This week I’ll be presenting at a Pecha Kucha Night with 20 images, for 20 seconds each on the topic of ‘Extraordinaire’.
Preparing to speak on this topic seems to require similar soul searching to when I was asked to speak on the topic of the Fear of Failure at a conference in Queenstown in April and also blogged about it. It’s an onerous topic. I mean it’s nice to be asked and all, but what makes me be a reliable source on the topic of being extraordinary. The person who reached out suggested that I was a suitable candidate to speak because I had been on an extraordinary journey and achieved extraordinary things. I guess that’s all subjective, but I’m always up for a challenge so here’s what I can tell you from my soul searching on the topic.
What Ed Said
Kiwi mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer the world's highest mountain, Mt Everest, once said, “People do not often decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
This really resonates with me, because my first 'proper job' involved working with Sir Edmund Hillary in New Zealand assisting with his press and public affairs in relation to the organisations The Hillary Commission (similar to the Australian Sports Commission) I worked for and I just believe in the statement.
Many people don’t dare to put it out there that they are setting out to achieve extraordinary things for fear of failure of good old tall poppies syndrome, where you can’t get too big for your boots. And if people do make such outlandish statements as Mohammed Ali did ‘I’m going to be the heavyweight champion of the world which he was heard saying down his school corridor as a scrawny 12 year old boy, they better have some serious charisma to stand behind outlandish statements, and not be thought of as big headed.
Being extraordinary but remaining humble
Sir Edmund was a humble man. Although he rose to great heights climbing Mount Everest, he described himself as "a small and rather lonely child." He also suffered a devastating loss when his wife and youngest daughter were killed in a plane crash in 1975. That would surely be a pretty humbling experience too.
And even in climbing Mt Everest he wasn’t necessarily doing it for the fame and fortune. He found solitude in mountaineering. He enjoyed it.
Becoming extraordinary involves finding something you’re passionate about
And there’s a secret to becoming extraordinaire too. Find something you love if you want to do something extraordinary. Something you feel passionate about. Something you’re prepared to get out of bed for on a cold and wet day when other people will slam their hand on the alarm and refuse to get out of bed for.
That passion will fuel you when others give up. Sometimes its not how good you are. It’s how long you stick with it.
It’s also a question of timing...
Achieving extraordinary things can also be a question of timing. Sometimes you plan meticulously and execute meticulously. Other times you just, well, fluke it. The conquest of Everest was announced on the eve of Elizabeth II's coronation, and the new queen knighted Hillary when he returned to Britain.
He didn’t plan his conquest of Mt Everest to up his chances of being knighted by a newly crowned Queen. It was a fluke. But in an era where there was no internet and social media, this helped his notoriety greatly. In those days if the Queen gave you their blessing, you really must be someone special.
You create your own opportunities
No one will ever seek you out like the Dalai Lama and say ‘you are going to do extraordinary things’ and it all just happens like magic. Most people who achieve extraordinary things simply make things happen. They’re resilient. They’re tenacious.
They’re creative about finding their way through obstacles and problems (which will often crop up) and they don’t say ‘poor me’ when things don’t go their way. They just get on with it.
I’ve definitely not had any special treatment in my life. I’ve slogged it out and created my own opportunities with everything I’ve got in life.
To start with I didn’t go to University. I didn’t have the money, I was already living out of home and I had no idea how I would pay for it, and I didn’t know what I would do.
So when I was offered a study budget at The Hillary Commission I grabbed that opportunity with two hands and ran as fast as I could. Not only did I spend the entire budget down to the cent and was very proactive in doing so, I asked the CEO if I could use other people’s study budgets if they were not going to use them. And he said yes, so I gained more skills – Adobe packages, Microsoft package, Macromedia packages and I even became a qualified aerobics instructor.
I wanted to travel so I said no to many nights out and many un-necessary expenses. I kept my grocery bill low, I didn’t shop for clothes like my friends and I didn’t own a car. And by the time I was 21 I had $10,000 in the bank and was ready to go off and see the world.
After travelling for 18 months I wanted more. Whilst working at TNT Magazine as a journalist and reading a really bad blog on STA Travel’s website (before blogging had really taken off), I conjured up a plan to approach their direct competitor at the time – USIT Campus – and ask them to pay for a flight around the world for me, and provide me with a digital camera to take snaps. After around 4 meetings, it was kinda surreal when I was handed a year long around the world ticket and digital camera. Talk about the trip of a lifetime. All I had to do in return was produce 400 words from where ever I was, and 4 images. Happy with that!
And I had extraordinary experiences. For seven years – most of my twenties I travelled. Extensively. Three round the world trips of a year each, over 40 countries. Climbing Macchu Picchu. Working in a Thai Orphanage. Travelling by boat for four days deep in the Amazon in Bolivia. Visiting the pyramids of Giza. Staying in the old city in Jerusalem. The list goes on.
Creating extraordinary businesses
So how do you decide to be extraordinary if you don’t know where to even start?
If you don’t know where to begin, picture yourself retired, in the twilight years of your life. Where are you? Who are you with? When you look back, what have you achieved? Are you content with how you spent your life? Do you have regrets?
Then, reverse engineer the choices it would take to get you there, working your way back to this moment in time. Do not let life just happen and wait for some extraordinary opportunity to come your way. Create your own opportunities, and your life just might be, well, extraordinary.
As human beings, no one is really any different to the next person. As an old coach used to say to me, ‘you all have two eyes, two arms and two legs. The only thing that makes you any different is your attitude.’ In short, 'People do not necessarily decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.' Just like Ed Said.