A TED Talk A Day, Day 8: In hiking to the South Pole and back, Ben Saunders and his partner set a record for the longest human-powered polar journey, beating the previous mark by over 400 miles. None of the previous 9 people in history who had attempted a round-trip journey survived.

They dragged their supplies with them (over 200kg at the start), and after reaching the comforts of the South Pole, where there is an permanent outpost, they turned around, and worked their way back.

It’s an unusual TED talk in that it’s story shared rather than a pitch made, but all the same there is a wisdom in his experience that we can learn from.

  1. His talk might not be about sequencing genomes, but is about “giving everything we had to achieve something that hadn’t been done before.”
  2. Saunders wrote in sponsorship documents about “pushing the limits for human endurance”, but he admits it was a frightening place to be. On the journey back they faced headwinds and had to cut their rations to extend their supply, and as a result they were hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) most of the time, and had repeated bouts of hypothermia…and then they ran out of food 46 miles before one of the depots of food they laid.
  3. Journeys change us beyond words — “If I’m honest, Antarctica challenged me and humbled me so deeply that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put it into words. I’m still struggling to piece together my thoughts. That I’m standing here telling this story is proof that we all can accomplish great things, through ambition, through passion, through sheer stubbornness, by refusing to quit, that if you dream something hard enough, as Sting said, it does indeed come to pass. But I’m also standing here saying, you know what, that cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? There’s something in that. The closer I got to my finish line, that rubbly, rocky coast of Ross Island, the more I started to realise that the biggest lesson that this very long, very hard walk might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line, that for us humans, the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable, and that if we can’t feel content here, today, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit, the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists, the could-do-better-next-times, then we might never feel it.” [emphasis mine]

Suggested action step: I will pursue difficult things as long as I believe in them (that’s actually happening right now). I will remember that the juice in life comes from the journey, the doing — so I will decide things less because of the result, but because of the places I will pass.