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What Is Your Mountain?

In competition, how do you know who has the upper hand? Does it depend on size or skill level, or maybe strategy? Perhaps it’s something else. Recently, I faced off against a 14,000 ft. mountain alone and discovered where the upper hand truly lies.

Preparing to climb a 14,000 ft. Mountain

A few years ago, I decided to climb another fourteener, otherwise known as a mountain of that same minimum elevation. However, I struggled to find anyone who would go with me. So, about a year ago, I finally decided that the next time a Colorado speaking engagement came across my desk, I was going to climb with or without anyone. Climbing/hiking has always been a hobby of mine. I had even completed two similar climbs over ten years ago with groups. Taking on this mountain was different. I was going solo.

There are 96 fourteeners in the United States. Fifty-three of those are in Colorado. I live in flat ol’ Dallas.

Trailhead sign marker
Beginning of the hike
1/3 of the way up

Was something like this even possible at this point? After living just above sea level, I began to doubt myself with so much time between climbs. Anxiety set in, thinking about accomplishing this solo, knowing something could potentially go wrong.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that self-reliance yields results. With that, I began daily training with the top of this mountain in sight. I used my phone to log training progress on the stair stepper with a weighted backpack, mini cardio challenges to increase my endurance, and weight lifting reps to build muscle strength. I developed plans, backup plans, and contingency plans.

After three months of diligence, it was time to climb

I boarded a flight to Colorado on a Friday morning for my speaking engagement later that day. It was nice to be doing something familiar like engaging with an audience before something borderline terrifying. I mentioned the next day’s climbing plans to the group, who asked to be kept apprised of my journey to the top. Knowing that my new friends were rooting for me engulfed me with even more determination.

On the long, beautifully scenic drive to the mountains, I learned that the snow conditions on the mountain were slightly worse than anticipated. This was the first wrench in the plan. This wouldn’t be the safest option for a group, let alone, well, being alone. I had never climbed in snow before and needed the least amount of issues as possible.

After arriving into town, I began some research that led to a different peak that wasn’t covered in as much snow. This peak, however, was much farther away.  Thankfully, another hotel was available just an hour from where I stood, so I set off.

I was in bed by midnight. Sleeping was difficult, between weighing the “what if’s” and being too tired to actually fall asleep. I faded slowly…

And then I woke up late! I packed up and scrambled the new trailhead as I thought to myself, “great start, Shannon.” I ended up on Mt. Belford, a Class 2 mountain, which was more difficult than what I was expecting, but I sucked it up and prepared myself mentally for the challenge (in hindsight, I’m still not certain if it was the smartest move).

There I was at 7:30 a.m., late but ready to rock with my gear loaded, boots strapped, and hydropack filled. My spirits screamed “let’s GO,” but then slowly began to realize that cell service was absolutely non-existent and nobody else was around. Most hikers start well before 6 a.m. To make matters worse, Mt. Belford was very much off the beaten path from civilization.

It would have been so easy to just panic but instead, I strategized. Anybody I encountered, ascending or descending, I would keep track of to reference my position on this mountain.

Originally, I had budgeted five hours to ascend and three hours to come back down; gravity and whatnot. But about an hour in, I was already exhausted and seriously wondering if I could do this. It’s well known that to be successful on the mountains, it’s best to reach the summit by noon. Otherwise, you may have to deal with unplanned, sporadic thunderstorms. If you’re on the peak while an afternoon thunderstorm rolls in… good luck.

As I contemplated my exit strategy for bad weather, I remembered that I flew all the way to the middle of Colorado to do this one thing — I can’t quit. That’s when I began to set mini goals, or checkpoints, for myself as I did with my initial training.

“Make it one more hour and then you can take another snack break”

“Count your steps and see how many you can consecutively get before stopping to take another sip of water”

“You may not make it to the top, but let’s see how far you can get in the five hours you committed”

Tiny goals, tiny progress, but everything adds up. Slowly, with each stride and each breath, I knew I would conquer this hill.

As noon drew closer, I began to see other climbers, those who arrived on time, making their descent. “Is anyone still up there,” I would ask. Each person knew the importance of this answer and confirmed that some people were still up at the top.

12:30 p.m. rolled in with the clouds as I continued my way up the mountain. At this point, all other options were gone. I had to hustle to make sure I reached the summit and hope that somebody, anybody was still up there. In no way, could I be up there by myself so late in the day.

The weight of this situation crashed down on every nerve. I could feel the cold air get thinner. I could taste my water supply starting to deplete. I could also see the inevitable clouds begin to swirl ahead. I had to pick up the pace.

I passed the first false summit. 1:00 p.m.

I passed the second false summit. 1:30 p.m.

