Making the most of second chances
By KAREN NEOH
There are points in life when time passes so slowly, with no event of significance, that one might wonder if it would actually stop, and others when trials and tribulations appear to heap upon themselves that retreating into a little cocoon seems like the best choice.
People often say that the anger and anguish that tend to accompany tragedies are natural, and it is how we act upon or channel these emotions that is important.
Jamie Andrew is the epitome of someone who, when faced with a catastrophe, has nevertheless gone on to make a string of absolutely incredible achievements.
I had the privilege of having a chat with Andrew. His humble and unassuming manner, coupled with a positive attitude towards life and its challenges, makes him an extraordinary example of bravery and determination.
I hope you come away as inspired as I was.
In January 1999, mountaineers Jamie Andrew and Jamie Fisher were trapped for five nights on the storm bound icy summit of a French mountain.
Their rescue, one of the most dramatic in the history of the Alps, tragically came only hours too late to save Fisher.
Andrew, despite suffering hypothermia and appalling frostbite, survived, but at great personal cost. Ten days later, both his hands and his feet, damaged beyond repair by frostbite, were amputated.
He quickly learnt to walk again and master all the everyday tasks that we normally take for granted. In less than four months, he was able to leave the hospital, move back home and return to work as the manager of a small company.
Since then Andrew has defied all expectations by running marathons, completing an Iron Man triathlon, skiing, snowboarding, sailing, and of course, returning to climbing the mountains that he loves so much.
In the process he has raised 10s of thousands of pounds for charity and received many awards.
Andrew is an inspiring speaker who tells his story with great passion, sincerity and humour. The result is a talk which is at once gripping, inspiring and ultimately uplifting.
He uses his skills as a mountaineer and his experiences to great effect in putting across principles that are directly applicable to successful business practice.
With over 13 years’ experience of speaking in more than 30 countries on five continents, Andrew has worked with many businesses and training organisations.
He is also a regular presenter for The International Institute of Management Development in Switzerland.
I am truly inspired by how when faced with life’s challenges, you have met them head-on. After recovering, did you feel fear the first time you faced another mountain? How did you overcome that?
When I had the accident, I dealt with it by talking about what happened especially with loved ones, friends and family. At the beginning, it was very difficult, but the more I spoke about it, the easier it became.
Because my friend died and I was the lucky one, I realised that I was given a second chance and had to make the most of it. Not just for myself, but also for Jamie (Fisher).
So I began the process of coming to terms with what happened. Going back to the mountain was the final part – confronting the demons that I had in my head about this terrible accident.
It was hard but I wanted to see the place where the tragedy took place. The mountains were not to blame. It was a human tragedy and I needed to draw a line and move forward.
I am sorry for dredging up your pain and making you relive it Jamie.
The more I talk about it, the more cathartic it is. Before I knew it, I was asked to speak at events. It was also very painful and emotional but the more I talked, the more I was in control of my emotions.
Coming to Malaysia to share my story – it is almost my pleasure to share. I don’t really like to listen to the sound of my own voice and it’s not that my ego won’t let me shut up.
I talk genuinely and love to see the reaction I get from people. It’s a great opportunity my accident has brought me.
You once mentioned that going through different stages of grief is a necessary process, and it is important not to get stuck in a stage. How does one move forward?
It is natural to go through periods of denial, refusing to accept what has happened. I went through a lot of anger at myself. Also at Jamie for not having made it down alive.
I tortured myself about how we made the wrong decisions. We were very experienced and we did the best we possibly could. We couldn’t have done better than that.
Thinking about him, I came through my anger and moved to a period of acceptance. I had to find forgiveness. Only then can we start to rebuild – set new goals, ambitions and dreams.
What do you think your life might have been like if the accident never happened?
Before, I was a very passionate mountaineer – an amateur – but relatively directionless. I worked in the UK and Malaysia in industrial rope access usually for construction or maintenance.
That was “normal life” to me and I was not destined for anything amazing.
The accident has obviously impacted my life, opening doors of opportunity to share how it is possible to turn negatives to positives, how to turn weaknesses to strengths.
You are a strong believer of mind over matter – would you like to share your lessons learnt?
All challenges we face are 95% mental while physical aspects pale in significance. If you believe you can achieve whatever you set out to, the battle is nearly won. Just believe in yourself.
Setting small, achievable goals and seeing small improvements help you to gradually believe in your long term aspirations. Like preparing for a marathon – start at 1km, then another, and another.
It could be slow and it’s not always easy – often it won’t work out. But that’s okay. As long as you set small goals, take one step at a time and train your mind it is possible to achieve your goals.
Also, failures are just as important as successes – They help build resilience to deal with ups and downs.
Which specific leadership quality do you think is most important to possess in both mountaineering and in an organisation?
The importance of being able to share with other people. As a leader, you need to turn it around and be able to inspire that in other people. To be able to share with them your problems and work things through.
Be a good listener, a secure base, and let your people know that they can depend on you to always be there to listen, to share and to talk things through.
Rather than dictatorial, leaders need to understand their staff.
Hope and plans for the future
I have a wonderful life. My family is the biggest part of that. I want to see my children grow up and achieve the most that they are able to achieve.
I don’t expect them to follow in my footsteps. I would like them to make the most of everything they have been given in life and to realise that they have to work hard.
Personally, I would like to carry on speaking, telling people about my story. I also plan to write another book soon.
I will try to climb the Matterhorn again – so far I reached 250m from the summit but (safety first) I ran out of time and came down. I will have another go next year.
Always taking on new challenges, never resting on my laurels for too long.
Karen is humbled not just by all that Jamie has accomplished, but by his generosity in sharing a painful part of his life and turning it around to help others. She wants his wife Anna and his children to know that she is rooting for them every step of the way. For more information on Jamie and his upcoming visit to Malaysia, email firstname.lastname@example.org