As the youngest British woman to have stood at both ‘tops of the world’, the summit of Mt Everest (2010) and the geographic North Pole (2011), you could say Bonita Norris has conquered the world. Yet surprisingly it wasn’t scaling mountains that proved her biggest challenges in life. It was getting people to believe.
What or who in your life inspired you and why?
The first thought that comes to mind is that there are so many different people and a plethora of little moments from across time that have all inspired me but ultimately I’d put it down to my dad. For as long as I can remember he’s constantly been a hard worker and has always run his own business. I’ve always found it inspiring the way he’s created and seized opportunities and seen them through till the end.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced?
I think it was trying to persuade people to believe in me when I was just a novice climber. I’d never climbed anything outside of the UK before yet here I was, telling people I was going to take on Everest and that they should support and believe in me. I had a lot of people laughing in my face and telling me I was ridiculous so I think the hardest thing was holding my head up high when other people told me that what I was trying to achieve was impossible.
What was your lowest low and how did you climb (no pun intended!) out of it?
Surprisingly it wasn’t when I was actually climbing mountains! It was definitely before. The climb was a dream – I loved every second of Everest and it was like going on holiday after the prior 2 year struggle. The last year in particular was the most horrendous because I needed to find a corporate sponsor and I didn’t possess any kind of business skills. I’d literally just graduated from university and, looking back, was very immature.
I had no idea what I was doing but I continued to cold call companies every day – I got phones put down on me and received some very snide emails. Some of the lowest moments were waking up in the morning, looking at my computer and thinking I cannot face another day of companies telling me to forget it but something in my head told me I had to prove them wrong. Conversely it was the part of my journey that had nothing to do with climbing or the physical training side of things that proved be this whole other mountain that I had to get around first.
How did you find the self-belief to achieve what you did?
It was all about proving something; not only did I really want to prove others wrong but more than anything I wanted to show myself that, despite how much hard work it was going to be, I could do it. It taught me that absolute dedication really does get you through and that this crazy dream I had was in fact possible. I told myself that when I’d done it, these people will be pleased for me and happy for me even if they don’t want to get involved now. A good example is my friends and family who, despite loving me desperately, thought I was crazy. I think they were bemused and terrified about what I was doing and weren’t quite sure how to show their support, which in some ways is to be expected considering I was a novice climber.
When did you feel like you had achieved your goal?
I think that moment actually came a few years after summiting Everest. Even after conquering that goal, which was amazing, my real thirst was to become a respected climber which I hadn’t achieved at that point as far as I was concerned. It was after climbing Lhotse that I really felt satisfied, knowing that not have I only climbed the world’s highest mountain but I’ve also climbed a really hard one and no-one can take that away from me. It even surprises me sometimes as I always thought it would be climbing the mountain that was my goal but it was more about demonstrating that I wasn’t just a one trick pony who would give up climbing after conquering Everest but that I could do so much more and that climbing is a true passion of mine.
Who is the woman that you admire most and why?
There truly are so many – I read articles all the time that bring a tear to my eye and make me feel inspired.
What advice would you give to other women about self-belief?
For me it’s not about just having this deep belief in yourself that you can achieve anything; it’s about having the courage to get through a tough day. If you’re attempting to do something out of your comfort zone, like setting up a new business, climbing Everest, or whatever it might be, it can often seem so overwhelming that you feel very small in comparison. Instead I found that focusing on what I could achieve in the next ten minutes, for example what email I could send next, who else can I call, what’s the next proactive thing I can do, is what really keeps you going. For me it’s always been about having the courage to not give up and to always do one more thing. As I say in my talks, it is one step at a time – I never felt like I conquered Everest, I just took one laboured, forced step at a time until I ran out of earth to walk on.
What lessons have you learned that you could share with others?
Definitely the mantra of ‘Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail’. I only got my Everest sponsorship once I knew I had the slickest sales pitch and the most researched sponsorship routine and that only came with time. My advice is definitely to prepare but don’t be afraid to fail along the way and learn. Nobody’s perfect and everyone has to start somewhere so you just have to put your neck on the line and throw yourself in at the deep end. You have to get good at things before you can expect to get something back.
Is there anything you would do differently using the wisdom you have now?
I wouldn’t change anything – it was a mountain to climb in so many respects that I’m glad I did it and did it the hard way. But if I had to say one thing it would be that as a climber, when I had no point to prove, I wish I’d climbed more before I went to Everest as I think I’d have enjoyed it more had I been more prepared. That’s the mantra kicking in again!