Find Your Mountain

I am mostly offline, attending a business conference. I have asked several bloggers to post in my absence. This is a guest post by Steve Kaplan. He grew a marketing company from start-up to $250 million in sales with offices in 14 countries before selling it for $2.1 billion. You can visit Steve’s blog, follow him on Twitter, or connect with him on Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

When you’re in charge, it’s easy to get accustomed to having the people follow your wisdom simply because you’re the leader.

Photo courtesy of ©

But when was the last time you took a real risk, putting yourself out there with the possibility of failure? Have we become so used to leading that we’ve forgotten what it took to get us there?

True leaders know what it’s like to be in the trenches, and those they lead thrive on their energy and drive. They are eager to “follow the leader,” because they know the leader is in it with them. Then, the years pass, and many leaders can’t help but grow distant from those they lead.

Putting yourself out there suddenly becomes replaced with safe activities such as “strategic decision making” and “risk aversion.”  While these can be considered smart leadership practices, they also come with a price.

By not putting yourself out there in a real way, you not only run the risk of losing touch, but lose your personal edge, as well—both of which earned you respect as a leader in the first place.

In my life, many people look to me for advice, strategy, and leadership. I have led organizations of over 1,600 people and influenced thousands more. I realize the impact I have on others, and I take that responsibility seriously.

Recently, I was preparing for a speech to a group of entrepreneurs. As I was thinking about my presentation and the stories I planned on sharing, it hit me that it had been a while since I had “earned my stripes.”

I was starting to feel disconnected. Not disconnected with those I lead, but disconnected with risk and the trenches. I needed a real challenge.

I had to look outside the business world, because I had reached a level where it would be difficult to find a challenge that would be a real risk. So I set my sights on something way out of my comfort zone.

I would go to Tanzania, Africa and attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

There are several routes to take, with varying levels of difficulty, some taking up to twelve days to summit and return. Being a typical extremist, and wanting to really challenge myself, I took the shortest and most difficult route—up and down in five days!

While the climb is physical, the real challenge is mental. It’s managing high altitude with exhaustion and feeling physically drained, but pushing through to the end.

It’s living outside in tents—in the rain—but driving toward a goal. It’s putting yourself out there with a real chance at failure, a risk I desperately needed. It’s being vulnerable.

Each day brought new beauty coupled with challenges to overcome and opportunities to both succeed and fail.

As we lined up at our final camp at midnight, preparing to begin our summit push, it struck me—while freezing, oxygen deprived and feeling horrible—that I would have to use the same characteristics I used in becoming a leader: drive, perseverance, and mental toughness. I would also have to rally others to work together, so we could all make it.

The final push was as tough as I imagined, but reaching the summit was extraordinary. Standing above the horizon, looking down at the clouds, was breathtaking to say the least.

But as I stood on the peak of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, I had one thought: “It’s great to be back in the trenches!”

Now, you certainly don’t need to climb a mountain to regain your sense of the trenches. Just choose any effort outside your comfort zone. This can range from running a marathon to starting a charity.

As long as you jump in and risk a real chance at failure, you’re good to go. Others will see your courage and be inspired by your willingness to put yourself out there. And you will love to get back in the trenches.

Question: When was the last time you were “in the trenches” as a leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Jon Stolpe

    Getting in the trenches means listening to my team members with their perspective in mind (instead of my perspective which has changed as my management years have continued).  My office is still in cube world, so I don’t have a door to close.  I get to hear whatever is going on with my team in the trenches.  As leaders, it’s vitally important to have our ear to the railroad tracks of our employees.  They often have great ideas that I may have overlooked.  If we listen, our team members will usually give us clues that they need help or more attention.

    Tomorrow, I have the privilege of working alongside several team members as we serve breakfast to our office.  Activities like this give us a great opportunity to be in the trenches as we serve each other and pursue a common cause (the breakfast will help us raise money for local organ donor awareness foundation).

    • Steve Kaplan

      Having your ear to the tracks is a great way of putting it. Often it’s our team who comes up with the best ideas for how the business should be run, since they are the ones living and breathing the lifeblood tasks that keep the business up and running on a day-to-day basis. It’s so important to listen, as you said. Have a great breakfast tomorrow, Jon!

    • TNeal

       Jon, your comment reminds me of Chris Patton’s recent posts at Christian Faith at Work ( ). He’s been addressing the issue of how to get employee feedback. Good, practical advice for those in leadership positions.

  • Patricia Zell

    Let’s try climbing mountains in our prayer closets–amazing things will happen.

    • Daren Sirbough

      That’s very true. Something I’ve been putting off this week.

      • Steve Kaplan

        Great perspective. Thank you both.

    • Dr Dorothy

      yes.  prayer can move mountains!

    • Kenneth Acha

      I agree with you Patricia. The real fight we have to fight as believers
      is on our knees. I personally have been going through a ton of challenges with a nonprofit that I lead that cares for orphans. I have these big hairy audacious goals that I believe God has put in my heart for the 600 orphans that we serve. But I’ve come to realize that with these goals comes an overwhelming number of challenges that can only be overcome through prayer. Of course, prayer must be accompanied by faithful action.

