It’s bad enough that others are in the constant business of informing us- rightly or wrongly- of what we can’t possibly do. Complete that PhD, become a doctor, run a marathon, climb a tough mountain.
It’s much worse when we have decided that we can’t, often without any real justification, proof or reason. Now, look, if you’re a quadriplegic, you’re not likely to run a marathon. However, it’s the secret of a great many highly accomplished people that they are driven more by their limitations than their advantages.
Just last November I made my way, with the aid of the uber-competent team at eTrip Africa (https://www.etripafrica.com/), to the top of Mt. Kenya. It was almost five years to the day that the same outfit accompanied me to the top of Kilimanjaro, which in many ways- despite being nearly three thousand feet higher- was one hell of a lot easier. This trip busted my ass. I turn 66 in January.
Back in July of this year I told Ben I’d be happy to give Mt. Kenya a try. He put together a team, and we headed up the hill in the rain. It was spring, the roads were a clay morass, and we made our way through bearded rocks, bamboo forests and extraordinary foliage right out of a sci-fi movie. The rain pounded us at times, and right away my Goretex, guaranteed-dry Merrill hiking boots were soaked as though I’d been wading in the ocean. Such is adventure.
In the Fall 2017 issue of Canada’s Explore Magazine, our northern neighbor’s version of Outside, the editors compiled a list of 150 experiences all Canadians should experience in celebration of their birthday. #134 is Tell someone there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. Hear hear, folks. I can attest. I had shoes, a water reservoir and Goretex gaiters fail badly. However, none of that slowed me down. Part of the adventure is first, have backups (well, for most things, like BOOTS, thank you Lowa) and pack one hell of a good sense of humor.
Sh*t will happen.
Two steps out of our van the day we started I got swarmed when I stood on an ant hill (https://medium.com/@jhubbel/ants-in-your-pants-try-these-on-for-size-4351e58cec6b). The hilarity- and pain- that ensued bonded us as a group. Laughter in the face of adversity goes a long way not only towards getting you through but also establishing trust with your crew.
The remarkable Kyle Maynard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyle_Maynard) has climbed not only Kili, as have I, but also Acongagua, in South America. He’s a quadriplegic, and he didn’t use prostheses or a wheel chair. Limitations? I’d warrant you. But don’t talk to Maynard about his limitations. He uses them as motivation. I may gripe about the newly discovered arthritis in my left hip that barks at me when I head out for my runs and workouts. But I have all my limbs. Maynard doesn’t, and he still heads to the top of the world.
A fellow Medium.com writer mentioned the book Stretch (https://www.amazon.com/Stretch-Unlock-Power-Achieve-Imagined-ebook/dp/B01FQQ6EMU/ref=sr_1_3_twi_kin_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540990194&sr=1-3&keywords=stretch), which I bought to read on one of the endless car rides you inevitably have in Africa. The author, Scott Sonenshein, makes a potent argument that the less we have, the fewer resources, the more likely we are to achieve in life.
This goes against conventional wisdom, and it most assuredly doesn’t move the economy forward. The assumption is always that if I am going to put a nail in the wall, I HAVE to have a hammer.
Really? Ever find yourself somewhere that you couldn’t possibly get your hands on one? That a rock, or a strong flashlight had to do the trick? Welcome to the world of high achievers. This is the diamond in their pockets. Limitations. Lack. Nothing available. Oh yeah? Watch. Or spend time around the uber, uber poor, as I do, who have nothing to begin with, and make things work with chicken wire and discarded plastic products.
So often, we argue that we can’t do this, that or the other because we don’t have the money, we’re too old, oh the list is endless. We have to have this tool, that degree, this car, that bank account. We have to be young to do X.
Bullsh*t. What pure unadulterated bullsh*t.
The argument that we have to be loaded for bear before we begin an endeavor denies the simple reality that more of us try harder when we have less than when we have everything we need- including vastly too much time.
Here’s what I mean. When I was in my early thirties, I threw on a backpack and ended up hitchhiking all over Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Four years total. I had minimal money (I found ways to earn money), minimal resources. I made it work. You get immensely creative. After I got back, after learning to fly ultralights, diving the Great Barrier Reef (when there still was one) and a great many other adventures, friends of mine claimed with all sincerity that they were gonna do that someday. Go see roos just off the road, dive the Reef. Yah. Uh-huh.
The decades stretched out in front of them with all the promise of a million grand adventures ahead. Too much time.
