How a 1915 shipwreck can teach us to live with hope today.
Any hope for survival seemed impossible. The team of 28 men had been away for over 400 days in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Their trip to explore the wonders of Antarctica was one they feared they would not survive.
Fortunately for those men, they had an amazing captain who knew the key to survival was keeping hope and determination alive. If you can hang on to your hope, then that driving force can lead you to survival and success.
In today’s crazy world, the desire is strong to just give up. Many of us feel like we’re living in a similar inhospitable land with no hope of getting out alive. Yet, history has proved we can overcome even the most insurmountable of obstacles.
Let’s look at how Sir Ernest Shackleton’s journey and shipwreck 100 years ago can help us face the difficulties in today’s world.
Born on February 15, 1874, in county Kildare, Ireland, Ernest Henry Shackleton lived in a very different world than today. Raised in London, the second of 10 children, Shackleton was always an adventurer.
His father envisioned a medical career for him, but Ernest’s calling was to be an explorer. At age 16, he joined the merchant Navy. He achieved the rank of first mate by the time he was 18. Within six years, he became a certified master mariner.
Shackleton’s great white whale was his determination to conquer the South Pole. In 1901, accompanying Robert Falcon Scott on his first venture to the South Pole, they reached a point closer than anyone else had ever made it. The trip was arduous and left Shackleton with a serious illness that sent him back home. In 1907, he made a second attempt and reached within 97 miles of his destination before the fierce cold and wind forced him to turn back.
Also Read: Caring Really Is as Simple as Sharing
Another explorer, Roald Amundsen, stole his victory by becoming the first man to step foot on the South Pole in 1911. Part of his dream crushed, Shackleton was not one to give up. He was intent to finish his own expedition to the region.
So it was on August 1, 1914, Shackleton shipped out from London on the ship Endurance for his third trip to the South Pole. Little did he know how prophetic his ship’s name would become.
Within a few months, the mariners reached the small island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic. On December 5, the adventurers began the final leg of their journey. It was a trip that would keep them away from dry land for the next 497 days.
From Bad to Worse
In early January 1915, the Endurance became trapped in ice. As ships were less robust in days past, Shackleton made the difficult decision to abandon his ship. The men set up camp on a floating ice sheet nearby.
Later in 1915, the men watched as their ship was slowly crushed and devoured by the angry sea. By April 1916, Shackleton knew they had to do something if they were to survive. With their three remaining small boats, they set off for Elephant Island, which is near the tip of Cape Horn.
Elephant Island was no sanctuary. The island was uninhabited and far from any normal shipping routes. Any hope of being rescued meant they had to get off Elephant Island to a place where there were people.
Shackleton knew time was running out for him and his men. Wore out physically and emotionally, he chose five of his crew to travel with him in a 22-foot lifeboat. Their aim was to make it back to a whaling station on South Georgia Island.
Terrible sea conditions forced them to land the boat 20 miles from the desired station.
They Fought On
With no climbing equipment and sub-zero temperatures and winds bombarding them, his small party trekked an uncharted path through snow-covered mountains to reach the station. From there he could finally lead a rescue party back to collect the rest of his crew. It took another 17 days.
The most amazing part of Shackleton’s journey is that all 28 men made it home again. They lost no one. Even though survival seemed impossible, Shackleton’s fierce determination and optimism kept his men from giving up.
Asked later what helped keep his crew going despite seemingly hopeless odds, each sailor replied they believed their captain would keep his word to rescue them. Shackleton knew in his mind he would rescue his men, and that confidence became the lifeblood of everyone with him.
Like Shackleton, we are living in a difficult time. Maybe we’re not lost on a frozen sheet of ice, but we’re all facing situations that have some doubting our possibility for survival.
Now is not the time to give up. If you feel you are close to the breaking point, consider how these seven lessons can help you keep going.
1. Focus On The Light
A light shines its brightest when everything around it is dark. When our world goes dark, we may become consumed by the darkness, focusing on it to the point we’re oblivious to any light.
Light is always there. Maybe it’s just a speck in the distance, but it is there.
It’s imperative we look for the light. If you can find even a hint of illumination, point all your attention towards it.
It’s too easy to figuratively close our eyes when life gets hard. Pain and fear can trick us into thinking we can’t bear anything else. Keeping your eyes closed, like a child at a scary movie, seems to be the safest course to follow.
Fight the urge and open your eyes.
Open your eyes.
Living with mental and chronic illness, I am no stranger to the darkness. Bipolar depression can coat my world with black tar.
Everything we’re living with is making that depression stronger, but I refuse to keep my eyes closed.
Think about this, you have already survived every bad thing that’s happened to you.
Every. Single. Thing.
That means you have a 100 percent success ratio for dealing with life’s trials. There’s a bit of light.
Our current difficulties might be greater than any of the past, but, as my mother always says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Shackleton taught his men that lesson.
