You have completed your expedition, pushed yourself, your team and your equipment to their absolute and total limits, risked your life, satisfied your sponsors, supporters and followers, completed your scientific experiments, written the book and simulations, filmed the docuseries (so generations can experience the sheer terror and thrill of it all without the year of counseling), declared victory, and now you are trying to figure out, “What did I learn? What the hell does it all mean?”
The answers to these questions, of course, will take time and will fall into place like the pieces of a puzzle over the years that follow. These answers will be the most valuable things you take away from your expedition.
Here are a few pieces of the puzzle I have placed and can now share with you…
The pay dirt
Let me start by saying the personal expeditions we embark on while they are rich in science and adventure are even richer in the knowledge, wisdom, and insight that we acquire along the way. The true expedition is the one that goes on inside of us, not around us. The pay dirt comes from examining the inner depths of who we are as human beings. Our inner journey forces us to examine our beliefs and redefine who we are in the world and that brings us to our breaking point, and for some, multiple breaking points. These key moments break us open on multiple levels and change the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
Your new reality
At this critical breaking point, which is both physical and mental, there is a new reality that we don’t often have access to. It’s a time when the normal day-to-day rules we live our lives by don’t exist. Our senses are heightened, time slows, our focus is laser sharp, our adrenaline is at 100% and our existence is in jeopardy. At these valuable moments in time the doors open to a new reality and we experience something truly unique. This is often when our mission becomes bigger than us. We put our lives on the line to bring about the change we want to see in the world. We become living examples for the planet. We redefine our personal limits and how we see ourselves. We are in a way being prepared for more.
These extreme moments on my Pole-to-Pole expedition to 22 countries and 6 continents occurred:
- During test flights when critical equipment failed at 34,500 feet while flying at 300 mph
- Over the South Pole when the air temp dropped to -60c, which was below the freezing point of my aircraft’s jet fuel and the operating temperature of its Predator B drone engines
- Over the deadly Drake Passage when I was critically low on fuel
- In Dakar, Senegal when my #1 ferry tank burst inside the plane and sent Jet A1 fuel into my eyes, onto my arms, legs, chest and groin, severely burning me
- Over the North Pole when I lostall communication, the attitude heading and reference system, the autopilot, GPS units for 5 hours
During these challenging moments the tendency is to lean back on your heels and retreat to safety but it is actually the time that you must lean into your fear and discomfort—to “be with” rather than turn away. You are approaching your moment of learning. I couldn’t help but wonder during these times, often with tears running down my face, “How hard are you going to make this? What are you preparing me for?”
Breaking you open
Expedition leaders are strong and think they can do it all. They keep loading up on responsibility and tasks (PR, social media, trip preps, team building, sponsorship, permits, etc.) until not even the strongest person could possibly carry even another ounce on their shoulders. Everyone has a breaking point.
The answer I came to realize was that the Universe was breaking me open. Breaking down my defenses. Exposing that raw side of me that was not accessible when I had my armor on. In a spiritual sense, we are broken open to heal and deeply grow ourselves. This lets the light shine in on the parts that need it.
Why did the Universe keep doing this?
Because I had more to learn…my learning was far from complete and needed to be tested. I mistakenly stated after the longest and most difficult leg of the trip over the South Pole that the rest of the trip would be the “Global Victory Lap” for me and the team. The Universe obviously had other plans in store for us. The Sufi philosopher and poet Rumi had the right idea when he wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
During this equally confusing, frightening, and magical time of transformation, we are redefining how we see ourselves in the world. We are watching ourselves do these things from outside of ourselves, from a new vantage point. We are learning what we are capable of, how strong we are mentally and physically, and the magnitude of what we are capable.
When I reflect back on the moments I described above, the person involved in all that risk and transformation seems foreign to me. I ask myself where did that superhuman drive come from? Who was that person? Why would he or she take on those incredible risks? I honestly feel like that must be a different person or that I could never have done that. But that person is me and I did do it, and you can too, when you align your impossibly big dreams with the courageous person that lives within you waiting for you to say “Yes.” That person, in reality, is our new self with greater strength and wider boundaries. It is the new best expanded version of us that sees the world from a different perspective—the view from 35,000 feet.
Where the drive comes from
For me, this drive comes from a source that is free to dream and think impossibly big. It resides somewhere deep inside all of us. Maybe from our restless soul that can’t settle for a “normal” existence? I like to believe we come into the world with a contract to fulfill. A contract that defines our life mission that is often noble, deeply personal.
Those who doubt would say it’s our ego wanting to be seen. I know there are easier and safer ways to get ego recognition. For me, it comes from wanting more for the world and being frustrated by those that don’t deliver on their promises for a better brighter world.
Busting a move
At some point we gather up our resources, supporters, sponsors and bust our very best move out into the world. In my first book, Flying Thru Life, I wrote about when our passion and purpose come into alignment, we “accelerate” our awareness and growth. I have felt this many times. It’s powerful, it’s clear and it feels right as we connect in oneness or as we said on my Polar Expedition, “One Planet. One People. One Plane. Oneness for Humanity.”
For those of you who are reading this and thinking, “This guy is crazy, and all of this sounds like something I would never do,” let me ask you this: if your dream doesn’t scare you, even a little, is it big enough?
The answers you seek are somewhere beyond your level of comfort and the only way to find those answers is to step outside of your comfort zone. Choose to get curious about what your critical breaking points are trying to tell you and where they’re trying to take you. Ask the tough questions and be willing to fly with the discomfort of not knowing. When your answers arrive, you may be surprised to find an inner expedition that leads you to a new reality where the best version of you resides. Who wouldn’t want to land there? It’s the “Land of I Can,” as my mentor, friend, and pilot Susan Gilbert writes. Where courageous action and impossibly big dreams meet is the ever-evolving best version of you.