Who is Cathy O’Dowd?

Cathy O’Dowd is a South-African rock climber and mountaineer. She is also a motivational speaker and author, hence why I am here writing this blog!

Growing up, Cathy had no interest in group sports. She explained how she was always the one to be picked last in PE, and she didn’t really care! When Cathy speaks, people expect her to tell a great inspirational story about how she first saw Everest at the age of 3 and knew she wanted to climb it ever since. However, this is not the case. Cathy was not goal focused; she had no interest in Everest.  It was not until university that Cathy expressed an interest in rock climbing and mountaineering.

To win the spot as the first woman to climb Everest, Cathy had to complete the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro. Although the men taking part in the Everest expedition were chosen by CV, the women were challenged on live TV to see if they “had the balls to be the first woman to climb Everest”.  Cathy won the challenge. However, one of the greatest personal challenges for her was the exposure. This was the first year you could run a website from base camp, therefore Cathy found it difficult facing the exposure of thousands watching her.

Cathy did go on to climb Everest, from both sides in fact, and she is still taking part in expeditions up until this day!

I first heard from Cathy O’Dowd at the Entrepreneurs Circle ‘Getting and Keeping Customers Convention’ in Birmingham back in September. Her presence on stage was unbelievable, and she had the audience so mesmerised by the delivery of her experiences. There are many business lessons to be learnt from Cathy O’Dowd and her experiences as a mountaineer.

What business lessons can be learnt from Cathy O’Dowd?

  1. Look for the light in times of darkness

When asked how she overcome her fears when climbing Everest, Cathy described how instead of focusing on the darkness, she stayed inspired by the light she could see, however tiny this might be. The same can be said in business. Don’t centre all your focus onto your weaknesses or what is not working, focus on what is working well and place your hope within that.

  1. Being prepared in difficult times

Cathy described how there is danger everywhere, whether this is the largest or smallest mountain in the world. There are risks with everything you do, whatever scale they may be. This is true in business also and Cathy defines the importance of preparation. Teams fail when climbing if they have failed to prepare. Businesses fail if they aren’t prepared, if they don’t have skilled resources, if they make bad decisions or if they don’t assess their options. However, being able to recognise risks and execute a retreat strategy helps you be more prepared for next time. Metaphorically, the mountain is still there, and you have not failed.

Why can’t 2023 be a fulfilling year for businesses? Although you may have to get change route to climb the mountain, or get off in a state that you are able to try again, this doesn’t mean you have failed.

  1. The importance of building great teams

In mountaineering, you cannot throw a team together. You must have the correct combination of people, all with different resources and skills. These people must be willing to listen and reason with each other, to protect the lives of the whole team. Combining skills and ideas within a team can be difficult in business too and it is important to be curious of other people’s ideas rather than judgemental. This, along with willingness to listen is what builds the strongest teams.

  1. Remaining grounded and enjoying achievements

Cathy talks about post achievement depression. The feeling of being lost once completing such a huge achievement. Cathy defines how common it is for people to feel like they have watched their success drain into history post achievement. In order to combat this, Cathy defines the importance of being grounded and taking the time to enjoy your achievements. Current projects lead onto future projects and finding happiness is an ongoing mission.

Sometimes, in Business, we must do things to reach our end goal. The ends justify the means, and sometimes we must overcome challenges in order to reach our end goal. Despite the difficulty we may face, the result of achievement makes those challenges seem like a distant memory.

The lessons that Cathy O’Dowd has to give, and their metaphorical resonance to businesses, are truly inspirational. I think that there is so much that business owners can learn from Cathy and her achievements. This blog is just a minute insight into what she has to teach. Check out her website by clicking the button below.

Cathy O’Dowd



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