At the age of 16, on a short trip to Switzerland, I was introduced to the world of climbing. I knew then that I wanted to climb Everest. I became obsessed with the notion that man could push boundaries beyond what the mind would have us believe. I wondered whether the 11 year-old Omar – a little boy who suffered from severe chest asthma – could grow up to stand above the clouds where oxygen is scarce… less than a third of the amount at sea level. It was all about the challenge. And the mental and physical toughness. It was about braving the harsh elements and withstanding extreme cold. It was about glory and pride.
And then one day, I stood on top of the world.
I had accomplished what I’d set out to do 12 years earlier. I headed back to Egypt thinking life would return to normal. I would see my friends and family, fulfill obligations to sponsors and then fly back to London where a lucrative job in a brand management consultancy firm awaited. Fate however had other plans. I received a call asking if I would present to a group of outdoor enthusiasts about my Everest expedition. I wasn’t much of a public speaker but I admit the Leo in me could not turn down an evening of admiration. All I had to do was not screw up.
Making his way down from the summit of Everest
Throughout the talk I seemed to stumble. It felt as if the evening was one excruciatingly long obstacle course where I made every possible mistake. While one half of me was trying its best not to panic, the other half was mocking me. I knew I felt passionate, but had it shown? I was worried it might not be the case, but then again, so what? After all, I still had seven years of history and a cushy job waiting for me in London.
The audience seemed to linger in their seats right after my talk. Surprisingly, only a couple of people darted out of the door. Most seemed to gravitate towards me in a surprisingly orderly line through the one aisle between the auditorium seats. Then the questions began, tackling every topic from what spiritual wisdom one could uncover at the top of the world to how to answer the call of nature at minus forty degrees celsius. Two hours later, my mouth was dry and legs fatigued. But the exhaustion came with an sense of satisfaction that I could not quite understand then.
Days later, I began to receive more invitations to talk. I received emails from strangers telling me about promises they had made to themselves and broken. One was from a gifted ballerina who didn’t fight when her dad ordered her to stop dancing and almost all were from people who admitted to believing those who doubted them. While I could not understand why they picked me, I felt that by responding to each and every one, I was finally making a difference in my own small way. I turned down the London job offer and stayed in Egypt with a new found realization that, all these years, it was never just about getting to the summit, but it was about climbing down to tell the story.