guides to keep each other safe by practicing proper rope spacing and self-arresting techniques.
For most of my life I have done things by the book, so to say. I haven’t taken any crazy trips or gone on vacations by myself. I have always just done what I was “supposed to do” in life. One thing I learned while on this climb was that there is more to life than just going to school, getting a degree, and working the rest of your life. I always thought that all I wanted was a stable job for the rest of my life but Rainier made me question what I want out of life. It made me really think about what I love to do, and if I can accomplish that with my current life plan. With working an office job 40 hours a week, I only really have time to travel and explore the world on the weekends. At this point in my life that doesn’t seem like enough time. This STEP project really made me value every moment I have, and to try to make the most of it.
My STEP project also made me re-evaluate what success looks like. Before this project I viewed success as the classic “American Dream” of success, a big house, a nice car, and a well-paying job. Rainier made me think about how success isn’t the same for everyone. It is more important to live a fulfilling life in your eyes that it is to have what a generic version of success might be. It made me realize that there are many things I want to do in my life that fall outside of this “idealized” view of success. I have a greater appreciation for the simpler aspects of life.
One of the key interactions I had was with a fellow climber I met, Chris. Chris was 53 years old and an ultra-marathon runner who was attempting to summit Mt. Rainier with me. It was great listening to Chris because he talked a lot about doing what you love in life. He retired early from his job as a business analyst and now works at a running shop near his home. He decided that his job wasn’t what he enjoyed doing and instead just works an in environment where he can talk to other runners all day long. I think this conversation with Chris was one that affected me the most because I had never thought about doing something similar to this. I just always assumed I would be doing computer science related work the rest of my life but Chris’s story made me reconsider that. I am now thinking that I want to do something like Chris, except possibly be a guide.
Another aspect of the trip that really affected me was the difficulty of the climb. While it was easy to run and practice other cardio activities in Ohio, it was very difficult to train for the altitude. On the climb as we neared 14,000 feet I could feel the measly amount of air I was taking in with each breath. It made every step a challenge and this struggle made me really appreciate what I had done. It gave me such satisfaction completing the climb. I was in no way gifted the summit of Mt. Rainier, it was due to my own training that I was able to make it to the top and it was a different kind of success than other successes I have had it my life.
Another relationship I formed was with the guide Casey, who has been guiding trips up Mt. Rainier for 20 years. Casey fell in love with mountaineering after he was done with high school and decided to be a guide for his career path. Before this trip it really hadn’t occurred to me that you would be able to travel and get to do things like climb mountains without a well-paying college job. However, after meeting Casey I realized that he is doing what he loves and getting to travel around the world and be outside with nature all the time. It made me realize that there might be some point in my life where I no longer want to sit at a desk all day and that I will want to be outside enjoying nature. Casey was also the person who really pushed me on the trip and made the climb so worth it.
This transformation is beneficial to both my personal and professional goals. Personally I think I have found something I really enjoy doing and have a new hobby that I will pursue in the future. Professionally, I think it made me realize that a work life balance is something I need in my life. While working 60/hours a week at a startup sounded fun to me before this trip, I think I would get burnt out quickly with this lifestyle. It also makes me want to work harder in those 40 hours a week I have at work in order to get my projects done and get to go home early. The biggest transformation that I will take away from this project is how I value my time.