This past week I checked out a documentary at the library that looked interesting. Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? I do all the time and this one looked pretty good. It was called Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure and it was amazing.
In 40 minutes it tells the story of Sir Earnest Shackleton, a polar explorer who set out to cross Antarctica on foot 100 years ago.
His wooden ship, The Endurance, carried 26 men plus himself and almost immediately after leaving South Georgia Island the voyage ran into trouble--the ship got caught in the ice and was frozen solid in an ice floe.
I won't give away all the details of the story but Shackleton's journey is considered by many to be the supreme feat of human endurance and remains unparalleled today. It's one of those stories where you wonder how people could survive to do what they did and how one person could make such a difference. Very inspiring.
Anyway, if you like great cinematography and an epic story then you ought to see if your own library has a copy--I think it was originally created as an IMAX movie and it's narrated by Kevin Spacey.
Out of curiosity I looked a little farther into Shackleton's history and found a few interesting pieces of information. It appears that he was one of those individuals that was constantly looking for the next get rich quick scheme. Not in a shady way necessarily but always looking for the fastest path to fame and riches.
It spoke of his boundless ambition and charisma but he was not someone who was terribly successful by today's standards. Financially he was a mess. One has to wonder what his family life was like, being gone on expeditions and being lost on ice floes tends to dilute the matrimonial strength you know? And after his most famous adventure in 1917 he began to drink heavily, eventually dying of a heart attack before ever discovering or exploring anything of importance on his own.
In fact his colleague, Captain Scott, with whom he sailed on an earlier Antarctic voyage, was the real hero of the day with much more popularity and commemoration than Shackleton ever received. Dying in relative obscurity Shackleton wasn't anyone of particular note until recently when motivational speakers and executive training programs discovered his story and have turned it to their advantage as an example of strong, courageous leadership and a "people first" mentality that is becoming so vogue in business circles.
But what I find interesting about Shackleton's story isn't his hipster executive leadership skills (I doubt he saw himself that way at all) but instead how different his day is from ours.
When Shackleton looked for recruits for his 1914-1917 voyage he put up a notice that read:
Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.
I can't help but wonder what it says about us as a people who have redefined the word "risk" to mean "the possibility of losing money." We've tried so desperately to remove danger from life--war should be free from casualties, every piece of property should be insured against loss, and no smart person should do anything without a waiver--that I can't help but think the process has removed more than just the threat of physical harm from our experience.
I'd prefer to live a life free from pain of course--who doesn't?--but facing physical danger and hardship strengthens the character and digging down inside and doing something brave and uncomfortable and risky makes you face yourself. If we're constantly trying to find the easy way, that path of least resistance we're probably missing out on unique opportunities for growth.
I guess I'm saying that we've become very, very soft. We panic about the economy in a time of record abundance, we gripe about our portfolios and not being able to retire at 65 when our grandparents expected to be dead at 65, we whine about the weather when we can get in the car and drive to the beach. We look at physical dangers--from pesticides in our food to every minute carcinogen on the market today--as things to be systematically eradicated regardless of time or cost while all the while we're running to therapists and doctors trying to be happy.
What would Shackleton think of us?
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