“I love it when things are hard and hate it when things are easy.” You read this correctly. This was the mindset of the great Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. He was often heard saying this. Shackleton was one of the greatest polar explorers who ever lived, having made his hallmark expedition in 1914 when he led 28 people into the Antarctic, attempting the first ever trans-continental crossing on foot. The expedition went wrong from the start and Shackleton led his people for nearly 2 years to safety in 1916.
People often ask me why I’m such a fan of the Antarctic and why I decided to run multiple marathons there. It is because of Shackleton and the kind of person and leader he was. Think about it. Don’t you really want to work for someone and a company that will push you to your limits? Don’t you want to engage all of your talents and make a difference and not just a living? I think inherently, most people would say yes to those questions. I think the best workers are those who find a statement like Shackleton’s very magnetic, as they know that they will be pushed and tested to their limits. It will force them to acquire new skills, try new things and take calculated risks. Deep down, my contention is that we all want this from one degree to another.
That is why in 2005, I made the decision to go to the Antarctic, and to a small degree, follow in the footsteps of my Antarctic heroes who preceded me 100 years ago. To prepare for such an arduous task, I trained in a commercial freezer in San Diego for months. Because the freezer was only fifty-nine feet long, I had to go back and forth, and back and forth, and so on, in order to run many miles. People could not believe that I could withstand the monotony of back and forth for hours with no scenery change, no ipod, and no contact with the outside world. This monotony and repetition was to my advantage, as I thought to myself, “if I can withstand this for hours, how much easier will it be when I get into the real thing.” That is exactly what happened. The marathon I ran in the Antarctic took me 7 hours and 15 min. The 100km I ran a year later took 17 hours 16 minutes. The hours seemed like minutes, as all the training in the freezer paid off.
I learned very quickly that I had the ability to change my paradigm and definition of difficulty. I knew that if I could run a marathon in a commercial freezer, running back and forth just fifty-nine feet at a time before turning around, I could for sure make in the real setting of Antarctica. Because I had conditioned my mind by continuous and consistent monotony, I saw the challenge in front of me as much easier and achievable because, in my mind, I changed my picture, paradigm, and definition of difficulty. A marathon now seems like a long training run and not such an insurmountable task.
Facing difficulty head on and voluntarily engaging in what I call “intentional difficulty” has many benefits including changing what you see in front of you and redefining what difficulty is and is not. It is a powerful lesson for all of us and a very worthwhile endeavor.