Inspirational Life Lessons from the World’s Greatest Explorers And Adventurers

History’s greatest explorers and adventurers pushed themselves to the extreme limits of human endurance in the pursuit of their goals. Success – or, in some cases, mere survival – required a unique combination of knowledge, ability, experience, enthusiasm, skill and mental resilience. Learn from their hard-earned experience and make these quotes your mantra….

1. Setting Meaningful Goals

‘A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground,’ Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton epitomises survival against the odds. Forced to abandon his ship Endurance to the crushing Antarctic pack ice, the challenge became simply to survive and to get his men home safely, necessitating an 800-mile journey for help in an open boat. The incredible story still stands today as a supreme lesson in fortitude and adaptability.

**2. Being A Leader

‘Whenever feasible, pick your team on character, not skill. You can teach skills; you can’t teach character,’ Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Dubbed the ‘world’s greatest living explorer’, Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE has reached both the North and South Poles, and was the first person to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. He has also circumnavigated the world along its polar axis – a three-year, 52,000 mile expedition that has yet to be matched by anyone else.

When it comes to organising large-scale expeditions, Fiennes has more experience than most – so he knows a thing or two about forging a successful team.

3. Just Surviving

‘The line between life or death is determined by what we are willing to do,’ Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls is more than an adventurer – he is a global megastar, whose adrenaline-fuelled survival shows attract huge TV audiences. But like him or loathe him, Bear’s battled his fair share of adversity: in 1998 he became the youngest Brit ever to climb Everest at the age of 23, a feat achieved just 18 months after he broke three vertebrae in a parachuting accident.

Since then he’s gone on to forge a worldwide profile based on his own unique brand of wilderness survival.

4. Life As An Adventure

‘It is a state of mind, a spirit of trying something new and leaving your comfort zone. Adventure is about enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity… ‘adventure’ is not only crossing deserts and climbing mountains; adventure can be found everywhere, every day, and it is up to us to seek it out,’ Alastair Humphreys

The ‘people’s adventurer’, Al Humphreys spent four years cycling 46,000 miles around the world, from 2001 to 2005. He has also walked across India, run across the Sahara, packrafted around Iceland and rowed the Atlantic, but is most notable for inspiring thousands to introduce a little bit of adventure into their lives through the concept of ‘microadventure’ – short, local, accessible adventures that offer an escape from the daily grind.

5. Achieving The Impossible

‘The difficult is what takes a little time. The impossible is what takes a little longer,’ Fridtjof Nansen

The ‘thinking man’s explorer’, Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen was an accomplished polar traveller who was able to marshal his skills as a scientist, innovator and athlete to lead successful expeditions on both land and sea.

His free-thinking approach influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, and Nansen also went on to establish a career as a diplomat and humanitarian, winning a Nobel Peace Prize in the process.

6. Living With Fear

‘The feeling of fear, as long as you can take advantage of it and not be rendered useless by it, can make you extend yourself beyond what you would regard as your capacity,’ Edmund Hillary

Along with Tenzing Norgay, New Zealander Ed Hillary became the first climber to unequivocally reach the summit of Everest in 1956. The straight-talking and down-to-earth Kiwi was a hugely talented mountaineer, but by no means immune to fear, recalling feeling ‘pretty scared’ at various points during the expedition.

As he later recounted, however, harnessing that fear was a key part of what drove him to the top.

7. Engaging Your Mindset

‘My mind is in a state of constant rebellion. I believe that will always be so,’ George Mallory

George Leigh Mallory was the gifted but erratic British climber who perished on Everest in 1924. Whether he reached the summit or not is still unknown, but his legend was secured and today he remains a hero to those who climb mountains simply because they are there.

His thirst for adventure made him a stranger to convention, and in many ways Mallory was the archetype of the modern adrenaline junkie.

8. The Power Of Ambition

‘Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go,’ Captain James Cook

Arguably the greatest explorer of all-time, Captain Cook sailed thousands of miles across the globe, mapping lands from New Zealand to Hawaii during three great eighteenth-century voyages of discovery. From fairly humble Yorkshire beginnings, he rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy to become a first-class sea captain and cartographer.

As ambition goes, few have achieved more.

9. Making Your Own Luck

‘I may say that this is the greatest factor: the way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it…’

‘Victory awaits him who has everything in order, luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time, this is called bad luck,’ Roald Amundsen

Amundsen was the hard-nosed Norwegian explorer who led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage in 1906 and famously beat Scott’s team to the South Pole in 1911. Unsentimental and pragmatic, he believed that men made their own luck and called the idea of adventure ‘just bad planning’. Amundsen’s approach was all about meticulous preparation and efficient execution.

10. Nature And Humanity

‘For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it,’ Jacques Cousteau

The French oceanographer and conservationist was a pioneer of underwater exploration who popularised interest in protecting the life of our oceans, through more than 120 television documentaries and over 50 books. His simple blueprint for translating complex scientific concepts to a wide audience can still be seen in phenomenally successful documentaries like Blue Planet, helping to publicise the threat of plastics to our ecosystems.

WHAT NEXT? Before you get out there, be prepared – read RSNG’s essential guide to wilderness survival with expert Laurence Gonzalez, author of Deep Survival.