Alison Levine

DANIELLE NEWNHAM

Posted on December 23 2015

In 2004, Alison Levine left her life on Wall Street to take on different challenges. Since then, she led the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and became one of around 30 people to ever complete The Adventure Grand Slam which included skiing to both North and South Poles, and climbing the Seven Summits (ascended the highest peaks on every continent). As well as an explorer, Alison is an adventurer, mountaineer, entrepreneur, leadership expert, motivational speaker, New York Times best-selling author, and philanthropist. 

Bardega: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were like growing up? 
Levine: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and my favourite hobbies were riding horses and performing in theatre productions. I was also really involved in student council and loved team sports. My dad coached my fourth grade basketball team. I can't imagine we were going in for the dunk very often. 
 
Bardega:  You were diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition that you didn’t let hold you back. Can you tell us what it was like to be diagnosed and treated for it and what advice you might give other young people facing such challenges?
Levine: I was not diagnosed until I was seventeen so when I was younger and would tell my parents that my heart was not beating right they always chalked it up to nerves. When I was finally diagnosed, I was given really high doses of meds that made me feel really sick, so I would conveniently "forget" to take them and then would end up in the hospital. Nowadays medicine has progressed quite a bit so the surgeries and drug therapies are a lot better.

As far as advice to young people, I would say that no matter whatever health challenges are facing you, you can find ways to live your life and thrive. You have to be creative, determined, optimistic and realize that you might not be able to take the path you envisioned for yourself, but there is always an alternative path. 
 
Bardega: You’ve worked in several industries and environments which are traditionally male-dominated – can you tell us what lessons you took forward from them in your career?
Levine: I would say the best lessons I learned that helped me in my career are all lessons I learned in the mountains. Here are seven of them: 

1. Fear is OK. Complacency is what will kill you
2. When you feel you can't go on. That's when you have to dig deep
3. Storms are only temporary. No storm lasts forever
4. Focus on executing on the now, not on some outdated plan
5. If something seems insurmountable, break it down into smaller chunks
6. You have to learn to make very tough decisions when the conditions around you are far from perfect
7. It's not the summit that's important, it's the journey and the lessons you learn along the way and how you use them to make yourself better and stronger moving forward
 
Bardega: How did you become so passionate about mountain climbing and can you tell us about the Climb High Foundation you set up?
Levine: I became interested and excited about mountain climbing from reading books and watching documentaries! Eventually I thought, if all of these men can go out and do these things, "WHY NOT ME?" 
 
In terms of setting up the foundation - it happened after I visited the Rwenzori Mountains in Africa. Whilst there, I saw that the local women had no way of earning money other than through prostitution so I set up the Foundation in 2005 which trains jobless women in western Uganda  to work as trekking guides and porters in their local mountains. (The Climb High Foundation is dedicated to teaching women in developing nations the skills that will enable them to benefit from climbing and trekking-related tourism. We focus our work in geographic areas where women have subordinate social status and as a result have little or no access to education, healthcare or jobs.)
 
Bardega: You wrote the New York Times / Wall Street Journal bestseller On the Edge about leadership lessons - can you tell us your 5 most important leadership lessons?
Levine: Sure, they are:-

1. Go backwards to get to your goal
2. Surround yourself with big egos
3. Practise sleep deprivation
4. Don't try to overcome your weaknesses
5. Make sure you fail often. 

I know these answers sound weird. You'll have to read the book to understand them. 
 
Bardega: You are such an inspiration but what / who inspires you and why?
Levine: Malala and her father both inspire me. She inspires me for obvious reasons -- her courage to risk her life for what she believes in and to make the world a better place. Her father inspires me because he loves his daughter so deeply that she is willing to sacrifice it all too -- just to support her. That kind of love is something really special. 
 
Bardega: Lastly, what advice, if any, would you give a younger Alison?
Levine: None. I would let her do things the way she wanted to do them, because every mistake I have made has helped me become who I am today.

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