“Hello?” I yelled a few times to empty terrain. I wasn’t there yet. With part haste and part anxiety, I began to jog. Moments later, around the last switchback, I see shadowy figures up ahead. The last group was making their descent.

“Please! Please! I’ve made it this far. Will you please wait for me to summit?” I shouted.

“It’s right there. We’ll wait, but HURRY!” somebody shouted back.

I continued to run; faster, harder until I finally reached the top.

Finally, I had made it. I stood there, holding back tears. Any sense of urgency to descend was pushed to the side for just a second as I panned across what seemed like the entire rest of the world underneath me in that moment — quiet, still, empty. I pulled out my phone and took one photo before noticing the clouds getting a darker shade of angry. Something was about to happen.

(If you zoom in on the upper left, you can see me in all black climbing to the summit while these folks waited. Also, note the ominous clouds.)
Reaching the summit of Mt. Belford 14,197 ft elevation.

Holding a Mt. Belford sign with the elevation on it.

The climb down

I jumped off the top rock and sprinted toward the nice folks, praying they hadn’t left yet. They were slowly making their way back to the trail. As we joined together, the thunder rumbled. This was our first warning.

We FLEW. Nothing but hiking boots but faster than skis as we zigzagged through the switchbacks. And then the ominous clouds turned for the worst.

Overhead, the sky pelted us with graupel (soft small water pellets). Underneath us, the rocks were loose and the ground was wet. Our clothing became a darker shade as it saturated with water and my toes burned with every step. After an hour of downhill running, we made it below the tree line without getting struck by lightning.

We stopped for a moment in the trees and caught our breath. The nice folks continued their way without me. I had given every remaining ounce of energy in the sprint and somehow needed to find a way to finish my descent.

I eventually did make it down. As soon as I saw my rental car, I fell to the ground and wept. I couldn’t feel my legs. My feet were bloody and bruised. I wasn’t sure if I still had either of my big toenails still attached.

This was one of the most challenging experiences I have ever faced in my life. The mental capacity needed to push one’s self, without anyone or anything to comfort you, is monumental. Without cell service, or music, podcasts, nothing – just sheer will power.

You can plan down to the exact sip of water. You can train with professionals. But when you’re faced with empty terrain, alone, and the “what if’s” start to creep into the back of your mind, the effects are crippling. There were moments when I truly doubted that I would make it to the top, let alone OFF the mountain.

But I did. And I did it by myself. 14,197 ft. June 5, 2021

While this was intended to be a fun activity fueled by my love for hiking, I walked away from this with so much more than a thrill.

During the five hours it took me to ascend, I fought harder for mental endurance than I did physical. Questions swirled in my head every time I stopped to catch my breath. There were times when I considered admitting defeat and turning around. At other times I wondered if I truly could even finish, and what would happen if I couldn’t find help. During the very last hour I lost all feeling in my legs near the point of collapsing. But there was no other choice but to continue. Life was on the line. I had to keep telling myself: “You – Can – Do – This.”

I am 100% convinced that humans are capable of so much more than we realize.

We are all born with varying degrees of physical and mental strength. As children, we begin with education in the classroom and exercising on the playground. We learn to read and write and how to play hopscotch or tetherball. We form passions and opinions and begin to develop a lifestyle with routines and goals. And then we get comfortable and settle, adhering to societal norms and our own checklists.

But what if you pushed even just 10% harder than you thought you could? What if you woke up an hour earlier every day to work toward a goal you really wanted to achieve? What if you really are capable of pursuing that crazy idea you’ve stored away in the back of your mind? What would happen if you really did achieve it?

What would that mean to you?

I spent nine hours climbing a 14,000 ft. mountain by myself. I learned that when my back is against a wall, feet bloody and bruised, knees about to buckle with each step, that I choose to fight back and survive. Because that’s what it takes to cross the finish line, even when you’re weak, broken, and bloody. 

Maybe your goal isn’t a fourteener. But if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you have something in mind, something more you want from life.

So what’s keeping you from climbing your mountain?

An hour in.

Looking for your next Keynote Motivational Speaker? Let’s chat!

Shannon is a motivational speaker and business consultant based in Dallas, TX. She has worked in almost all 50 states with audiences ranging from corporate executives to student leaders.

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Ten Years Speaking Business

This past December, I was snowed in at my sister’s house in Kansas City writing out my goals and projections for 2021. I had just finished my last virtual keynote of 2020 (from her basement) and was excited to end the year strong when I realized

Drumroll please…….

2021 marks TEN YEARS of owning my speaking/consulting business!

Girl holding a balloon

Wow! I couldn’t believe it. Where had the last decade gone? Whom had I impacted? What had I accomplished?