      Steve this is a great post. I’ve always believed that on this planet, safety is an illusion. No one is safe anywhere. You can be in the most “safe” place and meet a terrible fate. I wonder how God feels when he sees some of his children missing out on the best he has for them in the name of being safe–when really those decisions put them in the way of danger. The Christian is called to a life of faith. While faith is founded on knowledge of God, I sometimes feel that true faith is a blessed lunacy because we know so little about God (that’s even the best of us). So that we must trust God (almost blindly–even when we are most informed). Adventure, boldness, living as a lion for God even if one lives only for one day is my idea of true freedom in Christ. Jesus is our shepherd, we are his sheep, but I like to believe that the best of his sheep have the hearts of a lion. They walk like lions, act like lions and yes, have the gentleness, purity, and docility of sheep (that’s toward their master, Jesus).
      Steve, great post!

      • TNeal

         Kenneth, love your imagery here. “…true faith is a blessed lunacy …” A statement reminiscent of Paul’s “the foolishness of God.” Thanks for bringing a good challenging word.–Tom

    • TNeal

       I’m reading Andrew Murray’s “The Ministry of Intercession: A Plea for More Prayer.” Your comment certainly lines up with the book’s theme. Murray was certainly passionate in his day about prayer. Patricia, you call us to stand tall on our knees.

  • kimanzi constable

    I owned a route and hired a guy to run it. I had already been running other routes when this guy quit suddenly. I had no choice but to do both jobs. I would do my normal business then drive 2 hours away to do the route I owned. Let’s just say it made for some long days until I sold the route!

    • Michele Cushatt

       In addition to the long days, any great takeaways from the experience?

      • Steve Kaplan

        I’d love to hear your takeaways, too, Kimanzi. Sounds like a challenging but potentially rewarding experience.

        • kimanzi constable

          Great post Steve. I really learned that no matter what I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, I learned what hard work really is.

      • kimanzi constable

        I learned the real life lesson that as a leader you’re ultimately responsible. When the guy quit I called the company I contracted for and explained the situation but they made it clear that I was the owner of the route. From that day until today I know that when I’m leading I will be the one who has to answer for any problems, so as I have people under me I double check their work. Not micro manage, but a quick double check to make sure things are up to my standards.

    • TNeal

       Your past experience sounds like my brother’s current situation as postmaster in a small Texas community. I join Michele and Steve in being curious about the lessons you gleaned from that experience.

      By the way, loved the video on your website. Your message is clear and you define your purpose well.

      • kimanzi constable

        Thanks Tom, I wasn’t sure about having a video but you have given me a little more confidence!

        This experience showed me that I really don’t want to be in this business, not solely because of this incident but this with alot more incidents showed me this is not my true passion!

  • Michael Nichols

    Great thoughts Steve.  I appreciate your perspective and leadership. Though you’ve accomplished much and realistically could coast through life, you are still leading – the mark of an authentic leader.

    There have been a number of times in my career – particularly in middle management – that my passion, drive, and perseverance was reigned in so continuously that it began to affect my willingness to lead. These relationships (and circumstances) became unsustainable – so I returned to the trenches. I’ve written about these experiences here –

    At times, hopping back down in the trenches is humbling and requires rethinking – but its re-energizing. It’s enlivening. And it’s not long before you’re back to your core purpose, developing vision and plans to go farther than ever before.

    Thanks for the encouragement! Keep up the good work!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thank you, Michael. It’s great to hear that you’ve had your own personal successes through hopping back down into the trenches. I enjoyed your site’s “grow on purpose” mantra.

    • Jim Martin

      Michael, I really like your third paragraph.  “At times, hopping back down in the trenches and requires rethinking – but its re-energizing.”  Very, very true.  

  • adenton

    Thanks Steve for your great story and insight. It reminded me of a recent blog post: “There is Danger in Risk in Avoiding Danger and Risk” If anyone is interested in stories and practical suggestions for personal growth or team development through adventure, I direct an international ministry called Wilderness Ministry Institute and blog regularly on how to use outdoor adventure for leadership development at

    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks for the added resource, Ashley!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thanks for sharing, Ashley. I couldn’t agree more with the title of that post!

    • Jim Martin

      Great to hear about this resource Ashley.  I will be sure to read your post.

  • chris vonada

    Leadership is having the courage to cast vision, establish influence, and earn respect. Too often we become complacent in our world… if we’re not looking out, looking up, and looking forward… we’re really not being the best we can be. Thanks for this inspiration today Steve!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Great thoughts, Chris. Thanks for sharing!

    • Michele Cushatt

      The relentless temptation to grow comfortable …

  • Daren Sirbough

    This is great. I had a couple of setbacks with some recording that I was going to do. I was also going to shoot a video clip with it but it fell through. Now I’m wondering what my next plan of attack is. How can I throw myself in there and create something that will inspire others to seek after their God given dreams. I need to push and persevere, then write a blog about my success and failure.

