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  • Writer's pictureLavina Nagar

Déjà vu – patterns in life planning and trekking

It felt like déjà vu. Halfway across the world in a place that can be as different as possible from the Bay Area. And yet, the message sounded so familiar.

I was sitting around a table with a group of fellow hikers in Nepal. We were a group of what I like to call “recreational hikers”, people who enjoy hiking but are more or less weekend hikers. Few of us had done multiday hiking/trekking but none of us had hiked multiday at altitudes of more than 8,000 feet. However, all of us had trained pretty diligently for our upcoming ten-day trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC).

The person at the other end of the table was our organizer for the trek. For the last three months he had sent us information on how to train, so none of what he said should have been new. But this time, the tone was different. It was not the encouraging tone to motivate us to train harder. The tone was more cautionary, “I know you all have trained very hard for it, and we will do everything we can to support you in your endeavor. But mountains teach us humility and make us accept that there are many things we do not control. Unexpected may seem like the norm. Being flexible and openminded will certainly add to your positive experience in Nepal… Please remember speed does not necessarily translate to smoother trekking. It can even be detrimental in most cases. We want you to reach your goal in good health, while enjoying the journey.”

And right our organizer was. Both expected and unexpected happened during our trek. The vistas were amazing. At times, it felt almost sacred to be in the company of those majestic mountains. But we were also reminded of our frailty in that environment. All of us started succumbing to cold and cough at various times and with varying intensity. All of us experienced altitude sickness in some form or another. On day four, our oxygen levels were in the high eighties. On day nine, they had dropped to low seventies. These were all as expected. And then, there were the unexpected. On the eighth day, a friend received the message that her mom had passed away. On the last day of our trek, another friend had to be evacuated due to medical reasons. Another friend stayed back to help the friend who was not well, and he did not make it to EBC either.

All through these expected and unexpected happenings, one constant was our wonderful guides. These men are among the gentlest and the kindest people I have ever met, and they taught me a lesson in humility and humanity. They monitored each and every one of us, made sure we all ate and rested well, and never let any one of us walk alone. All the unfortunate events were handled with the utmost empathy, care, and professionalism.

That day before the trek, sitting around the table, had made me wonder how was this any different than planning for retirement or any other major goal? Just like the uncertainties in the mountains, there are many factors that we do not control in life. And we need to be flexible about these factors we do not control. However, there are some things that we do control. The more prep we can do early on, the smoother our journey becomes. Being committed to a goal is important, and that means preparing for it smartly and diligently. Our investments are a conduit for our goals. Just like we have to maintain that sustainable speed at high altitude, we need to position our portfolios that can carry us through the ups and downs of the markets. Because at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is the same in both situations – to reach our goal on our terms, and at the right time.

Lavina Nagar, CFP(R) is the president and founder of Maya Advisors, Inc., a financial planning and investment firm in Palo Alto, California.

Photo courtesy: S Gomatam

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