What does it take to climb a mountain?

The following is a guest post from Esc member Alfonso Giuliani. Alfonso is an attorney who left his law firm a few months ago to take time for himself, travel, and explore inspiring new directions in his life. Amongst his adventures in the past months, the most exciting has been climbing and summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in the context of a UNICEF fundraising initiative called “Trek Kilimanjaro for the World’s Children”. Alfonso joined other 25 trekkers participating in the same initiative. They have successfully raised over £100,000 to support children throughout the world. Here’s Alfonso story.

This is me a couple of weeks ago. Feeling literally on the top of the world, grateful for the breathtaking spectacle of nature I was allowed to witness from sitting above a seemingly infinite sea of clouds. I was on my way to the ‘the roof of Africa’. Two days later, on September 10, at 8.45am, I reached the snow-peaked summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was memorable, epic, a dream finally coming true.

You see, I love going beyond my limits. I was born with a physical disability, perhaps the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received. I’ve learned to look at the world with fearless eyes, to go into the depth of things, to develop a strongly creative and adaptive mindset. For quite some time climbing Kili has been on top of my “things-to-do-before-you-die” list. I finally got the right kick in December last year. Thanks to ESC, I discovered this amazing UNICEF fundraising initiative whereby I could both tick the box on my list and do something for a noble cause. I couldn’t miss this opportunity, so I decided to go for it.

Meanwhile, I also made another important decision…

After four years working as an attorney in a top US firm in Brussels, last February I handed in my resignation letter. It was a great job, intellectually stimulating and demanding, but for some reason not the path I was eager to commit much longer than I’d already done. When I told my family and friends, you can imagine the surprise.

I’ve been mulling over my decision for more than six months. In the end I had to be honest with myself. I was experiencing a ramping sense of stagnation and self-absorption that was starting to choke my sense of meaning. I had this uncomfortable perception of failure to bring a real added value to society, to do something with an impact. Perhaps it is because of my (sort of) ‘two-sided personality’ (on the one hand, rational, analytical, and strategic while, on the other, imaginative, up-in-the-clouds, and romantic), but the thing is that I could not shut my heart up. I had to ride my desire to venture away from my comfort zone and to get on a new journey of inner and outer exploration. I needed to slow down to reassess my life goals and priorities, to gain a new sense of vision.

Warming up…

As of March, I have spent a lot of time on my own. The first weeks out of the office have not been easy. I’ve had to find a new rhythm, mental but also physical. I’ve done some travelling in Spain and Brazil, and I have been to a challenging 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat where I learned a lot about how tackling fears and cravings. When not travelling, I have been quite busy with training (lots of 10K running) and fundraising. Spreading the word about my Kilimanjaro adventure was a great way to meet and connect with complete strangers, and also to spend very fulfilling moments with my closest friends who helped and supported me before and during various fundraising events. All of this has been truly empowering, energising, revitalising.

Reconnecting with my true inner self…

Then, it finally came the time of the trek. Eight challenging days battling against the effects of the increasing altitude and walking through a continually changing landscape, from the tropical forest to the rocky trails and scree slopes of the so-called Alpine Desert region, to the ice-peaked summit of Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak. The best part of my journey? Without a doubt, my fantastic group of fellow trekkers! They feed my days with lots of inspiring stories, thoughts, and good laughs. But I especially enjoyed the spiritual silence into which we were regularly falling in our attempt to find the right pace and breathing pattern. But also to come to grips with our weaknesses, dissatisfactions, and to rise upon them. I tried my best, in my own way – singing.

I still can’t figure out how it all came about, but at some point during the trek I rediscovered my old passion for singing arias from famous operas. Singing in the wilderness, often looking over astounding sceneries, felt like unique, liberating, chaotically meaningful. My most memorable and emotional moment was on Uhuru Peak when I sang “O Sole Mio”. I was exhausted, almost dizzy, and short of breath, but so happy for my achievement that the temptation was too strong…

All this singing prompted the following thought – sometimes we focus so much on the search of passion in terms of outcome that we might easily miss the experience of its different ‘epiphanies’, which instead are the true fundamental steps towards living a passionate life. This is one of the most insightful lessons I’ve learned, one that I believe it was worth sharing with you.


  • Adele

    Thanks so much for sharing Alfonso! Truly inspiring. Psychologist Timothy Butler talks about the transition from operating with a dominant mode of rational thinking vs. switching our dominant operating mode to emotional/intuitive thinking – you might find helpful, it’s a brilliant book that we often talk about with Escapees: http://www.careerleader.com/gettingunstuck/

    • Alfonso

      Thanks a lot Adele, I am definitely going to read it!

  • Hayley

    I loved this post! Congratulations Alfonso, not least for being able to sing at high altitude. How about taking that challenge to other peaks? I love trekking and we’re off to Chile in December. I suspect that we won’t want to come home. Strange things happen in the mountains it seems :-)