The Climb to the Top (Mount Fuji)

Knowing that over 230,000 people (2015 statistic) climb Mount Fuji every year, I had no doubt that I would complete it, especially with no aches or pains and my college basketball background. I expected challenges though as I’ve never taken on a mountain anywhere near this magnitude.

I had the ultimate respect for the task ahead.

On the first Saturday in September, we drove from Tokyo at 4am and didn’t start the ascent until 7am, as it was crowded and took more time than we planned to park and arrive at the base. Even though I was going on 4 hours of sleep, my excitement and adrenaline were high.

One member of our group of 6 was an experienced climber (our guide) and had done Fuji 8 times. That was comforting as he knew all the twists, turns and obstacles to come. He kept singing the praises of the weather throughout, as it was spectacular and crisp, with the sun often beaming brilliantly.

I was thrilled for our pleasant climate as I cannot imagine doing this day in the rain. A friend living in Tokyo had completed the climb at night (a week earlier) and it poured for hours; one we considered doing with him until we saw the dreary forecast. I was impressed to hear how he endured in those damp and dark conditions. His story is below.

Since I’ve never been strong on hills (running or biking), I expected significant irritation at some point on the steep and maze-like angles to the top…..and they did not disappoint. It seemed as if those zig zag paths filled with gravel would never end, often leaving me with that feeling of a snail’s pace. I was thankful for the rest breaks at each station, which never failed to be welcoming.

Midway through the climb, my thighs began to tremble in the form of cramps; something I’ve only had once (mildly) and that was at the end of the 2006 Stockholm Marathon, which gave me no real basis for how painful it could be. Fortunately, after chatting with some climbers, several were having the same type of discomfort, which instantly put me at ease, as I knew this was a mountain issue and not a George issue.

The key for me was rarely stopping while on the climbing trail. It served me well during the aforementioned marathon, as I never stopped running, with the exception of the water breaks where I kept walking at a strong pace - great advice I received as a first time marathoner. On the mountain, I stopped a few times because of the cramping but was able to keep moving forward whenever tiredness tried to overtake me.

Meanwhile, my amazing wife Matilda was like Spiderman up the mountain. Despite having knees and ankles that weren’t 100%, she stayed almost stride for stride with our guide. She initially thought about not doing Fuji with us, but I’m glad she did. I was inspired watching her crush it! There wasn’t one point where I considered keeping up with or trying to catching her. 

Happiness at the Top
Only one person in our group had a mighty struggle and I thought she might not make it, as the altitude was clearly affecting her performance. She was in shape, but the 3776 m/ 12,388 feet made it a grueling ride for her during the heart of the ascent.  I looked up to the peak several times while climbing and became light-headed, so I made sure to keep those glances to a minimum.

The most enjoyable parts for me were the various rock formations we had to scale. I found that peaceful compared to the gravel walking paths. On a stretch of rocks not far from the top, there was a 75 year old man in front of me and a woman with a toddler on her back behind me. The man had walking sticks and maintained a slow, yet powerful pace. Everyone seemed to be amazed at what the woman was doing. I was in awe of both.

Another memorable moment came on the back end of the climb, as a wave of gratefulness filled up my soul. The fine weather and stunning cloud formations, combined with the beauty surrounding me, along with the calm of being an extension of this iconic mountain was soothing. When I knew the end was near, the relief and elation were profound.

One mistake I made was not drinking enough water as the sweat and physical work was elevated because of the sun. It didn’t feel particularly warm, although my friends noticed that I could use more fluids so I kept drinking and drinking, yet could never catch up to where I needed to be. I lost 2 kilo’s.

A good tip I received beforehand was keeping everything in plastic bags or having a waterproof bag - since weather can change quickly. I was prepared, but barely used anything in the bag. There was a light sprinkle at one point, but only a brief one. In addition, I bought new hiking books and those were invaluable as I saw many who seemed uncomfortable with sneakers or old footwear.

Going down wasn't fun in any way for me and I wouldn’t want to do it again, with the abundance of slipping/sliding and gravel; something first timers should know about as being careful is crucial. We witnessed people falling and several ankle twists on the descent. The entire way down I wondered why they didn’t’ have any easier routes (i.e. Cable Car) as I consider the descent more of an experience of not getting hurt and less of a worthwhile challenge.

Overall, it was a tremendous experience, along with a great sense of fulfillment. To have shared it with a few of our closest friends enhanced our day and satisfaction. For those expats fortunate enough to be living in Japan, I would encourage everyone to put this on their ‘to do’ list.
Matilda reached the summit in 5 hours and 15 minutes...5:45 for me. Everyone was back to the base in less than 3 hours. After our early bird start, we arrived home at 10pm exhausted – a 16 hour day.

