Leslie Wexner: I think God helps those that help themselves, as I remember my bubbe — my grandmother — saying. In the same crucible period, maybe in my 40s — which is another story — I was in Aspen, or Vail rather. I’d go out in the summer like boot camp by myself to think and read, and it was always a struggle because I enjoyed the exercise, I enjoyed getting away from work and just being by myself in that atmosphere.
I liked looking at the mountains and thinking big thoughts. And by happenstance I decided one summer that I’d climb Vail Mountain. That’s not a technical climb, but you’re going from about 7,500 feet to 11-and-a-half thousand. So it’s a good walk. I got in shape for it by jogging a mile, two miles, five miles. By the end of two weeks I was in pretty good shape to jog — I think it was about 10 or 15 miles.
So I drove to town, parked my jeep, and just walked up the damn mountain. And along the way a big thunderstorm came up, and I didn’t want to go back because I was about two-thirds up the mountain and I was never in danger. So it was some thunder, some lightning, but I said I had this objective I’m going to climb the mountain. I get to the top, and I remember it so vividly, standing on the top of Vail Mountain. I’m looking on one side and it’s dark and cloudy and the rumble of the thunder. In the other direction it’s just blue skies and sunshine. I’m thinking I’ve got to remember this.
I start walking down the hill, and I said to myself, “What if I slipped and fell?” I could have broken a leg, I could have broken an arm. No one knew I was there.
It wasn’t a traffic place. I could have had hypothermia. I could have died. I could have been hit by lightning and all this stuff. So I’m thinking that. And then I’m thinking, “Okay, when you get to the bottom, you ought to get yourself a treat. Is it an ice cream cone or do you have a beer?” And I said, “Gee, I could have killed myself.” I didn’t take any water. I didn’t take a jacket. I was really naïve about being in that kind of geography, completely unprepared, not even taking a bottle of water or telling somebody where I was. Nobody even knew that I went out into kind of the wilderness.
And I said, “I wonder, if I had died, what would have happened?” And I said it would really be a catastrophe for my mom. My dad had just passed away. She depended on me. This would really be tough. Then I got to thinking, “What would people say about you when you’re gone?” Which really to me was a very important question. I thought about that for a couple of years and said, “What people say about you when you’re gone doesn’t matter. You’re gone.” What really matters is, “What do you say about yourself in the here and now? Are you proud of what you’re doing?” If you had a short lease and it ended today, or it ends tomorrow, what would you wish you would have done? You better do it, because you could fall out of the sky, you could have an illness, you could have an accident. And then it was at least five years of looking for purpose.