Life only begins when we step out of our comfort zone

by Gazette Reporter
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By Declan Coyle

US motivational speaker Marianne Williamson coined a powerful statement which is often attributed to Nelson Mandela but is hers and really sums up the great, late Ian McKeever.

She said: ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’

That is so true of this amazing man who was struck by lightening and died while taking a team of young people on a trek up the famous Kilimanjaro mountain, the highest in Africa some years ago.

I didn’t have the privilege of personally knowing Ian, but our 24-year-old son Fionn did. Many years ago when he was at school, he came home with the news that he was going to climb Kilimanjaro with Ian McKeever and a team from his school, and we’re going to raise funds for charity,” he said.

That was the Ian McKeever factor –  the mountain climber and record breaker was an inspirational mentor to young people.

Fionn was devastated when he heard the tragic news. “I had a chat with him for about 10 minutes about the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro,” he told me.

Back here in Ireland, Ian climbed Croagh Patrick 35 times in 80 hours in 2008. He had an extraordinary year in 2007, smashing the world record for climbing the highest peak on seven continents, including Mount Everest.

Powerful beyond measure.

Adi Roche, CEO of Chernobyl Ireland knew Ian for the past 20 years though his fund-raising commitments. To her, he was a hero.

One of his last expeditions was to lead a group of 145 Irish teenagers, teachers and fundraisers to the summit of Kilimanjaro, setting a record for the biggest group to climb to the summit.

Powerful beyond measure.

Ian was not only a go-getter, he was a go-giver.

By climbing the Kilimanjaro the group raised money for Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, Chernobyl International, and various charities.

Explaining the affects of such a challenge, he said: “These students now realise or will soon realise three great life lessons:

1. That we are not judged by the things that go wrong in our lives but how to react when they do …

2. That the things we cannot do should never interfere with the things that we can.

3. Life really only begins when we step out of the comfort zone…”

Any major challenge that gets us out of our comfort zone is going to force us through pain, through a certain amount of suffering but the rewards on the other side are enormous.

Ian understood that new, great and wonderful world on the other side of pain. He understood that the journey is the destination.

There is no growth without a certain amount of discomfort, deep inner digging, and mental strength. Ian constantly reiterated Hillary’s idea that it’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

He knew that the comfort zone is the greatest enemy of our human potential and human possibility. He was also aware that to break out of our comfort zones and plunge through that red mist of pain is a two-edged sword.

This comfort zone-bursting pain can defeat us or transform us. It can transfigure us or disfigure us. It can make us victims or victors. Bitter people or better people.

It is our choice.

At the bottom of Kilimanjaro, Ian told young climbers: “Get bitter or get better.” He had another lovely touch for the climbers at the bottom of the mountain. Knowing that everyone’s mind is full of personal problems, he said: “Leave your baggage here now. After the climb it’s up to you whether or not you want to pick it up and continue to carry it.”

When they came down from the mountain, no one picked up the mental baggage from the bottom of the mountain. They were transformed, transfigured, victors and definitely better people.

Ian’s life showed us that it’s not the years in our lives that really matters, but the life in our years.

Powerful beyond measure.

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