    • Michele Cushatt

      The setbacks themselves can be your mountain. Lean in, and then conquer! You can do it, Daren.

      • Daren Sirbough

        That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I’ll share it once the project is finished!

    • Steve Kaplan

      It sounds like you have already experienced some valuable learning lessons – as frustrating and stressful as they may have been. Sharing your story with others is so important, as we are always surprised by how many people have “been there,” too. Thanks, Daren.

      • Jim Martin

        Steve, you make a great point here.  You are right.  Typically, we are surprised by how many people have “been there” and have shared similar experiences and challenges.  (This is one reason why this blog is so valuable to me.)

  • Steve Hawkins

    Great post Steve. You highlighted an important concept: leaders know what it’s like to be in the trenches because they were once there themselves. This gives them a unique perspective on how to solve problems in the workplace. And when people stop bringing their problems to you, leadership is lost. 

    • Steve Kaplan

      I definitely agree, Steve. I’d much rather have people coming to me with problems all day long than have silence. It’s better for the company and – more importantly – better for the people who are working there if communication with the leader is open and accessible at all times. Thanks!

  • Sahu

    This post, like others I’ve read and bookmarked, was engagingly written, and it took me, kicking and screaming, right up to Kilimanjaro’s summit. Then – then! – I looked down with you at the clouds below and said to myself under my breath, “This is way too risky for me. Knowing myself, I’ll never try it.” And then it hit me. I’d missed the parable: I wasn’t looking for my Kilimanjaro, but yours. Now I know better.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Fantastic comment, Sahu, and a great point. Everyone has their own “Kilimanjaro.” It’s finding out what exactly that means for us individually that puts us on the path to success.

    • Jim Martin

      Very good comment Sahu!  After reading the post, I wondered what my own Kilimanjar0 might be.

  • Thad Puckett

    It is interesting that, at least for me, the comfort zone changes.  What was not difficult 15 years ago (or uncomfortable), today seems very daunting.  I think getting in to the trenches on a regular basis not only gets us out of our comfort zones, it reorients us as to what the real challenges are.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Great insight, Thad. You’re absolutely right. The further I retreat from risk, the harder it is to take it.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Interesting point, Thad. Separation from certain challenges – whether days, months or even years – can easily make us forget just how “challenging” they really are. You are very right about the reorientation. It’s there when we step back into the trenches, and it’s absolutely crucial.

    • Barry Hill

      I agree. Not entirely sure why that is?

  • Kari Scare

    The book “N.O.W. – No Opportunity Wasted” by Phil Keogan presents a slew of ideas for doing exactly what you talk about it this post as far as getting outside of your comfort zone. The book walks readers through the steps of creating a plan for doing so. This can be a faith stretching exercise as well as one that stretches a person as a leader. I don’t exactly consider myself much of a leader, but I am aware that others are watching what I do and don’t do. For this reason, I know I need to stay in touch with how I got where I am, what struggles led me to the victories I am not experiencing.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thanks for the recommendation, Kari. I think you make a great point about being aware of others watching. Regardless of whether a person considers themselves a leader, there will always be others learning from us (even if we don’t know it). Being in touch with our comfort zones becomes even more vital when you put it in those terms. Thanks for sharing.

      • Kari Scare

        Being in touch with and then sometimes pushing our comfort zones. My goal right now is to find a balance between being comfortable in my zone and pushing it at least a bit. As my husband says, “Little eyes are always watching.”

  • Dan Stratton

    Thank you for the insight, Steve. I am curious. Before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, were you feeling you were missing a level of risk/reward that had helped you build your career prior? It sounds like you had pushed the limit of risk/reward to a level where it was difficult to find a challenge that could bring the ‘rush’. I’m not saying that we should all become adrenaline junkies, but there seems to be a need or a drive to succeed planted within us that cries to be developed. Once we conquer a peak, we need to start looking for the next one or we will not be satisfied. I have a friend who admits that if he isn’t kept sufficiently challenged, he will get into trouble. 

    • Steve Kaplan

      question, Dan. Before climbing Kilimanjaro, it had been a few months since I
      had felt that I was in a situation where I was at risk of failing. I
      had felt rewarded a number of times, but not rewarded as a result of
      succeeding at something I could very well fail at. I agree with you – we
      don’t need to become adrenaline junkies to feel fulfilled. For me, it’s
      important to push myself to do something out of my comfort zone and to
      work hard to succeed at something that I could definitely fail at. This
      doesn’t necessarily have to be climbing a mountain – it could be
      something that is very easy for someone else, like taking an intense
      yoga class with my daughter. If I’m not sufficiently challenged, I will
      get bored and that, for me, is trouble. It’s important to remain

  • Nancy Del

    Wow! I’d never put this into perspective, but you have a great point… thanks for the morning push and insight! :)

    • Steve Kaplan

      Glad to hear it, Nancy. Thanks!

