Have you ever wondered how come some people make so little with so much in their lives, and others make so much with so little?
Whilst participating in an 11-day ultra-marathon in China, running through part of the Gobi Desert, world-renowned German athlete Stephan Schlect panted a profound thing to me; “For some people, a crisis in their life stops them living- and for others, it starts them living..!
As I was growing up, I thought there were two kinds of people in life; happy people (with no problems), and unhappy people (with problems). Then I realised that we all experience problems in life, and that our happiness and quality of life is not so much dependent on our circumstances, but on our response to them!
I am blind, having lost my sight some 40 years ago to a genetic, hereditary eye disease. As my sight decreased, so did my quality of life, and I resigned myself to the fact that I could never again be really fulfilled, really happy, due to my sight loss.
Then an amazing thing happened! My brother Geoff, also blind through the same problem, set sail in his yacht from Durban, South Africa for Fremantle, Western Australia…totally blind and totally alone. Fifty-one days and 4,300 miles later, via the Southern Ocean, Roaring Forties and 5 days in a Force 10 gale (which almost took his life) he became the first and only blind person in world history to have sailed across an ocean solo…
Everybody, including his friends, told him it was impossible. But it wasn’t impossible- it just hadn’t been done before…
I realised then that I had made a number of wrong assumptions about life.
For one thing, 20/20 vision was not the secret of happiness, or everybody with good sight would be driving around grinning like Cheshire cats! And they don’t!
I also realised that, although I had no control over my blindness, I did have control over my RESPONSE to it- and this revelation made a world of difference!
Louis Braille was blinded at the age of 3, playing with a spiked instrument. Many years later he invented the Braille alphabet, giving back to millions of blind people the ability to read once again. Do you know what he used to make the raised dots on the paper?! The very same spike instrument that blinded him was used to give sight to millions of others..!
I first perceived my blindness as a terrible handicap- a barrier preventing me from achieving things in life. Now, by changing my attitude towards my blindness, it has become a passport, enabling me to achieve many things I probably would never have done with perfect sight.
Now, I am not in any way suggesting my blindness equates to the very harrowing, life-threatening circumstances of others, but I am convinced that, for you as well as them, your life is still full of choices, and your quality of life will be determined, not so much by your circumstances, but by your response to them!
Well, let me share with you a few life lessons I have started to learn in recent years.
1. Expect the unexpected: –
Things don’t always go your way in life- things get a bit “pear shaped”- the wheels fall off, so to speak.
Read the biographies of people who have achieved great things in their lives, and you will find that they all experienced adverse circumstances, but they learnt to deal with them, and keep going!
A wonderful, encouraging Danish Proverb goes like this;
“Life does not consist so much in holding a good hand (of cards), but in playing a poor hand well”.
We can bellyache and complain about the unfairness of life, or we can make the most of our circumstances. Remember- your quality of life and happiness has a lot more to do with attitude than circumstances…-“
2. Never give up: –
It is simply amazing how much you can achieve by just keeping going, as long as you are pointing in the right direction! I have had so many times recently when my body has wanted me to stop;
climbing the frozen scree slopes of Kilimanjaro at 19,000 feet in the icy moonlight, crossing Antarctica, exhausted by pulling a loaded sledge over big sastrugi (ice ridges) when I couldn’t see them coming, crossing the Sahara, Gobi or Qatar Deserts; running in the Siberian Ice Marathon, running through Death Valley with temperatures 137 Fahrenheit in the shade… it has seemed so easy to stop, and so hard to keep going, but Jon Cook, my sighted guide, and myself have learnt over and over and over again, that you can keep going long after you think you just can’t go another step, either physically or mentally.
Another fantastic quote I love comes from T.E. Elliott “Only he who is willing to risk going too far will discover how far it is possible to go”
I learnt this quote from Major Jay Turner of the Royal Engineers when, accompanied by3 others, we set off to attempt setting a world record by crossing the 200 kilometres of the Qatar Desert non-stop and unsupported. This meant that we would not stop to sleep until we reached the other side, and we would be self-sufficient, dragging more than a third of a ton of water and supplies behind us through deep sand with temperatures up to 40 Centigrade, and humidity sometimes rising over 50%. We started on a Tuesday morning at 10.00 hours, and reached the other side of the desert on Friday evening at 16.30 hours- some 78.5 hours later. How did we do it? One step at a time, pointing in the right direction, and just not giving up.
3. Dream, decide, plan, persevere: –
This is a basic life plan I often refer to. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you can apply these to your life.
In brief summary;
(a) Dream big to achieve big I’ve never met a person who has dreamed small and achieved big things!
(b) Decide- your dreams remain just that, until you make a decision to make them happen. Just start telling your friends your decision, and start acting on it!