Hope is the light you need to find.
Have you ever watched a sunrise? Have you ever been awake at the darkest hours of morning?
The first hints of sunlight are barely discernable. As the minutes pass, something magical happens as the light slowly infiltrates the sky.
Keep looking for the light, and you will find it.
2. It’s Okay To Start Over
Many of us are terrified right now. We may have lost jobs or businesses or are furloughed with no clear indication of when we might return to work. Just because something ends, doesn’t mean you end.
I have failed at three businesses. That’s a painful truth. It’s important to share that so you know where I’m coming from. The first thing to know is failure is not fatal.
When everything crumbles, we can’t help but keep trying to put things back together. Yet, sometimes you can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. That’s okay. Maybe he shouldn’t be what he was.
“What can I learn from this?”
Relationships, businesses, and creative endeavors may all fail. It may even be an epic fail. My last business venture left me with no profits and about $17,000 of debt.
Whatever your situation, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
Many times, it is not a complete failure. What may at first seem to be a loss may prove to be a milestone on the road to better success.
Thomas Edison is rumored to have said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” (Italics added)
Learn from today and start new tomorrow.
3. Things Will Get Better
In the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to imagine a better future. Even so, every storm, no matter how severe, eventually passes.
What will the world look like after this pandemic? It’s hard to say. I hope that we’ll come out on the other side with more compassion and the ability to plan more efficiently for the future.
People with mental illness frequently cannot find the care and support they need. This virus has leveled the playing field, and at the very least, all survivors will have some idea of what it’s like to live every day with anxiety or PTSD. Hopefully, that understanding will create better care.
Imagine a better world, and let it keep you going.
4. Do the Impossible
Think about the above quote. At one time, cell phones, the internet, and computers were all impossibilities. No doubt many people said, “There’s no way that could ever be done.”
Fast forward to today, and those things are not only possible, but vital to our livelihoods. With so many working from home, cell phones, computers, and internet access have never been more valuable.
Watching the numbers tick up on the news may make you feel like it’s impossible for the world to ever return to normal. That fear is only because we haven’t done it yet.
Impossible is a mindset and a limiting belief. Throw it out and hope and optimism will return.
Before his voyage, everyone thought a journey like Shackleton’s was impossible. No doubt there were times his men felt the same. Shackleton himself may have even had self-doubt in his heart.
Doubt or not, those men refused to give up until they could prove they could do the impossible. We will conquer today’s impossibilities as well.
Remind yourself that nothing is impossible.
5. Keep Trying
Shackleton set the standard in this area. Imagine being stuck on an island of ice. Temperatures may have been colder than they’d ever felt, and there was no way of communicating with anyone outside their party.
If ever there was a time to feel hopeless, that would have been it.
Shackleton felt he had to keep trying. He wanted his men to survive and make it back to their families, and the best way to do that was for all of them to keep trying.
We’re going through some dark days. Hope is hard to come by, but we must keep trying.
Polio, tuberculosis, and HIV were all hopeless cases, but through science and ingenuity, we have brought those conditions under control. A vaccine may not be ready today, but we have to believe it will be one day soon.
To keep going, we must keep trying.
6. Go Slow
Trekking over a mountain in the Antarctic region had to be a slow journey. Between wind and cold and the fatigue brought on by a malnourished team, there must have been many moments they wanted to just lie down in the snow and go to sleep.
Their insistence to keep moving made all of their survival possible. One foot in front of the other, they all made it home.
Your life might be in ruins, but it won’t always be. Take the little you have and find a way to move forward. Forward is forward, even if it’s baby steps. We must never stop.
Go slow if you have to, but keep going.
7. Never Give Up
I’d love to say my life is all rainbows and butterflies, but that would be a colossal lie. Living every day with a chronic illness and a brain that’s my own worst enemy is overwhelming on a good day. The insanity of today’s world shrouded in fear every time you leave your home is taking its toll.
Sleep has been scarce, and my mind races constantly. I don’t think my heart has slowed down since I first heard the phrase, “Corona Virus.”
What is keeping me going? The seven things mentioned above. Let’s review.
Keep looking for the light.
Learn from today and start new tomorrow.
Imagine a better world.
Remind yourself that nothing is impossible.
Always keep trying.
Go slow if you have to, but never stop.
Never give up.
The phrases, “Never give up,” and, “Keep fighting,” have become my mantras. Things are bad, but experience has taught me things will get better again.
Our world may continue to be a place we don’t recognize for a while longer, but that’s okay. If you’re still alive, there’s still hope.
Shackleton and his men never wavered in their determination to get back home. We must continue to fight with the same tenacity. After all, we’re nowhere near the 497 days his crew endured.
We’re all in this together. By continuing to support each other we can keep hope alive. We will conquer and come out stronger on the other side.
Until next time… Keep fighting.
This post originally appeared on Medium on April 19, 2020.