Allow me to introduce Colin Timothy O’Brady. Born on March 16, 1985, O’Brady was raised in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Yale in 2006 with a degree in economics. After graduation he went on a trip to an island off the coast of Thailand. During a fire-rope jumping event he accidentally caught on fire and suffered second and third-degree burns to 25% of his body with the most damage to his legs and feet. Doctors said he might never regain full functionality of his lower extremities.
O’Brady defied the odds and completed more than 50 triathlons as a professional, between 2009 and 2015. Then roll the tape forward to 2016 and enter the Explorer’s Grand Slam. The Slam involves climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents plus expeditions to both the North and South Poles. O’Brady launched this effort on January 10 and completed it on May 27, 2016, setting the record for the fastest time. This included climbing Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet. According to CBS News fewer than 50 people in history have completed the challenge and only two in under a year. He made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) in less than 12 hours – a normal person takes six to seven days to climb it.
The extreme physical nature of this feat is beyond incredible. Imagine the stamina and endurance he had to have, not to mention the talent and agility it would take to conquer these dangerous towering peaks! But that pales in comparison to the mental focus and toughness O’Brady had to maintain. “I hope that people take away from this the power of the human spirit,” he said. “When you believe in yourself, and you dream big, that anything is possible.” The obstacles he faced were numerous. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, temperatures of -40˚ F., headaches (early signs of acute mountain sickness), icy conditions, a guide who suddenly left with his climbing ropes while on Mt. Elbrus in Russia in the middle of the night, and a cracked ice runway at the North Pole – just to name a few. Meditation was a staple for his mental health.
Colin O’Brady’s life experience offers a parallel to the life of an entrepreneur. Fortunately we don’t have to face the same physical dangers but the obstacles can certainly loom as large. Competitive pressures, cash flow (or lack thereof), recruiting talent, legal issues, unhappy customers, production problems, product problems, regulations, difficult economic conditions and maturing bank lines can add up to a challenge as daunting as a cracked ice runway at the North Pole.
To thrive and succeed we need more than perseverance and resilience. We need a Mt. Everest mindset. Just trying to “muscle” through often is not enough. A steadfast belief in a strong sense of purpose is a great place to start. For Colin O’Brady, he had been told that he might have difficulty in walking normally after his horrific accident in 2007. This provided a level of motivation that propelled him well beyond simply walking normally. Instead he set out to do something no other human being had ever done before – and he did it.
What is our sense of purpose? If it’s only to make a lot of money we may not be able to reach the summit. On the other hand, if we are driven to change the world in a profound way, our entrepreneurial endeavors may have a much better chance for success. We’ll press on through the pain and suffering. We’ll become calm as 50 mile-per-hour winds hammer us with metaphorical ice and snow. I submit that without this strong sense of purpose, we cannot muster what it takes to achieve the Grand Slam of whatever we are undertaking.
We can have a successful entrepreneurial career playing it safe – and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, if we want to dream really big dreams . . . and realize them, we’ll need to have a Mt. Everest mindset. It will be incumbent upon us to find that deep-rooted sense of purpose that drives us upward and onward. Have you discovered your strong sense of purpose, and do you hold a steadfast belief in it?
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.