  • Larry Carter

    Wow! I needed to hear that. I want to train for a marathon, but keep hitting sticking points. I needed some extra motivation to move on.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Running a marathon is thick with sticking points. ;) You can do it, Larry. Press on, one day, one mile at a time.

    • John Richardson

      I ran my first sprint Triathlon a year ago. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. As I came around the first corner, I came upon a woman running the race on crutches. I was amazed at her courage. I looked down and saw that she only had one leg. Talk about motivation… after seeing her running, all my excuses vanished.

      • Steve Kaplan

        That’s a great story, John.

      • Barry Hill

        Those types of stories remind me that I have NO EXCUSES!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Happy if this post helped in any way, Larry. Good luck with your marathon journey!

    • Jeremy Statton

      Have you actually signed up for it. Deadlines create urgency and help with motivation. You be glad you do it, Larry.

  • John Richardson

    Timely post, Steve. I think we all have mountains that we need to climb. 

    I’m working on a new book called Impact Goals. The word IMPACT forms an acronym of six tenets that lead to success.The first is ImpossibleThe tag line is: Start with Impossible… The Rest is Easy.I truly believe we all need “Impossible” goalsGoals that push us past ourselves.Goals that truly motivate.Goals that have impact.Goals that change us.Goals that work.When we create goals this big, life becomes exciting again.When we wake up in the morning, the powerful adventure awaits us.Overcoming fear and exploring the unknown opens our life and opens our soul.When a goal is so big that we truly need God and others to help us, amazing things can happen.JFK’s impossible goal got us to the moon in 1969Ronald Reagan’s impossible goal tore down the wall of communism in 1987David’s impossible goal in biblical times took down a giant called Goliath.Each one of us has an empty place inside with a job to do and a mandate to fulfill.Do we have enough courage to take the first step?

    • Steve Kaplan

      This is a great post on its own, John! Your book sounds very exciting, and I enjoyed the way you broke down what “impossible” means. The courage really does lie in taking that first step. Thanks.

  • Michele Cushatt

    Sometimes I think our mountain finds us! Over the past 1 1/2 years, I’ve faced a couple surprising and significant challenges. I didn’t seek them out — they just happened. I found that if I could change my perspective and muster up the determination to scale them, they became energizing for me personally and connect points with others. Not easy, not fun, not comfortable. But the experiences awakened my senses and propelled me further personally and professionally.

    • Steve Kaplan

      This is great insight, Michele. Sometimes the most complicated and seemingly impossible challenges definitely find us! Glad to hear the result was a positive learning experience for you, no matter how uncomfortable it may have been at times. Thanks for sharing.

    • Barry Hill

      Profound! Yes, sometimes our mountains do find us and the challenge is, as you stated, to decide to climb them or not!

  • Shannon Steffen

    What an inspiration, Steve!

    For many years, I’ve been under the assumption that I was truly putting myself out there and becoming a true leader. Throughout my childhood, I had to overcome many things that would hold someone else back from attaining their goals. However, I pushed through and not only received a BA in Philosophy but a MBA in Technology Management. At that point, I figured the degrees were a symbol of my leadership. How wrong I was!

    Today, I am a solopreneur, running a successful SEO business. Funny thing is, it is only “successful” because I’ve never been in the black. That, my friend, is where the problem now lay.

    As you had pointed out, true leadership is being in the trenches and overcoming more than we ever imagined. It is about being a support and mentor to others who wish to become leaders themselves. Leaders lead by example.

    As I’ve learned over the last year or so, I have not yet put myself out there due to fear of the unknown. But, isn’t it the unknown that makes true leaders stand out from other people? It isn’t the number of degrees you have or the amount of money, but rather, the perseverance of the soul.

    Your post has really opened my eyes and has gotten me back on track. I cannot thank you enough!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Wow, Shannon – I am very impressed! You’ve brought up an amazing point. For many it seems as though the material “markers,” as it were, are the best showcases of success: degrees, profit, having money in general, etc. While I congratulate you on all that you have accomplished – because certainly all of these are incredibly important and no small feats – I think you have accomplished a great deal more by realizing that the less tangible markers, such as being a great mentor or having a team of employees who respect you, speak volumes more about your success. That goes for both business and life. Love how you put it: “the perseverance of the soul.” Thanks for sharing, and congrats again.

  • Cheri Gregory

    My first thought is that as a high school English teacher, I’m technically “in the trenches” almost every single weekday, August thru May. 

    But then I realize that there are different ways of being in the trenches. Some days, I stay as close to perceived safety as possible, relying on old lesson plans that “worked last time” and watching the clock ’til my shift of duty is done. 

    Other days, I’m nervous and excited to try something new that I’ve read about in a professional journal or learned about at a conference. It worked for that teacher, but how will it work for me and with these students?

    Even if it’s not a stunning success, I still get the rush of trying something new. Even an immediate failure can turn into future success, as long as I risk that first attempt.

    No risk, no rush!

