On December 26th, 2018, Colin O’Brady became the first person in history to cross the Antarctica continent solo, unaided by wind, and unsupported in any way. Through 932 miles, he encountered some of the harshest, bleakest terrain only to make the final push on the 53rd day—over 77 miles— in a little over a day. As O’Brady would later say about that last surge in a telephone interview, “I just felt locked in for the last 32 hours, like a deep flow state. I didn’t listen to music— just locked in, like I’m going until I’m done. It was profound, it was beautiful…”
In reading the gripping, raw book about this journey, one can’t help imagine what it would have been like to spend almost two months alone, without heat and direct human comfort, in a place that is as seemingly inhospitable as anywhere on earth. And yet repeatedly, through trying circumstances, Colin seemed to unlock a more unconscionable level of grit, gratitude, and perseverance than one could imagine.
In reading stories like this, it is interesting to note that we as human beings seem to have one of three primary responses. The first is what I will call the “That’s crazy” response. It is one in which a person immediately reacts to the particular actions of an individual in a way that (often unintentionally) denigrates the accomplishment as one born out of insanity and stupidity. When this happens, it is often followed by an immediate disregard for what has occurred, thus ending any further potential for reflection or insight.
The second common response is what I will term “irrelevance.” When this occurs, one might find himself or herself amazed at what a person did, but is quick to note that he or she “is cut from a completely different cloth than I.” In other words, this reaction somewhat recognizes the remarkable achievement, but in essence discounts that this holds any relevance in that person’s life, due to such factors as temperament, physicality, circumstances, resources, or other.
The final response to an accomplishment is one that I will term “curiosity with the potential for inspiration.” When someone reacts this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he sees the achievement as something he would ever emulate, or even that he necessarily sees it as perfectly sane or without serious risk or potential misgiving, but rather that he perceives it as something that could help him grow and find joy in his own life. In this situation, the person foregoes an initial judgement of insanity or irrelevance, but instead asks the question “I wonder if there is something to learn” from what this other person did.
Years ago, I was watching a news feature that documented the only unsolved high jacking case (at the time) in United States history. As the show was coming to an end, the narrator said something unexpected that has “stuck with me” since this time. In a paraphrased way, he said that although the actions of this individual were extremely dangerous and illegal, each of us, if we are honest, would like to channel some of the courage it took to pull this off. Now, some of you reading this may think that I (for repeating this) and the narrator (for saying it) have both lost our minds. But to clarify my analogy, his point wasn’t that the hijacker’s actions weren’t both insane and exploitive, the point was that if used for good, the fortitude it took to make it happen, which included jumping out of the plane before it landed, would all be something we would like to channel effectively (and lovingly) in our own daily lives.
Which takes us back to the story of Colin O’Brady. To be clear, even after reading this tremendous adventure, I have no inklings of an arctic exploration in my future, for many different reasons. But, I do believe that in reading about this adventure, I am challenged to consider just how many things that he experienced are relevant in my own daily life, one that starts (almost all mornings) with waking up in a comfortable, heated room and ends in the same place. And although it might seem a little scary and daunting to acknowledge this, as it might impel me to consider how I need to be open to influence and changes that will challenge me in ways I am not inclined, there is one great thing to consider. I think that Colin could benefit from knowing my story, and yours, too.
See, in the end, the message of all of this is that each of our lives is infinitely valuable and informative of the other, if we so chose to be open to it. In both our stark differences and deeply-embedded similarities, we find ourselves inextricably linked to each other. Even when one of us is in the middle of an arctic wasteland and the other is sitting comfortably in an office chair, typing away. But so, so often, we miss out on these golden opportunities not only to grow as human beings, but to grow in each other. In my world, I call these opportunities “touch points” and I believe they happen every day. “Touch points” are the various moments that we encounter individuals and experiences, each having the potential to lead us to a greater sense of understanding, well-being, purpose, and connection.
Yet in most of these situations, we are unaware of the potential that lies behind the veil of this interaction. Little do we know that there are people living and breathing all around us who hold secrets to the troubles that we have. Little do we know that there are people walking and working near us who have insights and experiences that could unlock a door that has long been closed. Little do we know that the person we just saw has been through the harshest, most unforgiving wasteland and come back with lessons of life and resiliency that could benefit us all. Why? Because in our own lives, we repeatedly neglect to allow for curiosity before judgement, openness before closure, and possibility before failure. Yet for as long as we remain breathing, a feat—a story— of any kind can remind us to just at least consider the impossible first, and anything less second.