I’ve never slept so well.

Matilda Going Down Mount Fuji

A Voice from the Heartland and Trump’s ‘Art of the Sale’

I should have gone with my gut.

Long before the Access Hollywood audio tape came to light, two American friends were convinced that Trump wouldn’t win the Presidency due to his inexperience, unconventional methods, divisiveness and often blunt rhetoric. During our conversations, they couldn’t even envision the possibility.

I firmly disagreed. 

As a salesman most of my career, I had seen the media dominance and showmanship that had earned Trump the Republican nomination rather easily and knew early on that his strong selling skills and powers of persuasion could win him the White House. I had seen that same Trump at Manhattan parties in the 1990’s, on TV and in his book ‘The Art of the Deal’.

One friend proposed an immediate bet (he took Clinton) and I accepted. I had forgotten about our wager until he wrote this on November 9, 2016.

“You called it correctly. I owe you dinner”

After the aforementioned audio tape, I had a change of heart about my earlier prediction, as I was sure Trump’s awful words about women would doom him, despite previous missteps that had not. The tape would have spelled disaster for any standard politician, although the mistake many of us kept making about Trump is thinking that he would be held to the same standard of accountability.

Not surprisingly, Trump absorbed the negative blow, pivoted (he made the story about Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions) and moved back to the message and progression of the biggest sale of his life.

I wrote these words before the 2nd debate:

"The main job of an effective salesperson is to close the sale, in this case winning the election. Often that takes adapting or changing one's style in order to progress or enhance the sale. Trump has not shown the willingness or discipline to reach beyond his comfort zone of supporters, thus making it tough to attract new voters. Great salespeople do what it takes and rarely miss a golden sales opportunity, especially when the light is shining brightly and the pressure is on."

Questioning Trump’s past rhetoric or future actions is valid and should be done, but we ought to be careful the next time we doubt his ability to sell a policy, program or his vision, as few can equal his talent in that regard. Trump knew exactly what he was doing in the General Election, with most believing he had little to no chance of winning. With limited political experience, less political funds and a boatload of consistent controversy, he won the most influential job in the world - almost solely on being persuasive and selling himself. 

Trump often avoided the facts (usually saying what he wanted), which worked for him, as he probably knew his supporters wouldn’t care. Yes, he had strong themes that resonated (Build the Wall, Repeal Obamacare, etc), but the crucial selling point was convincing Americans (particularly the white working class) that he heard them, understood their issues and would take care of their problems.

He was laser focused primarily on his core supporters (base); something I thought was a detriment yet turned out to be the perfect strategy. Keep in mind that a good portion of his base also voted for Obama previously.

A childhood friend had been telling me about the Trump phenomenon from our home state of Pennsylvania (PA) since last summer. He lives on the rural outskirts of a diverse city and saw early on that Trump’s message was resonating. My friend is also one of the most well-rounded, caring and giving individuals I know.

Here’s a small taste of his thinking and online statements to me:

September 2016

  • Sorry but you are really out of touch with middle class America. Wait until the election….a Ronald Reagan moment. I will thank God and so should you for Trump saving our country.
  • That was brilliant by the way…to get every news network to cover him talking about decorated veterans and then at the end say…well since Hillary started this (birther conspiracy) in 2008…I will end it. Very smart man.
  • The media wants people to believe he is losing but reality is the silent majority is Trump…Go Trump.
  • But it will be a big disappointment when TRUMP wins and all the media and polls can’t figure out how it happened.
  • All my college educated and non-college educated people like Trump……these are family and friends along with those I don’t even know well.

 October 2016

  • I think you are wrong on this one too. You are underestimating his (Trump) power and how many people dislike the current direction with the Dems.
  • I see a movement happening now. The locker room talk is old and got no traction. Everyone is stepping up and he is improving…Go Trump.
  • I think Trump is bullet proof like Ironman.
  • It won’t matter. TRUMP never loses at anything. He’s a winner. He’s going to make America win again.
  • There is a bigger silent majority than I even thought. Many many people. I just asked a few friends and again they know no one voting for her.

 November 2016

  • I was driving my kids to school today. I counted over 80 Trump signs and 3 Clinton ones. In about 4 or 5 miles.
  • You know that feeling you had in the 7th Inning (Cubs/Indians) that was bad. You have that no? I have the feeling it’s going very well. Here’s the big difference. He’s connecting with people. People trust him at least more than Hillary. She lost her mojo and her team doesn’t know what to do. They have thrown all the mud and nothing stuck to him. All the mud stuck to her and there is more and more. This game cannot be over soon enough for her. The longer is goes, the worse it gets for Clinton. (November 6, 2016)
  • 25,000 last night for Trump. Lines a miles long and 7,000 people outside. There is passion like people had for Obama in 2008. That’s why he will win. Clinton has none of that.

