Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts on Antarctic Explorers and Greatness

"WANTED: Men for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success."
Such was the advertisement placed in a London newspaper in 1912, by Ernest Shackleton, a British Antarctic explorer.

My question is: Who on earth would respond to such an advertisement?  Small wages, harsh conditions, imminent death... The only positive thing in this ad is a dubious hope for honour if success is achieved, which is not likely by the sounds of it.

There's something in us that longs to live a life of greatness, isn't there?  Who aspires to mediocrity?  We may fall into it, but I doubt there is anyone who intends to live a life that makes no difference and leaves no mark on the world.

I'm sure there are countless studies on what constitutes greatness and how to achieve it, and I won't add to the wealth of academic studies.  I do, however, want to note a few characteristics that stand out among the "great" men and women I know:
  • They were willing to take great risks.
  • They went against modern thinking, conventions and even wisdom at times.
  • They failed many times before they succeeded.
  • They never gave up.
These are characteristics we admire - once success is achieved.  When a person or group of people is in the middle of trying and failing, however, we often discourage them, count them as "foolish" or even laugh at the absurdity of their ideas/efforts.

I have to wonder... if we believe in others as much as we believe in ourselves - if we encourage them and believe that success is possible no matter what challenges arise - if we are open to new ideas and "absurd" ways of doing things... of what great achievements will the world be able to boast?

The potential for greatness lies in each one of us.


Elisabeth said...

Oh, Annie! You are speaking my heart right now. I LOVE this. Especially the part about going against wisdom and having failure on the road. I get so paralyzed by the fear to fail that I forget how normal it is. Thank you for that!!!:)

Anna said...

I just read a book entitled "Geeks in the Kitchen", which is about the actual science behind cooking. In it, the author said that fear of failure is largely an American phenomenon (although I'm sure it plagues many Western cultures) and is due to the fact that we are bombarded by images of perfection - Photoshopped people, perfect-looking food, etc. Consequently we don't want to try anything because we fear that nothing we produce could ever look like the photos we see... which is true, but....

The truly great men and women throughout history failed time and time and time again. They just kept going until they finally hit success. Many of them persevered with the world laughing in their faces, too (which really grieves me and was rather the point of this blog: that we only value risk, etc. after the success and not in the middle of the trying and failing).

I was just as inspired by Ernest Shackleton, although, I have to admit that antarctic exploration is not something I would endeavour to undertake!

Keep trying. Keep failing. And hold your head high throughout. I believe in you.

Elisabeth said...

I believe totally, absolutely, and 100% in you, too!