    • Steve Kaplan

      You are definitely in the trenches, Cheri – and we thank you for it! Great points about the old, reliable lesson plans vs. the new, potentially risky ideas you add to your curriculum. I think those are fantastic examples of being in the trenches. Thanks for all you do.

  • Dave Anderson

    Two years ago as Chairman of the Elder Board at my church I said, “Leadership through risk aversion inspires no one.”  Be careful what you declare in front of God…I soon realized I had gotten too comfortable in my corporate job of 20 years.

    In December 2011, I left comfort and am really uncomfortable now.  I am running my own leadership consulting business and loving it.  NOT KIDDING–Wrote a blog on courage on Monday that I am posting tomorrow.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Great story, Dave. Thanks for sharing and congrats on taking the leap. I think the quote on your homepage says it all: “True listening and understanding occurs only when the other person knows you understand.” -Henry Cloud

      When we can achieve this, we are embodying a true leader.

      • Dave Anderson

        Thanks for checking out my website!  I truly appreciate your feedback.

        Here is a great article on courage in practice.  An executive at Goldman Sachs wrote an op-ed in the NY Times that really exposes that companies culture.

    • Barry Hill

      Love your web site. I really like the section on “How Do Leaders Need To Communicate Values?” in your last post! I think I will put a few of those into practice. Keep up the great work.  And the pictures of you and your dad are fantastic!

      • Dave Anderson

        Thank you as well for the comments.  I hope you will return to the site or subscribe to get my blog via email.  I post 3 times a week and am on Twitter: @Daveanderson88:disqus .

        Communication through Marination!!

  • Dr Dorothy

    Mine was leading a research team in the Middle East – Sultanate of Oman…the only American on a 6-person team. I had to dig deep within to make it through and create success.  Also, going back to school for a post-graduate degree after being out of school for 30 years.  Now, this past year, starting my own consulting business when most of my friends are retiring!  These are my magical mountains… wow!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Sounds like you’ve had many great mountains to climb, Dr. Dorothy. Congrats on continuing to find ways to keep yourself challenged and learning new things!

    • Barry Hill

      Dr. Dorothy,

      What great mountains to climb! 

  • Michael Mulligan

    Thanks for your post, Steve.  It reminds me of a bet I lost when I was in my mid thirties.  My team abandoned me because they wanted to see me pay the price and swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.  They showed up to watch me swim in a group of 500 other swimmers.  I know the feeling of conquering something others believe is impossible.

    Today, I find myself climbing a new mountain, also outside my comfort zone.  I moved away from Southern California to Iowa to be closer to my wife’s family.  Other than her family, we are starting from scratch.  We are ready to climb our own mountain.  We have you, Michael, and all his guest bloggers to be our guides.  I thank you for that.  You are an inspiration.  Keep climbing.

    • Barry Hill

      I hope the transition to Iowa is going smoothly and to remember that So-Cal will always be there for a great visit! (my wife and I lived all over So-Cal, including Santa Barbara for 4 years, and we love to visit.)

      • Michael Mulligan

         Thanks, Barry.  Yes, I do love So-Cal and I’m already planning to return.  I leave behind a sister who lived only one mile from me.  I’ve been fortunate to be so close to my side of the family for so many years.  Now it’s my wife’s turn and we are now re-united with her brother, three sisters and many cousins for my youngest son to enjoy.  The people of Iowa are amazing.

        • Barry Hill

          You’re a good man! I am sure that the people of Iowa are supper friendly. I have always wanted to go to IOWA to see the field of Dreams set—my 2nd favorite movie. If you get the chance to go visittake a picture for me!

          • Michael Mulligan

             Barry, it’s only about 80 miles north of Iowa City.  Yes, I’m planning on checking it out and I’ll send you a pic.  What is your 1st favorite movie?

          • Barry Hill

            The Shawshank Redemption! You?

          • Michael Mulligan

            Awesome movie. Shawshank is top 5 for me. Right now, my #1 is Marley and Me, mostly because it mirrors many events in my personal life. Looks like we have a lot in common. Great to communicate with you. Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Very impressed that you conquered that swim, Michael. I’m sure based on stories I’ve heard that it was not easy! I appreciate the kind words, and wish you and your wife the best of luck as you begin climbing your new mountain in Iowa.

      • Michael Mulligan

        Steve, I came up with a plan to swim from Alcatraz and then followed it.  It was one of my first blog stories when I discovered my passion for writing many years after the swim.  If you would like to check out the Alcatraz story, here’s the link:

        This is something Michael talks about often on his blog stories about vision statements.  His message is so powerful, I incorporated it in my welcome message at my writer’s blog.  Even though this writers blog is only a couple of months old, because I have a vision for what it can become, I believe it will be a success.

        I plan to follow your blog so I can keep learning from you.  Thanks again for your encouragement.  Many in California think I’m a little crazy to be going so far out of my comfort zone with this relocation.  I know you understand just how thrilling a new challenge can be.  Thanks for your guidance.

