Between 10th and 15th July 2019, a group of 19 alumni of Starehe, 16 old boys, 3 old girls and 1 staff member took up an enormous challenge: to summit Mt Kenya (point Lenana, 4985 metres above sea level) and raise $60,000 the Griffin Memorial Trust Fund while at it. A majority of us were not seasoned hikers, but we all wanted to mark Starehe’s 60th anniversary in style. And to ensure that we secured places for 5 needy boys/girls in perpetuity.
It was a big task, but since most of us were sponsored for the 4 years of high school at Starehe, we were driven by our passion to give back to the school; to ensure that the current students enjoyed the same benefits, or even better, as we did.
This week marked 1 year since we successfully summited and raised $50,000. The team had a video call meeting on the 14th to celebrate our anniversary, have a check-in, and discuss the continuity of what we started.
After that call, I remembered that a friend of mine had asked me to document that experience in writing because the photos we posted were breathtaking, to say the least. I didn’t do it.
That legacy conversation got me thinking and decided to share my experience here. Yes, this is still a personal finance blog, I’ll talk about what my Mt Kenya experience taught me about money.
10 money lessons from my Mt Kenya experience
You can’t wake up tomorrow morning and decide to go summit Mt Kenya or any other mountain. You need to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Otherwise, you’ll be in so much pain that you’ll either have to stay in bed for three days or more like an invalid or you have to descend stairs in reverse while requesting everyone around you not to crack any jokes; your ribs and every part of you will be hurting. That’s assuming you’ll make it to the top alive, without being evacuated.
To ensure we were fit for Mt Kenya, we hiked hills and smaller mountains every other weekend for about three months. We also had to get a clean bill of health from a doctor.
To swiftly take advantage of investing opportunities, you need to have ready money. You need to be liquid. Well, having money just sitting pretty in your account won’t happen magically. You need to save consistently for a while.
Having a healthy financial habits means saving before you spend. If you do this consistently over time, you will build yourself nest eggs such as emergency funds, and enough money to take advantage of opportunities.
The more you hike, the stronger you become physically, which means you can take up even tougher hiking challenges.
The more you save, the more secure you feel, and the bigger the investment opportunities you can take up
2. You are a brand
At first, our target was to raise $20,000. Somebody challenged us to make it $60,000. ‘Has he gone nuts? Resist! Resist! Resist the challenge!’ was our initial reaction. It couldn’t be done.
As part of the admin team that was tasked with delivering the project, we tried communicating this audacious goal to the rest of the team. The reception was cold.
We decided to work with the $20,000 target, but broke it down into individual targets. Each participant was to raise $1,000.
As much as Starehe is a respected brand, when we tried to ask our family, friends, and colleagues to contribute financially towards raising the collective $20,000, it didn’t go well.
We changed tactics. We asked them to give to us as individuals. I asked my friends to help me, Agatha, to raise my $1,000. I asked them to help me get to the summit. To support my dream to educate a girl just like somebody educated me. The response was overwhelming! I raised $2,400 by myself. A lot of us surpassed the $1,000 target, which is how we managed to raise the $50,000.
Using the personal brand was the magic pill. My friends gave me the money because they trusted me. I had relationships with them that I had built over time. The same thing applies to the other 19 participants.
When it comes to money, trust is a big factor. That is why organizations spend billions in marketing trying to craft a narrative; trying to get you to trust them so that you can buy from them.
While helping my clients get out of debt, I teach them about the importance of sustaining healthy relationships with the people they owe money. I ask them not to ignore their calls and messages. To communicate regularly with them and assure them that they’re working towards getting out of debt. To tell them that it’ll take time to clear the debts and to communicate clearly the amount they’ll pay each month.
This approach ensures that people trust you, that you build sustainable relationships because we need each other while working towards building wealth.
Leave a trail of trust, by paying what you owe.
Build yourself a strong brand, don’t be dodgy. Trust in relationships works the same way compounding does.
With the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear. — Ryan Holiday
3. Prepare for emergencies
People die while hiking. Some people’s bodies cannot handle the changes in altitude. In fact, one of us did not summit due to this challenge. It’s snowy up there, the numbing cold can lead to frostbites. Extreme fatigue could mean that you have to descend before you get to the top. And sometimes, fatal accidents happen, people break limbs. In such cases, you have to be evacuated.
Risk analysis is an important aspect of mountaineering. We had experts in our team, so we paid for evacuation covers just in case any of us needed it. One of us did need it as they were admitted at the hospital.
I hope you were thinking about the importance of emergency funds as you were reading that. It’s mandatory to build yourself an emergency fund before anything else.
How to Build an Emergency Fund
‘If you lost your job tomorrow, how long would you survive while maintaining the same lifestyle?’ How to build an…
4. Take one step at a time
When the rubber hit the road as we walked from Sirimon gate (2,650 metres above sea level) to Old Moses Camp (3,300 metres) that’s when reality hit. The excitement faded, the hiking boots became tighter, and trying to keep up with swift hikers was a real nightmare.
Not forgetting that we got rained on for 2 hours straight on the first day.
When thoughts of giving up crossed my mind, I reminded myself something that my bestie repeats often when we’re hiking ‘don’t worry about the destination, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.’ And that’s how I did it on the first day and all the other 5 days.
