Being ambitious shouldn’t just be about work. Here’s how I applied it to my whole life

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In 2017, I quit my job as a corporate lawyer in London’s Square Mile and it ended up being quite a seismic shift – both professionally and personally. I’ve always been driven, but after I went freelance, I was no longer tied to my desk for 12 hours a day in a high-pressure corporate environment. I suddenly had a lot more freedom and it encouraged me to be ambitious beyond work – in different areas of my life. 

Just weeks after I left my full-time role, I signed up to a 12-day Everest base camp trek. It was an impulsive decision and I didn’t know what to expect. I was a complete beginner. I ended up buying all my gear in Kathmandu just hours before the hike began. As it turned out, my first taste of a long-distance trek was an experience that would open up a whole new world to me.

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The scenery in the Everest region is sublime

From the outset, I loved the feeling of moving through the mountains, on a journey where every day felt different. Mountain trekking is very therapeutic. You’re so far removed from everyday life. It’s a matter of going back to basics with nature – getting up in the morning and going from A to B across a series of high-altitude camps. And, of course, the scenery in the Everest region is sublime. 

We also had an amazing group of people from over a dozen different countries on that expedition. It was my first introduction to the social side of hiking – like-minded souls sharing wine in camp after a long day climbing – which is a big part of any group challenge.

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I took on the GR20 in Corsica, billed as Europe’s toughest hike

It didn’t stop there, though. Everest ignited something within me and I developed a passion for long-distance hiking. In the following years, I ended up tackling all kinds of routes, from the Tour du Mont Blanc (covering three countries over 60 hours of high-altitude walking) to Chilean Patagonia’s legendary O Circuit, a circular route around Torres del Paine National Park. 

Most recently, I took on the GR20 in Corsica, billed as Europe’s toughest hike. Running across the Mediterranean island’s central mountain range from north to south, the trail is relentlessly steep. You’re often scrambling in 30ºC heat, at over 2,000 metres, across this rugged, off-piste terrain. It was hot, sweaty work. Luckily, there were lots of rock pools to cool off in along the way. And, the spectacular views made it all worthwhile. 

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After big climbs, everything else feels easy by comparison

Back home in London, I go to spin classes and do quite a bit of running, so I’m in relatively good shape. I’ve also been helped in these challenges by my body’s ability to adapt quickly to different environments. The first day or two of any trek is a bit of a shock to the system, but I now find it fairly easy to get into the flow. 

I’m also helped by the fact that I’ve built up some experience in mountain climbing. In the past five years, I’ve scaled Mount Kilimanjaro and some peaks in South America. Once you’ve managed a climb like Bolivia’s high-altitude Huayna Potosí, at 6,000 metres, everything else is easy by comparison. On smaller mountains, you can stay calm because you’re not as exposed as you would be on a big ascent like Potosí. You’re not having to battle with the lack of oxygen that comes with very high-altitude climates, either.

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In Jordan, we did desert hiking and canyoning

These days, I have a bucket list of adventures I want to do. Whenever I have a period of free time between freelance gigs, I blitz it. It’s an approach that’s seen me join three Flash Pack trips in recent years: Peru, Colombia and, most recently, Jordan. Flash Pack’s tours appeal to me because they always come with an element of adventure and promise something a bit different. They tend to cover lots of activities, too, which I like.

In Jordan, we did desert hiking and canyoning in Wadi Mujib. That was a lot of fun, but also quite tricky in parts, with steep rocks and drops that you had to navigate using chains. As I’ve had experience in that kind of environment, I was able to help others on the trip who found it more nerve-wracking.

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Ours turned out to be a really fun group

The activity side was balanced with cultural experiences, like the Treasury at Petra and learning about local foods. One standout moment in the Wadi Rum saw our hosts slow-cook lamb using a traditional underground oven. It felt very theatrical. 

As in other expeditions, the idea of travelling with like-minded people also appealed to me on Flash Pack’s Jordan tour. Of course, you can’t tell in advance what the dynamic will be like, but ours turned out to be a really fun group – everyone gelled together. On the first night, a bunch of us bonded after smoking shisha after dinner in Amman. We ended up talking and staying out much later than we should have. It was obvious from that point that it was going to be a fun trip.

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Whenever I have a gap between work, I fill it with trips

I still find my career as a freelance lawyer rewarding, but I’m not as ambitious as I used to be. Maybe I’ve replaced that drive with the many personal challenges and adventures I’ve embraced since quitting the City. In my old life, my annual leave was restricted to one or two nice holidays a year. There was never enough time to do something really adventurous. 

Now, whenever I have a gap between assignments, I fill it with trips. Next on my radar is a Flash Pack escape to Turkey in September. I also want to climb the Matterhorn and tackle the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Once upon a time, I only dreamed about these expeditions – now they’re part of my everyday life. 

Umesh Kumar is a freelance lawyer who travelled with Flash Pack to Peru, Colombia, Jordan and Turkey

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: courtesy of Umesh Kumar & Flash Pack 

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