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Lessons learned from climbing mountains


Editor's note: Fayetteville real estate broker Patrick Murray completed a major mountain ascent in Alaska in June. He shares his experience.

The first step of any endeavor is often the hardest one to take. The first “real” mountain that I attempted to climb was Mount Adams in the Cascades of Washington. In 2015, I set out with a guide company from Seattle to attempt to summit the mountain. Up until that point in my life I was an avid hiker, and I thought I was in the physical condition needed to climb a 12,000+ foot mountain. I wasn’t. Not even close. Half the team summited the next morning and the rest, me included, were turned back about 1,000 vertical feet from the summit since we had been moving too slow. 

The “failure” I experienced on that trip ignited a passion for mountaineering that has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. The lessons I’ve learned over my years of climbing have parallels to many areas of life but can be applied to commercial real estate brokerage exceptionally well. The first lesson: take that initial step. 


Most guided climbing trips will begin with a team meeting and gear check. It is an essential step to building trust since these are often strangers who could potentially be responsible for saving your life if things go badly. Climbing while on a rope team adds a layer of difficulty since your actions and mistakes can directly impact the others on your team, however, when you’ve fallen it’s those same teammates who will catch your fall. 

On a recent climb in Alaska one of my climbing partners on a different rope team fell 20 feet into a crevasse. Watching our guides expertly set up the anchor system to haul him out while giving directions to the rest of our team was an incredible experience but stresses the importance of having a dependable team. Without that support, my climbing partner might still be in that crevasse. 

Don't neglect the basics

A substantial portion of any climb is simply walking. I used to get very anxious prior to climbing or especially the hours before the summit push when you are laying in your sleeping bag trying to sleep for a few hours. The fear of the unknown or in some cases knowing the complexity of the challenge ahead would make sleep elusive. I came to the realization eventually that all I must do is walk. Sometimes the walk requires tools and the risk of falling 1,000 feet off a cliff, but it’s still ultimately walking very carefully. It’s a basic life skill we learn as a young child. 

Embrace the suck

Just in case you’ve never tried, climbing a mountain can be really, really challenging. During numerous prior climbs, I’ve had moments where I am wondering why I put myself willingly into these situations when I could be relaxing by the pool, playing golf, or anything else that isn’t so grueling and potentially fatal. It’s not just the climb but the months leading up to it during the training and preparation phase when I have hours long hikes with a heavy backpack in the humid North Carolina summer, repetitious climbing of a stairwell in a parking deck in downtown Fayetteville, or 10-mile trail runs with gnats, snakes, and other critters.

You could very easily have the attitude that this entire process is not worth the “reward” of submitting a mountain peak. 

Climbing a mountain starts well before you have ever stepped foot onto the mountain. The physical training and logistical planning take months of preparation time and can be just as challenging as the climb itself. It can be a process that truly sucks sometimes and gives you doubts as to whether you’ll be able to accomplish your goals.

By being able to “embrace the suck” of every moment of the process no matter how difficult it can be, your attitude will change from the commission check being the only fulfilling moment of your work to being able to appreciate and maybe even enjoying all those cold calls and listing appointments and failed transactions. 

Revel in success -- but don't dwell there

Around 7:40 p.m. June 3, I was just reaching the summit of Mount Sanford at 16,237 feet in eastern Alaska. At that time of year there were still many hours of daylight left and we had the good fortune of a nice weather window, although the temperature was still well below zero. As with every successful summit attempt I’ve been on, we took some photos, had a quick snack break, and began the descent after only a short amount of time spent on the actual summit. After all of that time preparing for the moment we reached that summit, it was over in a flash, and we’ve moved on to the next objective of getting back down safely. 

Celebrate both your own and your colleagues’ successes. As with my business, whether it’s a new listing or closing a difficult transaction, revel in the accomplishment and allow that to motivate you or your coworker to the next deal. But move on and move forward. Dwelling on your past accomplishments will not advance your career or win you new business, so know when it’s time to get back into the grind after that success.

Consistency and dedication 

Have you ever investigated the training programs of professional athletes? We see the results of the dedicated training processes, but rarely do we see how much time and effort they spend to get there. When I am training for a climb, I use a 24-week training program that was designed specifically for mountaineering. My coworkers at my office likely see me every day leaving at various times to go to the gym or go running. Or not eating the donuts that a vendor brought into the office. 

The occasional missed workout, or maybe not meeting your prospect calling numbers for the day, isn’t going to blow your entire year or your climb. But consistently not meeting these goals certainly will. If you want to achieve success doing remarkable things, it will take consistent, dedicated hard work that others are not usually willing to do. Some days you must work extra hours, miss the golf outing, get to the office before the lights are turned on. 

Accept failure

After returning from a climb, the two most frequently asked questions are (1) Did you get to the top? and (2) Are you going to climb Mount Everest one day? Reaching the summit of a mountain is an obvious indicator of a successful expedition, so anything short of that would be a failure. Having to descend with the top of the mountain just within sight certainly feels like failure, but multiple attempts to climb Mount Rainier changed my perspective on what it means to have a successful climb. 

I have had a love-hate relationship with Mount Rainier for many years. It began in 2015 while driving to Mount Adams from Seattle and seeing this colossal stratovolcano filling the sky. I returned in March of 2016 for my first attempt and was woefully unprepared. But it continued to haunt my thoughts. I returned year after year and met with various obstacles to prevent my successful summit bids. Finally in July 2022, the weather gods smiled upon the upper mountain and my team made it to the summit of Rainier. The first couple of missed attempts were gut punches for sure, but each climb helped to hone my climbing abilities and met some amazing guides and friends along the way. 

After nearly 18 years as a commercial real estate broker, I have had my share of deals to fall through as well as watch how my firm’s brokers deal with the disappointment and frustration of having worked on a project for months just for that commission check that they’ve already planned on how to spend to evaporate. The key to longevity in this industry is to have the ability to learn from your failures and not let it take the wind out of your sales (pun intended).

Keep climbing and never quit. 

Patrick Murray is the co-owner and broker in charge of Grant-Murray Real Estate in Fayetteville. He has been involved in the industry since 2005. Before embarking on his journey in real estate, Patrick served for more than five years in the Army Reserve and attended N.C. State University.

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