We were born too late to be explorers. To be real explorers. To be one of the hard men... fired by such curiosity, such desperate yearning to cross the next horizon, that they were willing to set off for years on end with slim chance of returning. -- Alastair Humphreys
When Toilet Hackers co-founders John Kluge and Michael Lindenmayer asked me to lead the #DoEpicShit campaign on behalf of their organization and the 2.5 billion people without access to improved sanitation, it made me think about what exactly epic means to me.
On the surface, it's easy to see why my upcoming expedition to Everest with Steve Obbayi, the first Kenyan climber to attempt the world's tallest summit, is considered epic. But epic is about more than just the size and scale of something (though it's interesting how closely related to the word "epidemic" it is). Something that is epic has to be that thing that you want with all your being, and the prospect of losing it, must strike some fear into your heart.
I'm not fearful of not reaching Everest's summit. I have a possibly tongue-in-cheek theory that all motivations in life can be distilled down to fear. It is omnipresent, so you might as well be scared about something worthwhile. I'm scared of what life looks like if I don't try to summit Everest and what it looks like when I stop pushing myself to the limits to make an impact on this world.
The valuable and lingering insight from the devastating loss of my original choice of career was the understanding of what a life of disappointment might look like. But without the knowledge I have now that things don't always go to plan, that world of disappointment was terrifying.
If you have any interest in developing a better understanding of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, the true depth of your capacity, it can only be done when the pressure is on. There is huge value in fear. Fear, if harnessed correctly, improves performance and can be a potent and life-changing force. Improved sanitation was only really installed in large-scale terms in Britain after the death of Prince Albert from typhoid in 1861. Queen Victoria's mandate was a reaction out of grief and fear of the infectious disease.
Sometimes you can only find your very best when your back is to the wall. It's the desperation that heightens your willingness to take a risk. You do things you might not otherwise try. You strain your imagination to determine a solution. And it is my sincere hope, that out of fear for the lives of 2.5 billion people, we find a way to install improved sanitation throughout the world.
There are epic challenges we face as a race, and epic opportunities to address entrenched issues. The #DoEpicShit campaign is about raising awareness of the world's sanitation crisis so that it might be more efficiently addressed.
Regardless of the outcome on Everest, the #DoEpicShit campaign is a transformative experience. Obviously, I hope that the conclusion to this epic journey is a successful summit of Everest by both Steve and me, and a safe return. Clearly there is a huge amount of hard work to be done before then, and this is no time to lose focus on the real issue at hand. I am content that, one way or the other, a threshold will be crossed.