Put to the Test

What can you learn when you step outside your comfort zone?

By Lakshmi Mani, Division Manager of Cardiovascular Medicine

Sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro

I inherited my passion for adventure and risk-taking from my father, who encouraged me to experience the world and reach beyond my comfort zone.

I distinctly remember one journey from my pre-teen years, when my father woke me up one morning at 2 a.m. to ride in a jeep to Tiger Hill in Darjeeling, India. At that age, being woken up at an ungodly hour to go on a bumpy, spine-rattling unpaved road for over an hour was not my idea of a vacation. However, we took this trip for one reason – to watch the sunrise in the distance over Mount Everest. I’ll always remember how Mount Everest looked when it was bathed in the early morning light. That moment was the beginning of my quest to experience life outside my comfort zone.

I’ve often used travel as a way to face my fears and embrace the unexpected. The same sense of wonder I experienced watching Mt. Everest as a pre-teen translated into my adult life. I saw the world through a different lens when I went skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand. I jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet and felt the wind rush past me as I floated over the Remarkable Mountains. (Here’s where I should probably mention that I am petrified of heights.) Traversing Skaftafell – a stunning glacier in Iceland – was my next spontaneous adventure. My husband and I crawled along a ladder to get across a deep crevasse and I tried not to look down. During a trip to Belize, we waded through pools of water and climbed through caves to explore Mayan ruins.

The Ultimate Test

The ultimate test of my resilience and ability to face the unknown came in 2018 when my family and I had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Over the years, I had yearned to experience this climb, devouring pictures and scouring websites for more information.

We began training in earnest in January 2018, six months ahead of our June 20 start. On weekdays we took evening hikes and walked around the neighborhood. On weekends we went on seven-to-eight-hour hikes in regional parks throughout the Bay Area that would simulate the strenuous hiking conditions of the mountain. We even loaded our backpacks with bags of flour and rice to mimic the weight we would have to carry!

By February, we began to gather our inventory for the trip, organizing all of the supplies, clothing, and equipment we would need for the adventure. We felt ready, but two days before we were scheduled to leave, we learned that the mountain was experiencing unprecedentedly cold weather and heavy snowfall. We rushed to prepare – upgrading our equipment to include crampons, hand warmers, gloves, and layers of clothing.

Lakshmi Mani and her family at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

Finally, we arrived at the Londorossi gate, which was at the western base of Kilimanjaro. I offered up a simple prayer to the mountain, asking for strength and peace of mind as we began our journey up. Over the next eight days, we would walk a total of 42 miles, averaging five to eight hours of walking each day, with a break for lunch and dinner. A fantastic guide and crew supported us.

On each day of our climb, our limbs grew sorer, the temperatures plummeted, the winds grew stronger, and the altitude became thinner. Nevertheless, I put one foot in front of the other and remained focused on my goal: to reach the 19,345-foot peak.

Our ascent began just a little past midnight. It was bitterly cold, and the entire mountain was covered in deep snow. We climbed through the early hours of the morning, only stopping briefly to catch our breath. Finally, at 9 a.m., my family and I reached the summit. We held hands, and I felt tears running down my face. We stood together to watch the sun hit the mountain, and as I took in the splendor of the peak, I was reminded of my earlier experience as a young woman watching the sunrise over Mount Everest.

“These experiences haven’t just lent a richness to my personal life. They’ve helped shape my career path as a woman in medicine, too.”

These experiences haven’t just lent richness to my personal life. They’ve helped shape my career path as a woman in medicine, too. My learned willingness to push boundaries and take chances shows up in my work as an eagerness to explore opportunities and possibilities. And just like the guides who helped me during my Kilimanjaro climb, my mentors at Stanford have been instrumental in helping shape my career choices and my path. When faced with challenges at work, I can draw upon my resilience and perseverance to continue to push forward. Teamwork helped me summit Kilimanjaro, and it is teamwork that enables us collectively to be successful in the workplace. I can only hope that in the years to come, my life will continue to be filled with new adventures and new challenges. Whether it be through travel, finding new hobbies, or continuing our mission towards providing extraordinary healthcare here on the Stanford campus, I can’t wait to see what’s next.