  • Barry Hill

    Great post! Getting out of our comfort zones is SO important.  The big take away for me is to remember the mental challenges that are associated with getting in the trenches and out of our comfort zones!

    “While the climb is physical, the real challenge is mental.”

    good stuff, thank for the reminder~

    • Steve Kaplan

      That is the takeaway I was hoping for! Thanks, Barry. 

  • Comingaliveminisries

    Steve– Thank you so much for this encouraging post.  I turned 30 today and have a nasty stomache virus so am at home with lots of time for contemplation.  First it made me so grateful for the times I have been blessed to “climb the mountain” and get out of my comfort zone– from moving to be a missionary in nepal to this very non-athletic girl running a marathon and finishing!  glory!  This was such a great reminder to me though because I am way out of my comfort zone in the beginning stages of starting a ministry.  I am so excited about it but have some fear and trembling so this post really encouraged me. .. it reminded me of when I went to serve as a summer missionary in Japan.. they asked us if we wanted to climb mt. Fuji.. i had NO idea what I was getting into. but I did it.. one step in fron tof the other.. and reached the top.  I want to jump in one step at a time.. even risking failure!

    • TNeal

      Jenn, you’ve stretched your wings and done some faith-filled flying. Your comment sounds like He’s led you on some amazing adventures and you’ve been faithful enough follow. God bless you wherever He takes you today and in the future.–Tom

    • Steve Kaplan

      Happy birthday to you, Jenn! Sorry to hear you’re sick – hope the virus goes away soon. Really enjoyed your story about Mt. Fuji, and wish you all the best as you start your ministry. The fact that you are willing to jump in, even at the risk of failure, to me means that you are even closer to finding success. It may not necessarily be “success” as you define it right now, but success nonetheless, and one that will come from a lot of learning and great lessons along the way. Congrats!

  • TNeal

    Since I chose to self-publish through WestBow Press, I’m in the trenches right now (I just hope not to get buried there).

    So far I’ve invested my own money with no visible return (i.e. royalty check), and each time I’ve made another financial decision, spent money on another unexpected but needed expense, I’ve had to climb out of the depths of absolute dread and depression.

    But my dependance on God and my  prayer life sure are expanding. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thank you for your honesty – it’s refreshing. There will be days where the “climb” may take a surprising turn downward, but so long as we find the courage to climb back up again, we’re doing something right! Best of luck to you in your self-publishing journey. That’s fantastic.

  • Brian Jones

    I’m naturally entrepreneurial, so in the past, whenever I’ve felt the need to “get back in the trenches,” its always been accomplished by starting something new, outside of what I’m doing. Lately, however, its been a call to dive more fully and deeply into the main things God has already called me to do – more boldly lead the church I serve, more creatively lead my family, preach with more passion. While I’m tempted to find a new Kilimanjaro, I feel God is calling me to to hike a new path on the mountain I’m already on. 

    • Steve Kaplan

      I understand very well that feeling of wanting to tackle something new as an entrepreneur, but you bring up a great point: sometimes it’s finding new paths on the mountains we’re already on that is what we need to get back in those trenches. Thanks for the additional perspective, Brian.

  • Jlaudell

    Climbing a mountain to get back in the trenches – what irony! Yet, how needed. Vernability and risk put leaders in the “human” ranking. Thanks for an inspiring and challenging blog.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Ha! The irony was not lost on me – and you are very right about the “human” factor. It’s so important for leaders to stay as authentic and real as possible. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Tim Peters

    Steve – 
    Great post. I want to connect further.  What is the best way to connect with you to set up a time? 

    • Steve Kaplan

      I’d be happy to chat more, Tim. Shoot an email over to my colleague Emily at and we can set something up.

  • Rob Sorbo

    Life in the West is so comfortable and easy, I’m not sure I can really identify any trenches or mountains that I face.

  • Ted

    Getting back in the trenches is a normal cycle in my life. It starts with bordom,  and a perceived oppurtunity,  Every one in my company has a job, I start with a job (in the trenches) however my nature is to work myself out of a job as I develope my team  I always replace myself (not really intentionally) training doesn’t stop  and in time they know what I know, than boredom sets in and I start looking for oppurtunity.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thanks for sharing more about your process, Ted.

  • Brandon Weldy

    “Now, you certainly don’t need to climb a mountain to regain your sense of the trenches.” This may be true but after reading this post that is certainly what I want to do! I’m working on a project with the youth group to get back in the trenches. It’s going to take some risk and it may not succeed. It’s a bit scary but it will be worth it and I am enjoying the adventure!

    • Steve Kaplan

      Good luck with your project, Brandon – it sounds very exciting. Let me know if you do end up climbing a real mountain (or two)!

  • Kerry D Collier

    I climed Kili about a year and a half ago so I know a little about what challenges are on that mountain. I find myself thinking about the figurative “mountains” in life and I believe that the biggest challenge of all is not losing yourself, meaning your identity in a world where your title, can lead you to believe your bigger and better than everyone else in the room.