Although I visited Pennsylvania twice in the last year, I haven’t lived in America in over a decade, thus giving me limited awareness of the Trump appeal.  Despite trusting that my friend’s voice and opinion made perfect sense, I couldn’t bring myself to think that he would have enough support to beat Hillary Clinton; especially with an Electoral College that highly favored the Democrats.

Another missed factor for Trump was the ‘hidden’ voter; fed up and frustrated citizens my PA friend had been telling me about for months, as several were in his own family. These were folks who planned to vote for Trump yet didn’t show any kind of public support for fear of being labeled a racist or portrayed in a negative light. I can personally attest to these silent voices, as I was in a roomful of kind and fun people (20-30+) on several occasions during my PA vacation and found out later that 95% of them were Trump supporters. Reflecting back on my interactions/discussions with many, the name Trump rarely crept into the conversation.

My initial gut feeling was right and my PA friend’s insight couldn’t have been more precise. In addition, he never faltered in his belief that Trump was going to win. 

One thing we can no longer do is underestimate Donald J. Trump. Most did and he pulled off one of the greatest upsets in political history. The media, polls, Democrats and many Republicans were all wrong. Sometimes I wonder if Trump was the only one who believed he could prevail. He had some help though with Clinton’s failed strategy – one that appeared to be ‘Let Trump be Trump’ in order to propel her to The White House.

Second, his hustle was far more substantial than hers. Have you ever seen a 70 year old with so much energy for 18 months; doing 5-6 events a day in the home stretch of the election? Along with having his hand on the pulse of America, he also outworked Clinton. The most successful people in my inner circle are those who ‘grind’ daily. Trump showed that he could grind with the best of them. 

Finally, the ‘Reality TV Star’ words and/or actions (Sizzle) Trump provided throughout the battle made Clinton’s traditional campaign speeches and standard operational format look ho hum, although he was helped significantly by a media that made him 'must see TV'. 

One lesson we can learn about this election is that ‘Sizzle’ sells. Bill Clinton, Obama and Reagan had it and they all won. Not everyone has the personality, media savvy and confidence of Trump, although putting on a show or standing out can be a good way to enhance one’s popularity and/or image, particularly for those in the sales profession. I would encourage doing it in a positive and collaborative way, although one has to find and have faith in their own style.

Another lesson is that hard work does pay off. Trump was in the heart of America more than Clinton and held more events and rallies. In my opinion, voters noticed that effort which I believe was a crucial part of his success. My PA friend kept echoing this same sentiment.

The final and most important lesson is that one must ‘close the deal’, which in Trumps case meant winning the election. Having confidence about and focusing on the result of whatever you are doing is crucial. During the campaign, Trump talked about closing deals throughout his life again and again, but there were those who laughed and thought ‘yea right”. He certainly got the last laugh.

I’m optimistic in general, along with hopeful that Trump’s 4 or 8 year run as President will be fruitful for most Americans. Our nation is more divided than ever though and Trump will need to be instrumental in helping to bridge that gap if he is too fully succeed. Everyone won’t get what they want from his time in office, but the results should and will be looked at closely, particularly since the Republicans have control of the House and Senate.

President-Elect Trump is undoubtedly a great salesman. Whether he can be a great President remains to be seen. That journey begins on January 20, 2017.

(I Encourage You To Read Both)

Trump - The Lost ‘Art of the Sale’

Before the first Presidential Debate, Donald Trump was poised to make his biggest sale to date and move significantly closer to 'closing the deal' in his prime time showcase vs Hillary Clinton.

Despite rarely giving much substance on policy, frequently divisive/insulting and playing by his own rules, he clearly had the momentum going into the September 26th debate. His poll numbers were also rising; all he needed to do was cross the ‘expectation’ finish line.

Instead, he stuck to what got him to this point and his supporters love (an off the cuff and unrehearsed message) and was solidly beaten by Clinton, who had a game plan to irritate Trump, was prepared and delivered her points effectively. He also allowed her to get under his skin.

I would hope his advisors told him to stay calm, cool and collected (look Presidential), along with not getting sidetracked by her baiting. A smart salesperson listens, learns and chooses what to incorporate into the sales kit, particularly when advice comes from political veterans.

And where was that boldness from the campaign? No 'Crooked Hillary' or sufficient mention by him of her main weaknesses (i.e. emails, Benghazi). He either forgot to attack during the 90 minutes or was afraid to; either one inexcusable for someone made famous by ‘The Art of the Deal’, his best-selling book.