Fast forward 35 years. Not a single one of those people ever got out of the country, much less had an adventure. Too many years, too many options, and today, too many are so out of shape or downright ill, that their options have narrowed considerably. Doesn’t mean that they still can’t do something, but now their argument, predictably, is that they’re too old, too infirm.
Blah blah blah. Hey look. Whatever you want to be right about, have at it. However just because YOU choose to embrace your reasons why not doesn’t give you the right to harangue those of us who are out there living an epic life, whatever that happens to entail for us.
You can be invested in what you can’t do (whatever it’s your dream to do). Write a novel, your memoir. Sell the car and travel the world. Who cares- whatever it is that moves your soul. You can be absolutely right about how it’s impossible. You couldn’t climb Kilimanjaro. Hey look, five years ago I said that too, after just having had knee surgery. A good friend got in my face and called me on my bullsh*t. When I hung up I contacted Ben and we put it on the menu. That decision changed the entire direction of the rest of my life.
You can be right about how you can’t possibly do that.
Or you can bloody well MacGyver yourself a real life. The point is that if you buy the bull that you have to have all your resources, all the gear, and loads of money-whatever you think you have to have- you will also be able to manufacture a slew of reasons for why you have to save a little more, wait a little longer. Then it never happens.
I had multiple, potentially dangerous gear failures up the mountain. You learn to deal. You learn to figure things out- especially when your survival is at risk. This is the beauty of what I do. I am no extreme survivor. However, the kinds of chances I take have often put me into situations where I had to get enormously creative. Not only have I survived, but I also thrived, and as a result learned how to do much much more with much less. I am also wise enough to surround myself with very, very good people, so that if I do indeed get in a bind, there is a support system.
This is true in business, too. Let’s consider one of the most remarkable American success stories: Madame C. J. Walker, the first self-made woman millionaire of any race (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam_C._J._Walker. At a time when Black women were considered less than human, and Walker (1867–1919) was cut out of nearly every opportunity, she built a hair care empire out of pennies. She created jobs for Black people that brought them unbelievable wealth not only compared to their Black counterparts but also for the wealthy of her day. She had nearly NOTHING. Her sheer determination to better her circumstances, and those of her people, especially Black women, transformed her life and the lives of thousands.
She had nothing, and she rose to become our first female millionaire.
Forgive me for pointing this out, but what’s your excuse? The man keeping you down? What do you think it was like for Mme. Walker? I am in awe of what she did. She blows most of today’s entrepreneurs right out of the water.
Every year I set another BHAG, if for no other reason than to force me to stay in shape. At nearly 66, I deal with several disabilities. I get debilitating migraines, I’m a bona fide hemophiliac, I just got diagnosed with arthritis in my hip. I’ve had twenty- yes TWENTY- concussions. Yet I skydive, bungee jump, horseback ride, cycle, MTB, lift weights, climb mountains, kayak and every year I take on a new sport. Part of my motivation is that if stop moving, I hurt. Period. As long as I’m moving I feel like a million bucks. The other is that the epic stuff that I take on teaches me that I can, not that I can’t. This doesn’t argue that I don’t understand my limitations. What it does argue is that I recognize them, and then ask what that limitation can teach me. How can I rise above it, and do what I want anyway?
These things teach me to be enormously grateful for what I do have, for it is endless. It’s the same resource that we all have at our beck and call: faith, and humor, and endless possibilities.
Limitations and lack are the mothers of invention. Ben at eTrip and I are already discussing my fourth trip in winter of 2020, which will entail scuba diving off the coast of Africa on a little-known island and returning to Kenya to ride horses in their gorgeous animal preserves. I’ll be 67. So what? I’ll work my butt off to be prepared. That’s all I can do. Nobody can guarantee me tomorrow, any more than this trip guaranteed me a summit. Yet there I was, on top of the world.
I’m not rich, by any means. I am no trust fund baby. But I am rich in skills, and determination, and discipline. I am rich in creativity borne of pushing myself past my limitations. I know how to stretch, as it were. What I do teaches me what’s possible, rather than putting emphasis on the doors that will inevitably close as I age. I worry far less about aging than I do about an overly spicy horse, which has already cost me a broken back. But hey, I was back on a horse in a few months. And did a lot of galloping on Madagascar beaches after I finished my Mt. Kenya climb. You learn what you can do.
As we motor well into New Year’s Resolutions territory (and please, I no longer bother, there are too many ongoing projects and goals for me to write yet another list), let me throw down a gauntlet. What do you want to be right about? What you can’t do, or what you can?
Because either way you’re right.
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