Lessons from the ledge: Alison Levine at TEDxMidwest

Leen Kawas
3 min readDec 13, 2022

After a long day that started at 5am, I made my way to the airport to catch an 11pm flight back home. As I waited to board the plane, I clicked on Alison Levine’s TED talk and, WOW, did it speak to me! Alison served as team captain for the very first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and her inspirational story about that experience resonated so strongly with me and my journey as an entrepreneur that I wanted to share it with you here:

From this video, I pulled the following key learnings and takeaways that I feel can easily be applied to the entrepreneur’s journey.

  • The outlined route to ascend to the top is far from straightforward. The route to the summit (or entrepreneurship) is anything but simple and linear, no matter how many have gone before.
  • To climb a mountain (for real or in business), you have to acclimate, which means that sometimes you have to go backward several times so that you can eventually go higher and get to where you wish to be. During these times, you are still making progress.
  • Fear is okay, but complacency can kill you. Continue to move through your fear, and don’t let complacency kill your (entrepreneurial) dream.
  • While a strong determination to succeed is essential, so too is knowing limitations and seeing obstacles for what they are, which means accepting that you will have to wait until another day to reach your goal.
  • Reaching the top takes time, methodical planning, and the ability to remain flexible when things change.
  • While intellectually you know in which direction you want to go, you must often spend time going in a different direction due to factors that are out of your control.
  • You need to be willing and able to react to a changing environment constantly.
  • Even with a banging headache and a sick or nervous stomach, when you feel you have nothing much left to give, dig deep, put on a smile, and keep moving.
  • When you reach that point where you feel you can’t possibly go on, you have to dig even deeper and find what will re-energize you to continue on your way.
  • You can’t control everything that changes, so be willing to improvise, innovate, and change your plans. Be resilient.
  • The way to the summit may look one way today and another tomorrow (easily approachable one day but can change quickly and look differently the next). Don’t let this intimidate you.
  • Confidence is not enough. Expect storm clouds to impede your climb.
  • Storms are always temporary. To get through them, take action based on the particular situation and not based on a pre-developed plan. Your plan may no longer apply, and circumstances can quickly make those plans obsolete or outdated.
  • Focus more on the execution rather than relying on the plan you prepared last week, month, or year. Be prepared to throw out your plan altogether and regroup.
  • Modify your pace to match the circumstances affecting your summit push.
  • Conquer doubt by breaking your climb to the summit down into smaller steps, parts, or goals.
  • Sometimes you don’t need to have total clarity to keep putting that one foot in front of the other.
  • Know when to abandon a summit bid, realizing that you can potentially try again another day. Take in the lessons you learn along the way and determine how to use them to make you stronger, better, and able to tackle that next mountain.

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Leen Kawas

Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology and entrepreneur