Near the end of the debate, I wondered if he even watched or studied Hillary at previous debates. Most good salespeople know their competition inside and out.

I consider Trump to be one of the best 'Salesmen' I've ever seen. He knows his crowd, speaks their language and is a master of persuasion. Whether one agrees with his tactics/agenda or not, his results (GOP nomination) and millions of enthusiastic supporters are stunning; especially for a man with almost no political experience.

The red carpet to The White House has been rolled out for him for quite some time, as a significant portion of our country clearly wants a change, although Trump can’t seem to get out of his own way. Clinton has been cautious (counting on Trump being Trump) and seems to be ‘playing not to lose’, which can be a dangerous game. He’s playing right into her hands though.

If Trump had walked confidently down the aisle during his 'moment of truth' debate, things may have turned out differently. Yes, it was his first time on that grand stage (85 million watching), but the expectation bar was very low for him, so it shouldn't have been that difficult to at least meet expectations, particularly for a man who loves the media lights and is a master of self-promotion. 

He stumbled with frustration, sighs and interruptions throughout the evening and lost the night, with the exception of the beginning portion on trade, where he appeared confident.  For those who didn't consider him fit or qualified for the Presidency, he needed a more convincing display.

When Trump made this inept statement to Clinton..."No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life", it was clear to me that his night would be going downhill. First impressions are difficult to change and I doubt many undecided voters think better of him after his performance. 

Often, these type of glaring fumbles come back to bite you in life. For him, it could be the sting of losing to a woman…who like him, is a flawed candidate and has major likability/trust issues, but has given him more than one chance to beat her. 

On this second debate weekend, more fuel is being poured on the Trump fire; this time with a story about Trump making lewd audio comments about women in 2005. Most of us have things we regret, but to speak of women in that awful way is indefensible. He did offer an apology, but quickly went back on the offense against the transgressions of former President Bill Clinton.

His house is in disarray.

After severe condemnation from most, including many top Republicans, I can’t see how he can climb out of his pile of quicksand. It’s important to keep in mind that he was on his way to losing this election before this latest controversy and his standing among women suffered tremendously the week after the debate. This passage from an article on Trump’s future impact on the GOP sums it up well.

"Nor should this October surprise be looked back upon as the episode that triggered a fatal decrease in Trump’s support among women voters. Here again, Trump’s fate was likely already sealed, thanks to an inept first debate performance followed by a six-day stretch in which the nominee ceaselessly ridiculed and shamed a former Miss Universe contestant, Alicia Machado, for no apparent reason other than to settle a personal grudge. A national Quinnipiac poll released on the day of that first debate, September 26, showed Trump down just five points among women. On October 7, having conducted a new national survey in the wake of those events, Quinnipiac released its findings: Trump was down 20 points among women. (This 15-point drop among female voters, in a period of less than two weeks, is also reflected in battleground state polling.)
Trump's Legacy Will Haunt GOP Beyond 2016

In addition, the Electoral College doesn’t favor a Republican, his poll numbers are further behind Clinton after the debate and he will be hearing about his crude comments for the next 30 days.  All along, I’ve given him a 10% chance to win, but now would put him at 5%.

He’s still on the court though, which means he still has a chance. Much can happen in a month, especially with a man who has nothing to lose. There may be pressure on him to leave the race, but as of now, he remains defiant. I suspect she won’t make any more ‘basket of deplorables’ type mistakes, but to overcome his self-induced obstacles, he needs to show a new brand of Trump.

The main job of an effective salesperson is to close the sale, in this case winning the election. Often that takes adapting or changing one's style in order to progress or enhance the sale. Trump has not shown the willingness or discipline to reach beyond his comfort zone of supporters, thus making it tough to attract new voters. Great salespeople do what it takes and rarely miss a golden sales opportunity, especially when the light is shining brightly and the pressure is on. 

Trump has closed deals in the Bright Lights and Big City of Manhattan and around the world, yet was ill-prepared for the biggest stage and close of his 70 years. One of his problems is being one dimensional, most likely thinking his base of supporters was good enough to send him to Pennsylvania Avenue.

In our diverse country, appealing to a variety of groups is invaluable for a political victory. Bush closed the deal in 2000 by speaking Spanish and promoting compassionate conservatism, yet barely won the race. Without dimensions outside of his base, Bush didn't stand a chance.

Trump also wrote 'The Art of the Comeback'. For that to happen, a different and improved Trump has to emerge at the remaining debates and on the campaign trail.

The American public was ripe to be sold during this General Election. Trump’s reality now is that his one man show is about to be cancelled.

Happy Gswede Sunday!