“The young tell me that I dispel the myth for them that 50, 60, 70 is over the hill simply because of my accomplishments, and the older folks tell me that they realize that they’re not relegated to the rocking chair or to the TV set as long as they look after their body and do what needs to be done.”
Toni Reece: Thank you so much, Werner, for agreeing to do an interview with us today, and before we go into the questions, can you please introduce yourself?
Werner Berger: Yes, my name is Werner Berger, and in some circles I’m known as the Everest Guy.
Toni: The Everest Guy … can you explain that, please?
Werner: Yes, two years ago, actually 2007 in May, I climbed Mount Everest and doing so became the oldest Westerner and the third oldest person in the world to actually get to the top of that beautiful, beautiful mountain.
Toni: My goodness! Well, thank you so much for agreeing to be with us today, and based on your accomplishments, Werner. Professionally and personally, when you think of the word inspiration, who do you inspire and how do you do that?
Werner: That’s a good question, actually. I am told by a number of people — actually people literally of all ages — that I inspire them. And the way I inspire them is just simply by what I do and who I am, and probably also my physical capabilities. Oh, and I should include people that are overweight see me as inspirational, and how I do that is — it’s not intentional. The young tell me that I dispel the myth for them that 50, 60, 70 is over the hill simply because of my accomplishments, and the older folks tell me that they realize that they’re not relegated to the rocking chair or to the TV set as long as they look after their body and do what needs to be done.
The overweight people say — and especially when we talk about the fact that overweight has less to do with overeating than it has to do with cellular malnutrition — and then of course they say “What do you mean by that?” And it’s so easy to say to them “Look, the system that you’ve been exposed to relative to weight loss is all wrong.” The system says eat less and exercise more. And that doesn’t work, because if the cells are already not nutriented, how can you ask somebody to eat less, nutrient themselves less, and expend more energy through exercise? It just doesn’t make sense. I actually am a fairly good model body structure wise, and the information that I have is just so revealing or so relieving for them. So, those are just a couple of ways.
Toni: Werner, when you are talking to other people and working with them and they’re looking at you as this example of what’s possible — and also not only what’s possible in an achievement but what’s possible for them physically — how do you think that translates into exploring their own potential?
Werner: A number of possibilities here. I think the basic or the bottom line here is I really do care about people. In my early days, I didn’t have much self-confidence basically because of the way my parents interacted with me, especially a father that was very, very autocratic; and he didn’t ever listen to me. And that was such a huge revelation when I finally realized that connection between people comes not just from caring but also from listening.
The other element, of course, that comes into play here is the willingness or the ability to ask questions and to really delve fairly deeply into who are they and what is it that inspires them. What is it that really has them get up in the morning looking forward to the day?
When people start articulating that, it is just so interesting to me how they rise beyond what might have been or what their day might have looked like in terms of just seeing that there’s something else, there’s something more, that they really are special, that they bring some qualities to this day or to their environment that are very unique to them. And if they can explore them, exploit them, live into them, not only does their satisfaction level get elevated dramatically, but they influence others or inspire others to move.
So that’s just one of the ways or some of the ways that I help people explore their own potential or their own capabilities.
Toni: So really it’s providing that person that’s in front of you – I don’t know if you do this on an individual basis or with groups or just in your day-to-day life, but having someone in front of you — it sounds to me that when they are in front of you, they’re the most important person at that moment.
Werner: I think that’s true, and I don’t go about with that thought in mind. However, my sense is I become that individual, and the other part is I’ve been a corporate consultant for “X” number of years, and the question always at the end of the meeting has to be “So what are you going to do differently or what are we going to do differently?”
And that’s also just become a little bit part of my pattern when people say “I want to do this.” I won’t stop there. I’ll say “Okay, and when will you start?” or “What are the steps that you have to take in order to reach that result?”
That’s become a fairly natural part of my interaction with people. And when they start seeing that there are some very, very simple things that they can do absolutely today that will start forwarding this vision or this goal or this idea, again, it just gives them a handle on how to progress or how to proceed.
Toni: When you are doing all of this work with people and providing this opportunity and place for them to be able to feel safe enough to move forward and have someone listen to them, when you are looking for inspiration, Werner, where do you go? What do you need to be inspired for you?
Werner: I think the key for me actually is to have some compelling goal, something to truly look forward to. And when I have that, and I’m seriously committed to it and realize that if I want to do this I have no option but to take certain steps, then life becomes very easy.
Let me give you an example of that. When I have a climb in mind, an Everest or even a Kilimanjaro – which is not a very difficult climb – there are certain things that are “must-do’s” and they are get fit –because the fitter I am, the more enjoyable the climb is going to be, the easier the climb is going to be.
And ultimately, I realize the mountain doesn’t care whether I’m fit or not. However, being fit will make a huge difference in my performance and my enjoyment and my experience. So exercising regularly to the point of the climb is just simply a must-do, and there is no longer an option or a choice around that. It’s just something that has to be done. And clearly, if passion is involved in that goal or that accomplishment, that becomes the driving force.
