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The Learning Curve of New Challenges with Dr. Suzie Imber

The Learning Curve of New Challenges with Dr. Suzie Imber

Dr. Suzie Imber is an Associate Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Leicester with a love of exploring. Susie is a mountaineer, rower, and rock climber just to name a few.

Suzie was the first person to chart a number of remote peaks in the Andes and was also the winner of the BBC Two television series Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?.

It’s no surprise that Suzie is willing to take on any challenge that comes her way. She shared with the Tough Girl Podcast just what it takes to overcome the learning curve of new challenges and come out better than before.

Put Bad Experiences Behind You

In her twenties, Suzie took up high altitude mountaineering. But she didn’t take a conventional approach. During a few months in Bolivia, she went straight for a South American 6,000-meter climb. It was really brutal, but it was the beginning of her journey. With no idea what to expect, she didn’t recognize symptoms of high altitude sickness, had no idea how to climb on ice, and didn’t understand the exhaustion that came with climbing eight hours in the night.

“The key to being a good high altitude mountaineer is having a bad experience and being able to put it behind you,” Suzie shared. With every mountain she climbs there are bad times, but focusing on the positive is what makes her keep wanting to go back. When you try something new for the first time, make sure your focus is on the positive and not on what makes the challenge difficult.

Just Go to Learn More

While doing her PhD, Suzie didn’t have a lot of money to develop mountaineering skills. Her strategy was to save up money and climb another mountain as soon as possible. This time she chose a non-technical mountain, so she could learn the skills of dealing with high altitude sickness and spending weeks on a mountain.

Learning what it takes to survive a climb is an essential skill for a mountaineer and that’s what Suzie learned by experience with each climb she did. Suzie related, “Determination and not giving up is what gets you through in the end.”

When It’s Out of Your Hands

When you’re fairly new to a certain type of expedition, it’s difficult to prepare for all the unexpected. During one of Suzie’s first climbs, she didn’t eat enough food because she’d lost her sense of hunger. Climbing all day while carrying a heavy kit made Suzie lose a lot of weight. For the next trip, Suzie researched what kind of calories she needed and was much better prepared.

Climbing Denali without a guide was another challenge Suzie took on. Because there wasn’t a guide along to help, Suzie and her partner had lots of extra equipment in case anything went wrong. That extra weight made climbing in the freezing cold even more difficult but was worth it in the end. Due to bad weather, Suzie and her partner were stuck in their tent for 12 days.

Suzie shared that you do everything you can to prepare and plan for the worst case scenario. If that happens, at least you have a plan in mind. When the truly unexpected comes your way, it’s out of your hands. Her best advice is to try and stay healthy throughout the challenge so you’re ready for anything.

Bring All Relevant Skills

After climbing for several months, Suzie was invited to be a part of a BBC programme to see if she had what it takes to become an astronaut. A memorable experience from the programme was spinning in a centrifuge and feeling what it would feel like to be in a rocket going to space. While in the centrifuge, Suzie was asked to read Russian words. To Suzie, this was an exciting new way to challenge both her mind and her body.

Throughout all the trying processes testing her ability to be an astronaut, Suzie’s mountaineering experience paid off. Being tested day after day in an uncertain environment was very much like being in the mountains. You get more and more exhausted and still have to be sharp mentally. Suzie already had skills of resilience, coping under pressure, and that’s what they were testing.

No matter what challenge you’re embarking on, remember all the important skills you’ve developed in your life already. Your ability to be creative, work with a team, or push your body that much further can make a huge difference in any expedition.

Work Hard When You’re Not Doing Well

Suzie ended up winning the BBC competition and proved she has what it takes to become an astronaut. When the European Space Agency opens their applications, she has a recommendation. After this experience, Suzie Initiated a massive outreach program and has since then spoken to over 10,000 children about being a scientist, what it takes to be an astronaut, and developing life skills.

Looking back on the many adventures Suzie has embarked on, it’s clear that she’s taken every opportunity someone handed her and done everything she could possibly achieve. While many of us are afraid of failure, persistence and hard work even when you’re not doing well is what it takes to develop those skills. Suzie shared the parting words of advice, “Don’t be afraid to do something even if you don’t know how. Years of dedication is what it takes.”


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