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“I’m scared out of my mind in these environments, but what I’ve realized is that fear as a normal human emotion can actually work in your favor. It can keep you alert and aware of everything going on around you. Fear is only dangerous when it paralyzes you.” – Alison Levine 

I’m so excited to be talking with today’s Finding Brave guest about tackling challenges and achieving goals in unpredictable environments, because her personal story is so relevant in these trying times. Her journey reveals that sometimes you must go backwards before you can move forward, but this is still progress towards the summit of your life. 

Alison Levine is a history-making polar explorer and mountaineer. She served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, climbed the highest peak on each continent and skied to both the North and South Poles—a feat known as the Adventure Grand Slam—which only twenty people in the world have achieved. In January 2008, she made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile traverse across west Antarctica to the South Pole following the route of legendary explorer Reinhold Messner. Alison completed this arduous journey on skis while hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist. She made history again in 2016 when she completed two first ascents: Hall Peak in Antarctica and Khang Karpo in Nepal. Her success in extreme environments is noteworthy given she has had three heart surgeries and suffers from Raynaud’s disease, which causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather—leaving her at extreme risk for frostbite.

In addition to climbing mountains, Alison has also spent time climbing the corporate ladder. She has worked for several Fortune 500 companies in both sales and marketing roles and spent three years at Goldman Sachs. She left Wall Street in 2003 to serve as Deputy Finance Director for Arnold Schwarzenegger in his successful bid to become governor of California.

When not challenging herself in the outdoors, Alison focuses on training others to become strong leaders. She spent four years as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership. In 2013 she transitioned from training cadets to working with corporate leaders and currently serves on the board and faculty of the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point—one of the nation’s premiere executive leader development programs. She was a contributing author to the book Leadership in Dangerous Situations: A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services and First Responders and is the author of the New York Times bestseller On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and other Extreme Environments

In this episode, Alison reframes fear by explaining how you should allow yourself to feel it as a normal human emotion, and her perspective on failure is also especially powerful. Alison’s story serves as a reminder that you do not always have to be the best, fastest or strongest to get to the mountain that you are climbing. You just have to be relentless about putting one foot in front of the other.

Highlights from this Episode:

  • How Alison began climbing after overcoming significant health problems from a young age [5:41]

  • What she’s learned on her expeditions about the importance of supporting one another [9:02]

  • Why failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and something she says is much worse than failure [13:40]

  • A common myth about fear, and the reframe that she uses when she faces it [15:46]

  • The intentional mindset she uses for goal setting and where many people are going wrong when setting their goals [22:31]

  • Some key leadership lessons to consider when working with a team [24:00]

  • How to get to the top of any mountain (literal or figurative) you are climbing [26:51]

  • A powerful experience that demonstrated true leadership to Alison and the significant impact that this had on her [29:57]

  • Why she says that your weakness does not determine your value [35:37]

  • Details about her amazing documentary that focuses on a woman who defines bravery [36:33]

For More Information:

Upcoming documentary The Glass Ceiling 

Resources Mentioned: 

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Other Resources Mentioned:

Alison’s Book, On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mt. Everest and Other Extreme Environments

Her Upcoming Documentary, The Glass Ceiling


Kathy’s Amazing Career Project 

Sign Up For Kathy’s LinkedIn Newsletter, The Finding Brave Circle

Her Power Gaps Survey & TEDx Talk, Time To Brave Up 

Kathy’s FREE Career Path Self-Assessment Survey

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“Being your authentic self is being vulnerable and admitting when you’re struggling. People who care about you want to help you and they want you to succeed and be happy.” [8:36]

“This lightbulb came on and I wanted to go do the things that I hadn’t been able to do because I had these health problems.” [11:31]

“Failure is one thing that happens to you at one point in time, that’s all it is. It doesn’t define you.” [14:56]

“You have to realize the summit can never, ever be the goal, because it is only the halfway point of a mountain and you need to be able to get yourself back down.” [21:21]

“Find your own pace, put one foot in front of the other and remember that when you feel like you can’t go on, you can take one more step.” [27:23]

“If we are so focused on comparing ourselves to other people in areas where they are strong, we never uncover what makes us truly strong and valuable.” [35:37]

Sponsor Highlight!  

I’m thrilled to share that is a sponsor of Finding Brave! Take advantage of their great special offer of one FREE book of your choice with a 30-day FREE membership trial! And feel free to keep the book even if you cancel the membership. Click here to sign up for your free book!

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Kathy’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss shares vital information on the 7 most damaging power gaps that 98% of professional women face and how to overcome them. Boost your power and confidence today!


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