If there is no compelling reason to do it or if there are no consequences – actually that’s the other part – if there are no consequences to failing, it’s not as compelling to me. On the other hand, when I’m on Everest and I’ve spent tons of money and tons of time preparing and I don’t succeed, the consequences are pretty dire in terms of just the emotional impact of having failed. So, I can’t allow myself the luxury of not exercising or not eating right.
By the way, that’s such a critical element, again, in life. Many people don’t talk about how nutritionally depleted our foods are and how we have to change our eating habits. And I was one of them, because in 1994 when I was exposed to an opportunity to eat differently, I said “I don’t need to do that. I just eat right.” And, of course, I’m talking about really effective supplementation.
Toni: During these interviews, and people that are reading and listening to these interviews, there are certain phrases that come to mind when I’m listening to someone during these interviews. And what I just wrote down as far as what inspires you about what you have to do in order to get to what you want — and that was the phrase that came to my mind — is that I have to do this in order to get to what I want — which is that climb, which is that success — and then it becomes the must-do. I really think that the readers are going to resonate with that.
One thing I wanted to ask you though, as well, as far as things that inspire you is, was there a moment for you? You had referenced earlier in the interview that you didn’t come to the table this way always with this positive attitude and this must-do. Was there a moment or an event that became the change for you?
Werner: I don’t recall one single event, and many people are very surprised by that because in many people’s lives there is a defining moment. And I’ve often thought back, you know, “What was my defining moment, what was my defining moment?” and I cannot come up with one.
At the same time, I can come up with a lot of little ones that finally had me say to myself “Yes, Werner, you are okay.” Because that, to me, has really been the struggle is to find the Werner that is okay, that’s not living up to other people’s expectations but is determining for himself what is significant, what’s important, what are the things I want to do as opposed to I should do because of needing to look good or needing to feel okay.
So lots of little benchmarks, maybe I could call them, that had me finally decide, “Okay, I am who I am and, yes, I have some flaws and it’s not all perfect, and I’m okay with that.”
Toni: That’s fantastic. When you listen to you and you hear everything that you’ve done and what you continue to do, how do you continue to explore your own potential?
Werner: One of the ways – actually there are a couple of ways. One is I look at life as a continuous learning pass. One of the areas that really made a difference and was one of those little blips was when I became a corporate consultant and started learning about … very specifically learning about people skills. What do you do in order to be in connection or in conversation or in rapport with people?
The other part is when there is a really compelling goal or – how am I going to say this – there is something that needs to happen, and I finally have a sense of “I can make a difference here.” What I’m thinking of, again, is the Everest climb. People kept saying to me “Who is sponsoring you?” And I kept saying “Nobody. Why would anybody sponsor me?” People would say, “Well, because of your age.” I just simply couldn’t get that anybody would sponsor me “because of my age.”
By the way, your listeners will probably want to know I was 56 days short of my 70th birthday when I got to the top.
Finally it dawned on me that I could possibly use this climb as a metaphor for health and influence people to start looking at who they are and what they’re doing and what their belief systems around age are. So we formulated what we call the North American Health and Wellness Revolution, and that actually ended up morphing into a movie. The name is Back from the Edge and, again, when we clicked — and I’m talking about “we” because I formed a small mastermind group to explore this — when we clicked on that, that is something that absolutely inspired me.
So to fulfill my own potential, I needed some help from others and also needed to follow my heart in terms of really making a difference, doing something that seemed an impossibility – how the heck do you change North American health – and finally clicking on something that could make that difference. And that, of course, ended up drawing me back into a game that I hadn’t even thought about maybe three or four or five years ago.
Toni: So what you continuously do to explore your potential is to keep making a difference in people’s lives, continuously learning, trying to educate and move people forward. Is that what you are doing today to explore your potential?
Werner: Yes, and I would add to that surrounding myself with people that will also challenge me by them challenging themselves, by them doing something that I hadn’t even thought about or I hadn’t thought that I could do, or maybe not even thinking that there was something that needed doing. And when I see that, again it inspires me to think in a different realm.
The other part I have to add is successful completion or moving towards something successfully certainly has an inspirational quality for me, as well, or the ability for me to expand my potential. So forward movement, people that are around me that inspire or draw me, or do things that I can say “Oh wow, isn’t that neat, I can try that” certainly make a difference for me.
Toni: Werner, the information that you have given in this small gesture of time for people to benefit and learn from is amazing, and what you do to explore potential in others and inspire others is to give that information and share that information to make a difference. I know the people who are reading and listening to this interview are going to be incredibly inspired by you. And all of us here at the Get Inspired! Project cannot thank you enough for giving your time today and inspiring us with your interview.
Werner: Absolutely, my pleasure, Toni, and thank you so much for doing this because it will have a big impact on people that are listening to it or reading about it.
Toni: Thank you so very much, and I hope that we speak soon, and take care.
Werner: Thank you so much, too.