    No matter how successful, or how unsuccessful I may be at whatever goals I have. My identity is being a humble servant of Jesus. His humility  and love teaches us more about leadership than all the wisdom in the world combined.

    Still a great article and thanks for sharing…

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thanks for your perspective, Kerry. I think “not losing yourself” is great advice, and humility is certainly something everyone should embrace.

  • Joe Abraham

    Thanks for the motivating post, Steve. Right before reading this post, I was thinking about the thrill of being in the trenches! So this post is more than a coincidence to me. 

    I believe it’s there in the trenches that we identify some of our God-given skills which would otherwise lie dormant!

    • Steve Kaplan

      That’s great, Joe! I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kelly Combs

    It’s ironic that I just read this quote yesterday, “Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble.” And all I could think is, “Yes, but if you fall over a pebble you skin your knees. If you fall off the mountain, you die.”

    Then I come to this blog today, and it’s more about the mountain.  I’m not a risk taker by nature, but I have a couple of “big” ideas that I have been considering.  Maybe it’s time to take the risk. 

    • Steve Kaplan

      Thanks for sharing, Kelly. I think the most important thing is to find the mountain that is the right “size” for you. Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to risk – and while it’s always good to break out of that comfort zone once in a while, you don’t want it to be so overwhelming that you stop before you really start. I wish you the best of luck as you consider moving forward on those “big” ideas!

      • Kelly Combs

        I agree. You can rest assured that I would never bet the farm. For me, it’s more about risking failure. As a recovering perfectionist, it’s the chance of failure that is big to me.

      • John Tiller

        Great insight on finding the right “size” mountain, Steve!  

        Kelly, I remember you commenting on that quote yesterday I love how it ties in today.  It sounds like God is working on something in you!

  • Charlie Lyons

    Motivating and inspiring, Steve. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Keith Branson

    You mean like this guy? (see image attached) I don’t think I would be able to sit where he is, but I do take risks; not for the rush, but for the reasons I took away from your blog — to keep my vision “bi-focal”.  Look over the trenches to the horizon and then back down again as you step forward.  Repeat process.  Great blog, thanks Steve.

    • John Tiller

      Great pic, Keith!  Great formula, too:  Look over…then back down…Repeat…

      • Keith Branson

        Hi John, I just visited your website and learned about Eli.  Blessings on you and your family as  your story spreads to help others become new!

        • John Tiller

          Thanks, Keith!

    • Joe Lalonde

       That picture makes my stomach drop just looking at it! I’ve done crazy things like jump out of an airplane but this is crazy to me!

      I can only imagine what the person sitting on the edge was thinking though I’m sure he enjoyed the experience.

  • Kay Wilson

    This is one reason that I love “meeting up” for brainstorming!  They have so many great ideas and if I am always “caught-up” with my Way, I would miss out on their stimulation.

    • John Tiller

      So true, Kay.  As leaders we do get caught up in our Way (I love your capital “W”), though the Way that got us there is usually obsolete in some fashion by the time we are to lead others to the next objective.  

      I always have to make a conscious decision to listen to the team’s ideas because, once I do, I find that they are usually better than mine.  Thanks for sharing!

  • theoldadamlives

    Thank you. You have inspired me to take chances and go out on a limb for what really matters in this life. Sharing the pure gospel with folks who are burdened with so many religious ladders to climb and expectations that can never be met, is what can free them in Christ.

    We (those who care) just have to have the guts to say it to them, and knock them off their ladders.

    • Joe Lalonde

       That is great! What steps are you going to take to share the gospel?

  • Tim K Su

    Great post. Recently though various events in my life, I’m starting to learn that I won’t grow unless I’m uncomfortable, and boy does it feel rough… I haven’t seen any fruits yet but I’m excited to look back at the experience when those fruits do come out…

  • George Gregory

    These days, many are being put in the trenches, way out of their comfort zone by circumstance: laid off, and having to re-invent themselves. I’m one of them, and while it’s scary, I’ve never felt more alive or more aware of God in my life. 
    It forces you to really take stock of yourself ; you take less for granted, and give thanks more often.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Sorry to hear that you’ve been laid off. It can be a tough road to go down but it can be a time of great possibilities. I wish you well as you travel the road and come out on top!

  • Jessica Zirbes

    I really enjoyed your article! I’m in the trenches right now. Work has been pretty easy lately. Two weeks ago a few senior leaders at my firm asked me to help with a project, that I ended up leading. I’m working with someone who is very difficult to work with. Plus I’m needing to learn more SharePoint applications that are new to me. We’re on track, but I’m definitely dealing with more daily stress. I look forward to completing this project and receiving some props!

  • Joe Lalonde

    Amazing story Steve! I’m sure climbing that mountain required much from you but was worth it.

    We’re currently in the trenches with our youth group. Things just are not clicking properly and we’re having to climb out of the funk we’re in.

    It means stepping up our game, digging in for the long haul, and giving our all to engage and equip the students.

