People can build their willpower deliberately. We are born with a certain amount, but that is just a platform. I think you can build willpower and be strong and achieve a lot.
Børge Ousland, polar explorer
Polar explorer Børge Ousland firmly believes that anybody, by taking one step ahead at a time, can strengthen his or her willpower to do and endure just about anything.
"Start with a step you feel comfortable with and take it one step ahead," Ousland said.
This system, which he often advises at engagements organized through the National Geographic Speakers Bureau
, is key to his own success.
Ousland's own willpower is Herculean.
He was the first person to plod solo and unassisted to both the North and South Poles; the first to ski alone and unassisted across Antarctica; the first to skiand swimalone across the Arctic Ocean; and the first, with photographer Thomas Ulrich, to trek unassisted across the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
Ousland has also reached the South Summit on Mount Everest, scaled Cho Oyu in Tibet, and climbed Huayna Potosí in Bolivia.
These expeditions put Ousland out in the elements for weeks or months at a time. "Nature is the boss, and I feel strongly that you have nothing to say out there. You have to be a part of it or die," the Norway native said.
Preparation Plus Perseverance
Ousland said the skills he uses to excel in these beautiful yet desolate and frozen landscapes are applicable to the struggles of daily life. "It's something we all have in common. We have to challenge ourselves and put up some commands and reach them," he said.
Success comes from preparation combined with the perseverance to push aheadtempered with an ability to hold back. "If you just push on hard every day, someday you will make a mistake and will take a chance that may be too big," he said.
Born May 31, 1962, in Oslo, Ousland gained his first endurance experience at 20, working as a construction diver in the North Sea. Then in 1986 he and two friends crossed Greenland on skis.
Ousland's career as an explorer began in earnest in 1994. After serving in Norway's Marinejeger, or “naval special forces,” he decided to ski alone and unassisted to the North Pole. "No one had tried to ski alone to the North Pole. Not many people thought I'd make it. So to stand there on the coast of Siberia and say, I want to do this, I think I can do this, is the greatest obstacle I've overcome," he said.
By pushing himself to take that step, Ousland put himself on course to match the greatness of his heroes Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian who in 1911 was the first to reach the South Pole, and Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand native. In 1953 Hillary, with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay, became the first person known to have stood atop Mount Everest.
”You Have to Risk Losing”
Along the way, Ousland has met with his share of adversity, such as failing in his first attempt to cross Antarctica alone. He examined his weaknesses, took steps to remedy them, and returned a year later to accomplish his goal.
"If you want to be better, you have to give yourself another chance, take the chance of making another failure," Ousland said. "In order to win, you have to risk losing. That's part of it."