© Plan- “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”; “plan your work, and work your plan”. Simple stuff, hey?!
(d) Persevere- expect the unexpected; don’t give up- when circumstances change, adapt your plan, but keep your goal!
4. The Circle of Life: –
Draw an imaginary circle around yourself. This represents everything you have done with your life to date. Many people tell me their life is monotonous, that they are unfulfilled, stuck in a rut, so to speak.
Whilst participating in the Marathon Des Sables, requiring competitors to run five-and-a-half marathons in 6 days across the Sahara Desert carrying all their food, equipment and supplies on their back, Jon my sighted guide read me a legend embroidered on the rucksack of a French runner; “He who is not willing to RISK going BEYOND his limits should not complain about the mediocrity of his existence”! Wow! That hit me!
Listen to this! “If you keep doing what you have always done, you will get what you have always got”!
Basically, you need to get into the ROUTINE of stepping outside your circle, attempting things you have never done before. Sure it is stressful- change usually is, but, in order to achieve new things in your life, this is the only logical route open to you! Let me tell you something I find simply amazing! Whenever you step outside the circle, and do something new, the circle grows bigger and reforms around you- you never need to step back into it. Listen! As soon as you do something new, it is no longer new, as now you have done it, experienced it, and it is part of your enlarged life! That is logical, isn’t it?!
When we went to Antarctica, it was the first time a blind person had attempted to manhaul a sledge to the South Pole, and we did not know what to expect, or how I could be guided in crevassed areas, or in a blizzard or whiteout. We were stepping out of the circle, so to speak, attempting something that we knew could be done- it just hadn’t been done yet!
I distinctly remember waking up in our tent one somewhat nippy morning, brushing whore frost off my outer sleeping bag and thinking “Miles, you are still alive, and all of this is very normal and ordinary now!”
What had happened?! I had stepped out of the circle, but the circle had then re-formed around me as soon as that new experience became part of my life…
Listen! Stepping out of your circle, attempting new things, is the way to broaden and enrich your life, to achieve your dreams! And it’s not nearly as difficult as you think it is- just dream, decide, plan and persevere, and you will surprise yourself in a huge way with the results!
Did you know that everybody in this world who has achieved anything significant or unusual started out as an ordinary person like you or I, and they simply decided to do something that had not been done before, or that they had not done before. It’s not half as difficult as you think it is!
5. Have a lot of fun in life!:
Life is serious enough, without you and I adding to it, isn’t it?!
I’m a great believer that it’s a waste of time bellyaching about things we can’t change in our lives!
As they say, if you don’t like something, change it, and if you can’t change it, change your attitude to it!
I think I am happier and more fulfilled in my life right now than I have ever been before, despite my blindness.
Fulfilment, after all, is the product of achievement, not inactivity, and I now focus on all the things I can do, rather than regret the things I can no longer do. You should do the same!
I think that having a sense of humour, and being able to laugh at yourself and your situation at times is an essential attribute if we are going to fulfil our potential in life!
Hey! Lighten up a bit! For example, even when my sighted guide and I are stuck in a snow storm half way up a mountain, roped together, we can still see the funny side of it, like me leading the pitch, since we are both “blind” as a result, giving him a break from leading me!
6. The importance of friendship/teamwork:
I can only live the big dreams in my life through help from others with different attributes and abilities to myself- like being able to see, for example!
On all my expeditions there has been mutual respect, trust and friendship amongst the team, apart from a common goal.
If you want to have a good friend in life, be willing to be a good friend to someone else…
7. Your attitude to “failure”: –
Do you know that so many people around us are afraid of trying something new, in case they do not succeed the first time? Silly attitude! We all know about Michael Schumacher, World Formula One champion.
Do you know how he got there? Through the process of losing more races than he won over the years, but learning from every race he lost. Take the risk of winning! At the end of my life, I will be more concerned about the things I have not attempted, rather than those I have! My definition of a winner is simply someone who gets up one more time than they fall down.
Don’t let your past determine your future- you may have failed in the past, but there is no reason you cannot succeed in the future! Get up, and do it again!
You, whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, are an amazing person, with untapped potential. Look at your opportunities, not your limitations. Remember, in most cases, the only limits in your life are those you choose to accept yourself! Your quality of life, as I keep on telling you, is determined, not so much by your circumstances, but by your response to them..!
Dream, decide, plan, persevere…
Let me leave you with a few of my favourite quotes…
“He who says it is impossible should not interrupt he who is doing it” (Chinese Proverb)
“Only he who is willing to risk going too far will discover how far it is possible to go” (T.E. Elliott)
“Life does not consist in holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well”
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous dreamers, for they may act their dream with open eyes, that they may fulfil their dreams!
(Lawrence of Arabia)
We can all be dangerous dreamers…