Embracing Effort—Notes from the Trail and on Life

“Success is dependent on effort” – Sophocles

My friend Alli is an incredible mother that provides what you’d expect of a good mom: shelter, love, support, encouragement, guidance, and wisdom. She also makes things fun and interesting for her kids by engaging their minds in order to teach them to be curious, wanting to make them eager to learn, rather than forcing them to absorb what might otherwise feel like tedious information.

She also knows their weaknesses and rather than battling to change who they fundamentally are, she offers targeted insight that allows them to come to their own conclusions, so that they may embrace the lesson rather than rebel against it, and recently she shared with me a powerful comment she offered up to her son, whom I’ll call “J”.

J is funny, adorable, lovable and kind. What he is not necessarily, is a self-motivated person. Unlike his older sister who enjoys studying and is a strait A student, J, like so many of us, likes the rewards but doesn’t particularly embrace the effort. So one recent afternoon, as J was hedging to work on a school project, Alli said to him, “Listen J, life itself is about work. Don’t compartmentalize the effort you put into school or a job and see that as the only work you’ll do, because to be successful in life requires work. Whether it be in relationships, hobbies, careers or even recreation, all of it requires effort. And the sooner you can embrace that, the happier you will be.”

Who knew Alli was the reincarnation of Sophocles? For that was a powerful lesson! And incredibly true. I see it every day when working with clients, some of whom desperately want to look and feel well but skirt the effort involved to make it happen. But to achieve anything worthwhile in life requires that you participate in the challenge. And if you can take it to another level and EMBRACE the challenge, well then, the journey to success is that much sweeter, as I am again reminded of on this journey around Mont Blanc.


As I write this, I am taking a rest day from the trail in a lovely village called Argentiere, France and it is a well timed respite. Two days ago Jim, Rowena, Cat and I made the decision to hike the most challenging and breathtaking alternative route of the entire Tour by hiking to the Fenetre d’ Arpette (the “window” to a new landscape), considered to be the highlight of the tour for those brave (or crazy) enough to take it on. Everything we read and heard about the Arpette was that it was a tough scramble; a nearly 9 mile trek taking us to a height gain of nearly 4000 feet on a steep gradient of boulders and loose terrain, with little to mark a clear trail to the top. Once at the summit, we would then have to descend an equally arduous path on the other side. But the promise of spectacular views of the Glacier du Trient felt worth the effort and potential for injury.

Everything I had read about the Arpette said that under no circumstances were we to attempt it unless weather conditions were perfect, and the weather was quite foggy in Champex, Switzerland that morning, where the trail began. When I say foggy, I mean I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me and suddenly visions of my desperately sad parents mourning my demise on a far away mountain flashed through my mind and I admit, I almost bailed. This would have left Jim in a pinch because he was determined to go for it, but with a loving wife at home I am sure he wasn’t necessarily eager to go it alone. If we hadn’t run into Rowena and Cat at the trailhead, who hilariously shamed me both personally and nationally to take it on (“Come on! You must well represent your country!!”), I would likely have taken the easier route with the others. But the weather forecast showed that it would clear as the day progressed and the girls promised to turn back if the weather didn’t improve, so I went.


Holy moly, what a challenge! With my walking poles dangling from my arm (they were mostly useless on the terrain, yet sometimes frustratingly necessary), I climbed what felt like a 60 degree gradient, trying to find my footing while using my bare hands to pull myself up. I did my best to not look down so as not to actually SEE what I was leaving behind and kept going, banging my shins and knees, slipping in heart-stopping moments and then finally, unbelievably, reaching the top. From there, the views were simply spectacular and some of the very best of the trail so far. We celebrated with photos and chocolate, and took a rest before descending the other side; a steep, and seemingly vertical descent so challenging that my knees and toes were aching to the point of rendering me mute by the end of it. I don’t think I said much until we reached the Auberge. Mercifully, with Rowena and Cat around there was no need. They have enough energy and wit for 20 people.

