I’ve never been one to move slowly. When I decide to do something, I want to do it now. I want to make it all happen as fast as possible. I don’t cut corners however I like to move quickly to achieve that goal. In 2019 the phrase “polepole” changed me. The Swahili word pronounce “po-lay po-lay” means slowly. I was taught this word the first meeting we had before hiking Kilimanjaro. I didn’t quite understand how we were supposed to walk slowly up a mountain that is 19,341 feet high. The one question I always want to know the answer to is WHY did we have to walk up slowly? Why couldn’t we go the pace we felt we, as the amateurs, could handle? Going slowly was going to be very much outside of my comfort zone. Besides, who were these guys to tell me how I should hike this mountain?
I quickly learned why this word was being emphasized every single day, multiple times a day. If you are moving too quickly, you will lose your breath. I’m not talking about losing your breath after running a couple sprints. I’m talking hands on your knees wondering who just slammed a sledgehammer into your chest lose your breath. Not only does it become very hard to breathe, it is slowing down your progress up the mountain towards the destination. I tried to do what I thought was correct, going the pace that I thought I could handle. I started out at the front, as I have always been taught to do and walked the pace I thought I could manage. I didn’t listen to the experts. You know, the ones who have done this hike several hundred times.
Learning a lesson the hard way happens in life and I have learned several that way. On my way to Uhuru Peak, when my chest was burning and I couldn’t catch my breath after taking two steps I realized I needed to listen and change my pace to polepole. Take things slowly. Be patient. Once I did that, it made the hike a bit easier. Imagine that! I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, yet I was right where I was supposed to be in order for me to reach my destination. I was able to observe the rest of the group from a distance. I was able to appreciate the landscape and terrain of the beautiful country of Tanzania. From the rain forest to lava fields to the rocky summit. Had I tried to keep moving at my pace, I could have easily depleted my oxygen levels to a dangerous level and ended my trek. That would have been devastating. I didn’t go all the way across the world only to be sent home because I didn’t listen.
Two years later when I am wanting something to happen right away, I am reminded of that lesson I learned in the rain forest on that first day. One step in front of the other, slowly. You will reach your goal, if you are patient and take your time. You will also get to enjoy different parts of the journey. The journey is just as important as that destination. It is what makes reaching that goal all the more special. As fast as you may want to go, you have to be mindful that not everything can be accomplished quickly. In fact, some of your biggest goals will take time. The rewards and views from the mountain top are worth it. When you are looking to hurry through life, take a deep breath and remember polepole.