IN 1914, A SMALL SHIP sailed into the icy
Weddell Sea, on its way to the South Pole. It carried a crew
of twenty-seven men, and their leader, Ernest Shackleton. But
unseasonable gales shoved the floating ice together and the temperature
sank below zero, freezing more than a million square miles of
ice into a solid mass. And they were stuck in the middle of it.
They had no radio transmitter. They were alone.
For ten months the pressure increased until
it crushed the ship, stranding them in the middle of an icy wasteland
which could, at any time, break up and become a sea of floating
ice chunks. They had to get off this ice while it was still solid,
so they headed for the nearest known land, 346 miles away,
dragging their two lifeboats over the ice. But every few hundred
yards they ran into a pressure ridge, sometimes two stories high,
caused by the ice compacting. They had to chop through it. At
the end of two backbreaking days in subzero weather, they were
exhausted. After all their hacking and dragging, they had traveled
only two miles.
They tried again. In five days they went
a total of nine miles, but the ice was becoming softer and the
pressure ridges were becoming larger. They could go no further.
So they had to wait...for several months. Finally the
ice opened up and they launched the boats into the churning mass
of giant chunks of ice and made it out. But now they were sailing
across a treacherous sea. They landed on a tiny, barren, ice-covered,
lifeless island in the middle of nowhere.
To save themselves, they needed to reach
the nearest outpost of civilization: South Georgia, 870 miles
away! Shackleton and five men took the best lifeboat and
sailed across the Drake Passage at the tip of South America,
the most formidable piece of ocean in the world. Gales blow nonstop
up to 200 miles an hour (thats as hard as a hurricane)
and waves get as high as ninety feet. Their chances of
making it were very close to zero.
But determination can change the odds.
They made it. But they landed on the wrong
side of the island, and their boat was pounded into the rocks
and rendered useless. The whaling port they needed to reach was
on the other side of the island, which has peaks 10,000 feet
high and had never been crossed. They were the first. They didnt
have much choice.
When they staggered into the little whaling
port on the other side of the island, everyone who saw them stopped
dead in their tracks. The three men had coal-black skin from
the seal oil they had been burning as fuel. They had long, black
dreadlocks. Their clothing was shredded, filthy rags, and they
had come from the direction of the mountains. Nobody in the history
of the whaling port had ever been known to enter the town from
Although all the men at that whaling port
had known about Shackletons expedition, his ship had been
gone for seventeen months and was assumed to have sunk, and the
crew with it. The whalers knew how deadly and unforgiving the
ice could be.
The three ragged men made their way to
the home of a man Shackleton knew, followed in silence by a growing
crowd of people. When the man came to the door, he stepped back
and stared in silence. Then he said, Who the hell are you?
The man in the center took a step forward
and said, My name is Shackleton.
According to some witnesses, the hard-faced
man at the door turned away and wept.
This story is incredible, and if it werent
for the extensive verification and corroboration of the diaries
and interviews with the men on the crew in Alfred Lansings
account, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage,
it might easily be disbelieved. The story is true, and as incredible
as what Ive told you seems, Ive only given you some
Shackleton went back and rescued his friends
on the other side of the island first, and then after many attempts
to get through the ice, on August 30th almost two years
since theyd embarked he made it back to that barren
island and rescued the rest of his men. Every man in Shackletons
crew made it home alive.
Fifteen years earlier, a different ship
got stuck in the ice in the Weddell Sea the Belgica,
led by Adrien de Gerlache but they didnt do so well.
During the winter in the Antarctic, the sun completely disappears
below the horizon for seventy-nine days. Shackletons crew
endured it. But the crew of the Belgica grew depressed,
gave up hope, and succumbed to negative thinking. Some of them
couldnt eat. Mental illness took over. One man had a heart
attack from a terror of darkness. Paranoia and hysteria ran rampant.
None of this happened to Shackletons
men because he insisted they keep a good attitude, and he did
the same. He once said that the most important quality for an
explorer was not courage or patience, but optimism. He
said, Optimism nullifies disappointment and makes one more
ready than ever to go on.
Shackleton also knew that attitudes are
contagious. He was fully aware of the fact that if anyone lost
hope they wouldnt be able to put forth that last ounce
of energy which may make the difference. And they did
get pushed to the limits of human endurance. But he had convinced
himself and his men they would make it out alive. His determination
to remain optimistic ultimately saved their lives.
And it can achieve great things for you
too. It comes down to what you say: Either you say its
hopeless or you say it can be done. You can never look
into the future to find the answer. Its in your head.
Make up your mind you will succeed.