Nine and a half hours later we had done it and it was exhilarating! We were rewarded not only by the unbelievable views (and the chocolate), but by the satisfaction of knowing that we are physically capable of more than some of us (like me) had imagined. Had I not embraced the effort, the reward would not have been mine. And I am so glad I did, because it taught me that my only limitations are those in my mind and that I am stronger than I know. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. The reward was well worth the effort.


Life is a verb. It requires action. Anything of value in this life demands your participation. Falling in love with the journey can make all the difference between enjoying every moment on the path or wishing away the minutes until you reach the destination, missing out on all the beauty, lessons and magic that exists along the way.

Whatever it is you wish to achieve in this world, begin to love the daily process of making it come to life. Whether it be to have a healthy body, a magnificent career, a beautiful relationship or even to just climb a mountain, begin to love the work involved in bringing it to fruition. In this way you will find happiness and joy along the way and the final reward will most certainly be yours.


The morning we set off on the Arpette, I fueled myself with the most incredible soaked muesli, known as Bircher Muesli, a traditional breakfast porridge in Switzerland. It’s somewhat like oatmeal but heartier, and to me, far tastier. Here is a recipe I found on-line and amended to make it a little healthier. Enjoy!

Bircher Muesli

Ingredients & Directions

Serves 6 to 8 people

  • 2 cups raw oats
  • 1 3/4 cup vanilla almond or rice milk
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp raw honey

Mix ingredients together and soak overnight in refrigerator. In the morning, add:

  • 1 grated apple
  • 1 cup of almond or coconut yogurt1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional and to taste)
  • Chopped nuts
  • Ground flax
  • Dried or fresh fruit


Share Your Thoughts...

12 comments on “Embracing Effort—Notes from the Trail and on Life

  1. AvatarCatherine Stapleton

    Yum yum to Bircher Meusli. Must try it out and report back 🙂
    You are an inspiration—cheers to enjoying the climbs!

  2. AvatarAlyson

    Life is a verb. It requires action. Anything of value in this life demands your participation. Great phrase, very inspiring.

  3. AvatarIraida Mendez

    Now, why can’t you move back home, take me walking every day until March 4 2016, so that I can do “The Camino” with you!? I can’t do it alone! I AM NOT AS STRONG OR AS MOTIVATED AS YOU! All kidding aside, I think you are the best, and that Alli is not bad either! I love you both!

  4. Avatarlisa

    what an inspiration! and the photos are gorgeous. congratulations. i am so glad you made the journey. and i love that recipe!! will be trying it over here soon!! xo

  5. AvatarSimon

    We missed you after you guys took the rest day in Argentiere! I am glad it all went well and you finished off successfully.
    We did see a few of the guys in Chamoinx on friday afternoon but missed you and Jim as I think you were still at a bus stop somewhere.
    The last day down from la flegere to les houches was a long one eh, and with some snow in the air and under the boot was a pretty neat day overall. I guess you must be back in NYC now. Congratulations on completing the TMB in good humour and on a diet of bread and cheese! No doubt further challenges will follow!
    Take care for now, Si and Gill.

    1. AvatarBarbara Mendez, RPh, MS Post author

      So good to hear from you Simon!! I was so sorry to not have seen you and Gill before I left. Yes, that one day down with the snow was pretty brutal but then the sun came out for our last day, which was great!
      We had a big party in Chamonix on Friday night and decided we are having a reunion hike in Ambleside in December. I’ll be sending out an email to everyone to confirm dates, etc, before I buy a ticket~ If you and Gill are interested, let me know and I will include you on the email chain.
      Congratulations to you and Gill too on completing the trek!! It was lovely to meet you both and I look forward to seeing you in the future~ xo B

      1. AvatarSimon

        Good work! Yes, send us an e-mail please as it’s only 3 hours from home to Ambleside. Good luck getting back into the swing of things! Simon

  6. AvatarJon Sheppard

    Inspiring post B!! Great stuff! I assure you that your story has helped me focus today on tasks that need to get done and others I want to get done.

    Travel safely!!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *