Alison Levine: Fight through complacency for success

Tue, 03/02/2010

Alison Levine. (Special to the Register)

For those in need of a motivational wake-up call, this is for you:

“Complacency leads to extinction.”

Those four words may be pretty tough to hear, but they have become a mantra for mountaineer and motivational speaker Alison Levine.

Wednesday, the 43-year-old will speak at the Civic Center as part of the 2010 Smart Talk Connected Conversation Series. A limited number of tickets starting at $50 will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Civic Center Ticket Office beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Levine was leading a successful career at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street when she first heard that phrase.

“It’s one of the firm’s 14 business principles that every employee is expected to live and breathe by,” Levine said in an e-mail interview from her home in San Francisco.

Levine always had an adventurous spirit and a go-getter attitude. She was born with a heart condition, Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, that prevented her from doing simple things like walking up stairs and driving a car. But after surgery helped her conquer her physical ailment in 1996, her determination only grew.

Levine holds an MBA from Duke University and served as deputy finance director for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 California gubernatorial campaign.


And along with climbing corporate ladders, she began scaling mountains — literally.

She developed a passion for mountaineering in 1998. In 2002, six years after heart surgery, she became the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition.

That four-word principle Levine learned at an investment firm grew especially real as she climbed Everest. Her talk Wednesday will revolve around how lessons learned on the world’s highest mountains helped her navigate through everyday situations.

“The first time I realized that complacency really could kill me was when I was navigating through an

Levine in action. (Special to the Register)

area on Mount Everest called the Khumbu Icefall,” she said.

Many accidents occur on these Nepali slopes because ice blocks fall on a regular basis and gaping crevasses can open with little warning.

“When you are climbing through it you must move very quickly and you never stand still because you are in constant danger of being crushed by collapsing ice. Staying still is dangerous,” she said.

Even if you are not setting out to climb a mountain, Levine has some advice for you.

“If you have ever wondered about something — a sport, an activity, a hobby, a talent — don’t just read about it or talk about it or watch movies about it. Go out and do it,” she said.

“I used to read stories about adventurer and explorers. Then one day the light bulb went off and I thought to myself, ‘Hey…If I really want to know what it was like for Italian explorer Reinhold Messner to reach the South Pole on skis, well … I better get my (butt) on over to Antarctica!’”