  • theoldadamlives

    Hi Joe,

    I try to speak to people about it when the opportunities arise..and I maintain a blog that has a ton of great  (mp3) sermons and classes by my pastor and others, as well as some pretty good written material.

    If you ever get a chance, stop by:

    It is pretty radical suff, though (just to prepare you)  :D

    Thanks, friend.

  • Beck Gambill

    I’m not sure I connect with taking risks for risks sake or even to keep sharp. Risks are a part of life and I embrace the opportunity to take a risk for something I believe in and in walking with God. I have a hard time understanding looking for a risk or creating a risk without a specific purpose.  Maybe it’s semantics and I’m confusing risk with challenge. Or maybe I can’t relate because I’ve never left the trenches and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel the healthy tension of challenge or risk in my life. Something for me to think about.

  • PoulAndreassen

    article you have presented has riddled out intricate structure of
    leadership into a simple structure.

    long as you jump in and risk a real chance at failure, you’re good
    to go. Others will see your courage and be inspired by your
    willingness to put yourself out there. And you will love to get back
    in the trenches. “ This one line really pushes someone to go on.

    hope other also understand the effectiveness of this article as well!


  • Katherine Harms

    I am a writer who wants to be a leader to everyone who reads my work. I don’t know many of the people who stop by my blogs, and I don’t have nearly as many followers as Michael Hyatt, but I have aspirations to influence many people for good. Despite my beginner status, I can identify with the need to be challenged in order to grow and lead with more integrity.
    My husband and I live and cruise on a sailboat, and that is where we get our challenges. Sixty miles out to sea, in the midst of winds and waves of tropical storm strength, we learn to face risk and deal with it together. Trying to sneak into an anchorage with almost no information about depths and hazards, peering into the depths, signaling and steering, two people must work as one. We face risk and surmount it together.
    When I am writing about the challenges of living our faith in a world that is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to Christian teaching, I find myself mentally revisiting those sailing challenges. It takes courage to live our faith with integrity, and it means accepting risks very like the risks of big storms and hidden shoals.
    I appreciate this blog post, because it reminds me that every person actually needs to be a leader at one time or another, and therefore, we all should welcome the opportunity to accept and overcome risk. To accept risk by planning and preparing and using your best mental and spiritual strength to deal with it is a very good and valuable part of life. We all need to resist the temptation to think that our lives should be risk-free.

  • Dea Irby

    Needed message….we are in the trenches…after 37 years of various church ministries, my husband and I have taken a church in Durham, NC. It was established 102 years ago but now has 18 members with 9 inactive ones, all but one member over 65. We have no contacts in the area (besides the members) but a desire to bring the Gospel and serve to whomever and however God leads. We consider this a church plant/start.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the inspiration this morning Steve! I was just reading the autobiography  of former Australian Cricket team captain Steve Waugh , “Out Of My Comfort Zone”.

    In that book, we can observe how he demonstrated stronger mental toughness and not only natural skills as a player. From his life, we can infer that  what one lacks in skill, he/she more than make up with his/her mental strength and character. 

     I found Waugh as an eternal warrior with a granite will. If nothing else, perhaps above all else, he  is a fighter, a fighter to the point where his very identity as a sportsman is dependent on that virtue.  He fights, therefore he is. Waugh is one of the most brilliant representatives of a breed of sportsmen whose chief virtue and greatest claim to fame is his ability to fight.

    I believe that the same principles apply to us in our lives too.

  • Mikew425

    Best commentary I can provide is that one of the sales people that works for my company emailed me a link to this post with the following:  

    I liked this post and thought about you at the Pizza Expo. As a leader, you are still in the trenches with us and we appreciate it.

    I am a lucky guy to have the sales team I work with!

  • abdul krishna

    Life is full of hopes and aspirations but the circumstances might not always be conducive. One feels utterly helpless when confronted with situations that are impervious to one’s dearest wishes and heart-felt desires. Should you give up all hope and surrender to the forces that you surmise are beyond your control?

    No! Because not all things that you think to be beyond your control, actually are. There are forces in the universe, which can be oriented to benefit you. You can experience these forces when you believe. A very simple example is you miss someone intensely and the person calls almost immediately. Is that just coincidence? Or, have you made the other person call by thinking so strongly about him/her.E mail me today at or or view my website at for a better life.

  • DentalAccountant

    I agree with this post. I am really happy that I read this because it helps me a lot. Yeah sometimes leaders he/she should have  courage at all times to overcome all challenges, am I right?

  • Pingback: Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone | THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF MIKE MAKUBIKA()

  • Patrick

    Well said. My biggest “in the trenches” situation only happened about 7 months ago. We traveled to Philly and NY and we knocked on 500 doors in 20 days and dropped off samples at all 500 locations in an attempt to boost sales. One night in Philly, due to an uncashed check, our bank account was cleared, and we actually ran out of money for dinner. We had to split a Philly Cheese Steak and fries. It sucked, but it’s one situation that I will never forget and pride myself for making it through. We ended up doubling our sales in 2 consectutive months!