In those ten years I:

  • Spoke in 45 states (still need Rhode Island, Idaho, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska! Know anyone there?)
  • Addressed over 200,000 audience members
  • Worked with companies like Tesla, Fidelity Investments, Newell-Rubbermaid, Garmin, MIT and more
  • Delivered more than 50 segments for TV programs around the country including: ABC, CBS, Nickelodeon and others
  • Delivered a TEDx Talk
  • Designed apparel to accompany my “Dream It Map It Reach It” initiative that signifies it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you have in your pockets, you can still dream big and accomplish your dreams

After a decade of both exhilarating highs and lows, I’ve learned a few things from this wild ride. Strap in, I’m taking you with me!

Here are the ten things I’ve learned over the past ten years. 

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1. Start with a solid plan.

When I realized being a motivational speaker and business consultant was in my DNA, I put together a plan. I hired a business coach, asked tons of questions and created benchmarks and mile markers to guide progress and results. I knew my plan may get derailed along the way, but because I knew what I wanted to accomplish, it kept me on the right track for success! Q. What’s your plan for 2021?

2. Mentors, mentors, mentors.

Every successful person has had a mentor, or maybe a few mentors, who offered advice, motivation, encouragement, emotional support and grace.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without a few significant individuals who have walked alongside me over the past decade. It is helpful to have a fresh set of eyes and ears, especially when I’ve needed to make difficult decisions.  Many times, my mentors encouraged me to stick with the plan, even when it got hard.  But sometimes, they provided fresh insight and permission to walk the other way and try a new plan, when my original wasn’t coming together as expected. Q. Who do you look to for advice and encouragement along your journey?

3. When the tides change, learn to change with them!

This feels very relevant for 2020, but the truth is that we encounter obstacles every year (heck, probably ever week) that cause us to shift, pivot, roll with it and figure it out. Did you know that in the spring of 2020, when all of my speaking commitments cancelled, I went back to my sales career for a brief while to help distribute a product that was vital during those early stages of the pandemic?  Was that part of my plan?  No way!  But when 2020 threw me those lemons, I learned to incorporate them until I figured out what would be next.  When you deny change, you deny yourself opportunities and growth. And wow, have I grown tremendously in this past year. Q. How have you grown because you had to adapt to new realities?

4. There’s no one way to define your professional or personal life.

Every story I’ve heard over the last decade has been similar…. But different. There’s no one way to be the best employee, entrepreneur, student, mom, friend or spouse. However, there IS a right way for how you can define your life. It’s all up to you. You get to make your own rules. Don’t let anyone define that for you. Q. How do you describe yourself?

5. Hindsight is 20/20.

I probably should’ve written that book. Or created more online courses. Or said yes to more things. Hindsight is always 20/20. But, we can’t live our lives in the rearview mirror. We have to keep taking action forward! Q. How are you looking forward?

6. Every relationship matters.

I’ll never forget one Tuesday morning in October 2017. I was drinking my coffee and about to start the day when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but answered like I always do, “Hi this is Shannon!” On the other end was Brian, the president of an audio/visual company I had worked with a few years prior. We chatted for a bit and then he cut to the chase. He was producing an international company conference which included renting out Gillette Stadium in Boston for three days and they wanted me to emcee the entire thing. I was floored. His staff remembered me from another conference I keynoted and thought I would be the perfect fit for this event. It was a dream come true and something I will never take for granted. I’m certainly not perfect at it, but every day I try to treat everyone with kindness and respect. You never know what relationships will come back around in your life. Q. How can you reevaluate your relationships? 

7. Nothing replaces work ethic.

You can study at elite schools, obtain the highest degrees and have unlimited connections, but nothing can take the place of hard work. If you are willing to work hard enough, I believe you can have anything you want.  The best players on the field are not always the biggest, the strongest, or fastest. The same can be said about the workplace.  Despite what the media and news often show, the best in the boardroom are not always the smartest, wealthiest or most educated.  But are they the persistent! Q. How can you increase your work ethic and productivity this next year?

8. Criticism is tough.

There will always be someone who provides solicited (and unsolicited) criticism that makes you question your decisions and your plan. But it’s how you handle the critics that will define you. Detractors are just that – detracting you from your path and your plan. When you can, turn the criticism into fuel to keep you going. Q. It hurts to hear, but how can you turn criticism into a catalyst for you?

9. Your physical health impacts your emotional and mental health.

When I started my business, I was coming off the healthiest time of my life serving as an NFL cheerleader. I was in the best shape I’d been in, which allowed me to work round the clock building my dream business. However, over time running from airport to airport, eating meals out and not getting to the gym as often, caused my metabolism to shift. I felt the energy drain and realized I couldn’t offer as much to my audiences when I wasn’t feeling my absolute best. That’s why I’ve been on a mission to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily and drinking as much water as possible. Q. I know you know, but are you moving that body of yours?