As young people, we often wonder and doubt if we’ll ever make enough money to comfortably cover our bills, have savings and investments while also having reserves to YOLO. It’s a constant worry.
Sometimes you look at rich people around you and wonder how they did it. What you can do to attain the same. Apart from defining for yourself what wealth means to you, you can win this war by taking it one step a time.
Saving a little each week or month, taking up one investment at a time.
As much as that stretch was strenuous, I enjoyed every bit of it because the scenery was breathtaking. Okay, the journey towards being financially free might not be breathtaking but you can find ways to make it bearable through taking baby steps.
Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It’s a release valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity. Fortunately, unfamiliarity is simple to fix (again, not easy, which makes it possible to increase tolerance for stress and uncertainty. — Ryan Holiday
5. Don’t do it alone
Hiking as a group made the challenge easier. We got to make lifetime friends as we helped and encouraged each other throughout the five days. Having someone to talk to while hiking makes the distance seem shorter.
The one thing that is never discussed is the financial privilege married people or people who are in longterm committed relationships have. Two adults get to do what one single adult is meant to do alone. When a married couple announces that they’ve bought a house or such, after clapping, I always remind myself that it’s two people who did it. So I cut myself some slack and keep going.
No, I’m not asking you to get married as a way to attain your financial goals faster; it’s your decision. I’m appreciating the privilege and joy of having a support system.
Having a supportive family and friends makes the financial journey easier. Having people who understand what you can or cannot afford especially when you voice it is a gift. If you do have such, appreciate them. And if you can find ways of collaborating with your family and friends, do it. You don’t have to do it alone.
6. Communication is key
Throughout the hike, we were encouraged to tell the guides when we experienced headaches, breathing difficulties or any other challenge. The sooner you communicate, the easier it is to get help.
Do you talk about money with your spouse? Friends? Family? With yourself? Demystify the shame, ask for help. The more we talk about it, the easier the journey becomes.
There’s a saying in Latin: Vires acquirit eundo (We gather strength as we go) — Ryan Holiday
7. Breaking down the targets
There are people who have summited Mt Kenya in less than 5 days. I know people who’ve done it in 2. I’ve read about the crazy ones who’ve done it in 1.
We did it in 5 days. Broke down the distance into manageable sections to accommodate the weakest hikers (I was one of those, they called me ‘the one with the slowest pace’). But did I summit despite it all? YES. I. DID!
We also moved from fundraising for $20,000 collectively to fundraising for $1,000 individually. This made it easier.
As much as having giant financial dreams is great, because they say that if your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough (rolls eyes), breaking them down into manageable targets will make it easier to achieve them.
I wrote a beginner-friendly financial roadmap here.
A Personal Finance Roadmap for Beginners 1
Can’t figure out where to start? This is an easy to follow series to guide you on your financial journey
8. Take breaks
On day 4 of the hike, we rested. We slept for longer and spent the day eating and admiring the summits from Shipton’s camp. We rested so that our bodies could acclimatize. Even the Bible says that God rested on the 7th day, amen?
Don’t be so sucked into the grind that you forget to take care of yourself. Thank your body for what it has achieved so far. Don’t wait until you break down for you to realize that self-care and self-preservation is part of the process.
See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.
What blocked the path is now a path. What once impeded action advances action.
The Obstacle is the Way. — Ryan Holiday
9. Admire the top, but be realistic about what you can achieve
From Shipton’s you can see all the peaks; Batian 5,199 metres, Nelion 5,188 metres and Lenana 4,985 metres. We summited Lenana which is the third highest peak and not Batian and Nelion.
You need to be an experienced rock climber to do the two. So yes, we were great at hiking, but we were not rock climbers and couldn’t risk going that far.
Which reminds me that the other day, somebody tweeted about our obsession with millionaires and billionaires. How most of us have this dream of attaining billionaires status. There are 2,095 billionaires in the world out of the 7.8 billion of us.
Realistically, what are the odds that you’ll become one?
The person was arguing that it’s an unhealthy obsession. I agree.
And I’m not out here depriving myself of sweet sleep to become one. If you are, keep going! I can be your cheerleader, but be realistic. Don’t live in a cloud.
10. Leave a legacy
During the video call, we talked about how we’d want to climb a different mountain every year for Starehe. In fact, we had plans to do Mt Kilimanjaro this year but (insert COVID-19’s evil laugh…)
We want to leave a legacy by coming up with a sustainable plan.
A friend of mine said something the other day ‘your money is not yours alone, it’s for your family. Take care of it.’
One responsibility we all have when we have money is to take care of other people to the best of our ability. It’s not about hoarding it all for yourself.
As Steven Silbiger wrote in the Jewish Phenomenon, ‘take care of your own, and they will take care of you.’
Well, not giving up wraps it all. You’ll constantly feel that the goal is unattainable. There are some days I ask myself ‘Why I’m I even trying?’ but I still keep going as you should.
The Germans have a word for it: Sitzfleish. Staying power. Winning by sticking your ass to the seat and not leaving until after it’s over. — Ryan Holiday
What mountain are you climbing this year?
Mine is learning to program and web design for fun, get rid my fear of technology and to diversify my income sources.
See you at the top!