Last week I completed what was definitely the most physically challenging experience of my life. I signed up for part of the Strive Challenge, a 27-day fund-raising event that is still taking place. It involves a five-day hike, a 1350 mile bike ride, swimming from Italy to Sicily and then a half marathon up Mount Aetna. I just did the hike segment, which had over 100 participants.
I call it a hike, but it was more like mountaineering, which I did not know ahead of time. On the longest day we covered 11.4 miles, ascended 5400 feet and descended 5900 feet, and took almost 45,000 steps. Virtually none of it was level and little of it was smooth, and large portions of it were simply climbing over rock slides like the one below.
Because I thought it was basically like a normal hike, I foolishly did not train for this. Oh, and we also were carrying packs weighing 25 pounds. In other words, this damn near killed me. I was so trashed after the first day I could hardly summon the strength to feed myself!
And we also stayed primarily in “refugios”, which are essentially eating and sleeping lodges for hikers. The first was the most spartan, with no showers, cold water to wash, toilets that were essentially open troughs, meals that were the equivalent of prison food, and rooms with bunk beds.
Though my childhood was fairly simple and spare, I’ve certainly grown accustomed to creature comforts over the years. But what was perhaps the most striking aspect of this adventure is that Sir Richard Branson was also doing the hike right along with us. In fact, he’s doing all 27 days. And did he sneak off to somewhere luxurious, or even comfortable? No. The first night he was in the same room with me in one of the lower bunks, ate the same food, and walked the same routes. (He’s the knight in the blog title, of course). I know few millionaires who would put themselves through all that, never mind billionaires.
I also took two Ambien that night, which makes me snore, and I pretty much kept everyone else awake for the four hours it allowed me to sleep. (I think Sir Richard has forgiven me by now!)
This was called a challenge, and it was meant to be, and for me it really showed me how much difficulty I could endure, how much will I could summon, and how much harder I could push myself than I ever imagined. Finally, at the end of the fourth day, I crumbled. My 62-year-old joints and untrained muscles rebelled to a point where I couldn’t be cheerful, and that was a hard lesson. But I also learned that being comfortable isn’t anywhere near as important as I thought, and that I’ve been way too easy on myself in the past ten or twenty years.
And perhaps most impressive to me was that a billionaire, who could have had a helicopter take him to the nearest Ritz Carlton, not only did every step of the hike, but did it with a sense of humor, an amiable nature and not a hint of entitlement behavior the entire time. (By the way, he wasn’t the only billionaire with us. Hartley Richardson, who I believe is the second richest man in Canada and recently beat throat cancer, also did the hike.)
I have been both humbled and inspired by this experience, more deeply than I could have imagined. I can’t count the number of times that I felt like giving up, except that I had no other option but to keep going, and I had my hike mates toughing it out with me, and encouraging me, and cheering me up and cheering me on. It was grueling, unpleasant, tedious, and painful. And I already miss it.
I saw beautiful sights that I would never have seen any other way. And I saw myself laid bare. And I spent time with a remarkable group of people. The whole experience was filled with unexpected gifts. At one point on the fourth day we stopped at a little inn and I had one of the most memorable snacks of my life: an orange popsicle.
My lesson from this was simple and powerful, and I give it as advice to you: Do something hard. Harder than you think you can do. It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be learning a new technique or new technology, instead of coasting along on your current skills. It can be learning a musical instrument, or a language, or getting a degree. Whatever it is, get way out of your comfort zone, and you will amaze yourself. And if you can, do it with other people.
The charity that this was for, by the way, is called Big Change. It leverages the money raised to create programs that encourage young people to learn about the possibilities of business, and how they can make a good living and a better world.The last time they did this, in 2015, they raised $800,000, and leveraged it to get over $40 million in government support around the globe for their programs. If you would like to donate for my efforts, I welcome that, and you can do so by clicking here.
I’ll end with the motto of the Strive Challenge: “Growth begins when you get out of your comfort zone; magic happens when you do it with others.”