10. When in doubt, follow your gut.

I’ve learned time and time again; your gut instinct is almost always right. Sure, we put parameters in place to try and guide us, but at the end of the day, if you’ve done the homework, you should feel confident about putting yourself out there and knowing right from wrong. It all works out the way it’s supposed to. Q. Do you trust yourself?

Gratitude – In Closing

Looking back, the one thing I can confidently say is that I am beyond grateful for the journey. The ups, the downs, the twists, and turns. All of it. I can send this note out today knowing that as nervous as I was a decade ago, I still chased my dream. It’s never too late to do what your heart is passionate about. Thank you for being on this journey with me! You inspire me to keep pursuing these passions. I hope you pursue yours! As a matter of fact, let me know what you are chasing. Maybe I can help you get there. Feel free to email me!

Looking for a virtual keynote speaker? A consultant for your team? A coach? Let’s chat! I would be honored to work with you!

Cheers to the next ten!

What does Patrick Mahomes have to do with Emotional Intelligence?

I’ve been studying emotional intelligence for nearly two decades and the more I research, the more I realize no matter how “emotional” one is, we all have an opportunity to grow more “emotionally intelligent.”

Specifically, a key factor to the EQ formula includes managing our emotions. It’s not enough to simply have awareness of our emotions. Being able to be in control emotionally is huge but can also be challenging. We are wired to feel emotion through the limbic system in our brain. The degree to which we experience emotions differs from person to person, but we all feel anger, stress, fear, and happiness. It’s how we respond to those emotions that are so important – critical, really – in affecting our interactions with others in the workplace.

Take Kansas City Chiefs 2nd year Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II; who is just 23 years old!  In the spotlight of Monday Night Football’s national stage, Mahomes performed on a level rarely seen in Kansas City let alone in the NFL.  Not only did he display exemplary skill, he also managed his emotions in a way, I believe, helped him lead the Chiefs to their fourth consecutive win!

There were several variables that a person lacking emotional intelligence would have allowed to affect their performance.  Flags disrupting the Chiefs offensive rhythm, the pressure of needing to overcome a ten point 4th quarter deficit, the deafening roar of the opposing fans at Denver’s Mile High Stadium and relentless pressure from the Bronco’s defense. But during all of it, I barely saw Mahomes get worked up. Instead, he was calm and collected for almost the entire game. That is a huge part of what emotional intelligence is – managing your emotions especially in challenging moments to still achieve your desired outcome.

During my years in corporate America, I found the same principle to ring true. It was much easier to become energized and remain positive about my job when working for someone who exhibited servant leadership and stayed calm, even when faced with difficult business decisions. These people made me want to work harder and do better, because my efforts were valued. Likewise, I’ve experienced projects that left me feeling emotionally drained and pessimistic when I worked for someone who couldn’t control his or her emotions and expressed extreme verbal frustration when I didn’t meet my goals. That’s a tough and toxic environment in which to work and ultimately caused me to change my circumstances (i.e. get a new job!).

The next time you are watching a sporting event, observe the leadership of the team or the coaching staff. How are they responding in the heat of the moment? How does that behavior affect the players and supporting coaches? One of my favorite recent articles about emotional intelligence in the sports world discusses the Philadelphia Eagles decision to hire an “emotionally intelligent” coach and the team’s success as a result of that hire.

Not a sports fan? That’s ok! You can make these same observations at work or school. Identify someone in a leadership position and take note of the way they respond to critical issues. Then, look at those around them. Are employees eager to please, because they respect the leader? Or, do they seem bent and broken from years of working under autocratic leadership?

With a few simple steps, we can all learn to manage our EQ and take our game to the next level.

  1. Take a day and focus on what triggers your emotions both positively and negatively. Use your senses. What smells, sounds, sight and the environment around you triggers you to react. Having awareness is the first key step.
  2. Knowing what those triggers are, identify 1-2 ways that will help you stay calm and collected before you react. Do you need to walk away from the situation? Do you need to write down your thoughts first?
  3. Think about these three key areas of managing your emotions: Control, Accountability and Adaptability.

Just like Patrick Mahomes II, we all have the ability to strengthen our EQ especially in intense moments. It’s the practice and education that makes us ready for them.

One of my most popular speaking topics is, “Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: What’s your EIQ?” wherein I work with groups to discuss ways to identify, assess and control their own personalities and to work with the variety of personalities they encounter in the workplace. My Four Square approach will help everyone increase his or her social and emotional I.Q. Sound like this might be a good fit for your organization? Let’s talk!