Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Into the Mountains (Chris Du Toit)

I was working very closely with Chris when the story he shares here happened. We both headed into the mountains around the same time. Although mine was just for 4 weeks and his was for 2 years! I was safe and sound on a yoga mat, while he was clinging to ropes and testing the limits of survival. Either way there is something about mountains that manages to put things in perspective.

Chris was already a chilled, level headed man but life can put us to the test, and all we can do is choose how to respond. All I know is if I ever get stuck in the middle of nowhere, there is just one man I would send an SOS to.

Trev on the left, Chris on the right, surrounded by white

Into the Mountains
by Chris Du Toit

I started working at a large serious corporate straight after university, whilst studying towards qualification as an actuary. By 25 I had qualified and was moving up in the ranks, and before I knew it I was doing a large serious job at the large serious corporate. I was married by 26 to the girl I loved, life could not have been better really.

I was about to find out that there is nothing like a major life event to put your priorities into perspective. By 28 I was divorced and all at sea. When you do not have other people to be responsible for the playing field changes. Things and experiences that you never thought were in reach suddenly become a reality. But actually following through on your dreams is a different story.

All my life I had spent time in the mountains either hiking, kloofing or rock climbing. I had read famous books about expeditions to high peaks and far away places. Now here I was, entrenched in a fantastic career, but with something nagging me. The high mountains were calling. I found a school that teaches mountain guiding and signed up for a 2-year course that would take me to Alaska, Patagonia and Spain. I quit my job, sold everything that I had and got on a plane alone with 3 bags full of gear to meet up with my fellow guides on the other side of the world.

The next 12 months were some of the best of my life. I saw places and experienced things that not many people will ever have the chance to do. Near death crevasse falls and middle of the night digging in snowstorms shows you what you are really capable of, and how little you actually need to survive in life.

When I decided to take this sabbatical my friends and colleagues were mostly supportive, and my father just asked me once: “Are you sure about this?” But there were also naysayers who could not understand my decision. “Look at what you are giving up…” “You will never get back on the same career path…”

My message to everyone who has a dream to give up their corporate job and life and follow their passion, even if it is just for a short time, is DO IT. I was lucky enough to have the circumstances to come back and start over relatively easily, but even if you don’t, I cannot recommend a sabbatical like this enough. It gives you new perspective and new energy and prolongs your career in the long term. And who knows what doors will be opened along the way? What’s the downside? Not much in my opinion.

Although I am back at the grindstone behind a desk, I can always go back to the snowy places, big skies and emptiness, even if it is just in my mind.
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