Turning rejection and disillusionment into personal growth and excitement

On Monday I woke up to an email from the race director of Red Bull X-Alps in which he let me know I had not been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of this very tough competition. I read the email in silence and when I finished, I read it again two more times. My application had been rejected. I'd waited for months for this email but in my mind I'd always assumed the words would be different. I was expecting words like "congratulations", "accepted", "see you soon". Instead I was reading "unfortunately", "we're sorry" and "cannot accept".

My first reaction was what you would expect. I felt disappointed, rejected, upset, saddened. I had been selected for Red Bull X-Alps 2017 two years ago but the race ended early for me. I had an overtraining injury to the anterior tibial tendon on my right shin. The day that race ended for me, I started planning how to become a stronger, better and healthier participant in 2019. I began mapping out a smarter training plan to get me stronger and injury free. I went on to take part in many paragliding competitions during the second half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 . I even started one of my most ambitious climbing projects, which got me summiting Mount Everest for the 7th time and reaching the summit of K2 during an epic expedition.

During X-Alps 2017. Photo: Alejandro González Medina

During X-Alps 2017. Photo: Alejandro González Medina

At the summit of K2

At the summit of K2

The first thing I did when I went back to Islamabad after the K2 climb in July was to draft my application for X-Alps 2019. I highlighted my mountaineering skills and hike & fly experience. I also made a plan to improve my competitive flying skills. Reading the application one last time before submitting it online, I felt extremely proud of my accomplishments.

When I clicked on the "send application" button I knew that my chances of being selected were good. Actually, I felt they were excellent because of my recent climbs. No other X-Alps athlete comes remotely close to my mountaineering achievements. The excitement of knowing that I could take part one more time in one of the world's toughest adventure races was electrifying. Still I would have to wait two and a half months until the results of the selection process were announced. The 2019 race would begin on June 16 and I planned most of my schedule for the next 10 months as if I'd been selected. It was even difficult for me and my wonderful fiancée to fix a date for our wedding until I knew for sure if I had been chosen. She was tremendously patient with me on this.

So when I opened that email on Monday, all those negative feelings rushed in. But then, my stoic mind and buddhist training took over and I started transforming all the negativity into positive thoughts:

  • Although the committee that selected the athletes for X-Alps had their reasons for leaving me out, I felt completely satisfied with my qualifications.

  • X-Alps involves a massive time commitment. That time was now available to be used on other meaningful personal experiences.

  • It also involves a significant financial commitment. Those resources could now be used in other ways.

Ideas started flowing. Inspiring projects, thrilling adventures. What began as rejection and disillusion, turned into excitement for exhilarating challenges and personal growth. Here's what I have so far:

  • In September of 2019 I'll take another shot at swimming across the English Channel. I couldn't complete the crossing last year. With X-Alps, my time available for swimming was severely limited.

  • In June of 2019, a few days before the start of X-Alps, I will be taking the CFA level II exam. It involves an average of 300 hours of study time. Now I can dedicate more time to this endeavor which will benefit me professionally.

  • I'll now have time to do a winter walk of the 500 mile long Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. Although I did it 4 years ago in Spring, I want the extra challenge of doing it during the winter!

  • I'll have time to study Japanese language. I want to be comfortable enough to have a basic conversation with native speakers.

  • I will finally begin writing a book about my life experiences. I have hundreds of pages on notes and all my journals. I'll start with the outline of the book very soon.

  • I'll spend even more time and resources to be actively involved in philanthropic causes.

  • I'll be able to dedicate time to help plan my wedding and not leave all the burden to my future wife. It would have been extremely hard for me if I'd been selected for X-Alps.

  • I'll climb mountains and paraglide off peaks and volcanos on every opportunity I get.

  • I'll continue my flight training to be licensed to fly helicopters.

Monarca Open 2018

Monarca Open 2018

One of the first things that I learned from Buddhism is that Karma and events are neither good nor bad. The're all relative. It's completely up to me how I react to them. And I'm reacting in the most positive and constructive way. I'm excited for what's coming. It's onwards and upwards from here!

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." ―Viktor E. Frankl

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.”― Marcus Aurelius