Dealing with failure

Adventure is inherently risky.

Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Unfortunately it's this chance of failure that stops a lot of people from trying something new, or difficult or dangerous or out of their comfort zone.

And I can see why.

Imagine spending months planning for your big trip, saving your pennies, raising sponsorship, getting in the media and telling anyone who'll listen about your big upcoming adventure.

You do everything right. You plan everything you can possibly plan, you reduce the risk down to an acceptable level and you make backup plans for your backup plans.

But for some reason or another, your adventure fails.

Maybe you got unseasonably bad weather, or a civil war broke out, or you simply bit off more than you could chew and had to come home with your tail between your legs. This can result in a very bruised and battered ego.

Let me tell you a story about one of my biggest adventure fails. It also happened to be my first big adventure.

It was during my attempt at walking 1000 kilometres across Victoria Island in the Canadian arctic with Chris Bray.

We spent nine months preparing for the expedition. We raised a whole bunch of money from various companies, got free gear, convinced a lot of friends, family and strangers to support us and help us on our way.

And guess what? We failed. Abysmally.

After two gruelling months slogging our way across the island, which seemed to be doing it's very best to thwart our attempt, we found ourselves only one-third of the distance across. We only had two months worth of food and supplies, which were running alarmingly low, so we reluctantly called it a day and returned home, unsuccessful.

How did this affect me? Well, I was disappointed. And rightly so.

We spent months preparing for that journey, and a further 58 days putting ourselves through hell trying to claw our way across that bloody island. And in the end, we failed.

But you know what. Ultimately, I went out there for an adventure, and we had one hell of an adventure. I wasn't ashamed that we didn't complete what we set out to do. I know we did everything we could to succeed, and in the end, it just wasn't enough. And I'm OK with that.

After a good rest and plenty of time to reflect, I was in a good place (mentally) to go back to Victoria Island and finish the job. The reason I wanted to go back, despite a less than perfect first attempt was two fold:

  1. Victoria Island ticks all the boxes for a kickass adventure. It's remote, big and isolated, has scary animals, rarely explored and is guaranteed to be a challenge.

  2. Now it was personal. I tried once and failed and I wanted to finish what I started. I'd put too much of myself into this adventure to give up without giving it a good fight (cue eighties training montage).

After a year of getting our shit sorted, we found ourselves standing back on Victoria Island, in the exact spot we finished three years earlier. Fast-forward 75 days, countless setbacks, animal encounters and emotional rollercoasters later, we finished the job (pats self on back).

Clark and Chris at the finish of the expedition

So what did I learn from all of this? Well for one, I know that I've gained far more from my unsuccessful endeavours than I have from the successes. This rules applies to all facets of my life, not just adventure.

Adventurers sometimes cop a lot of negative commentary in the media, particularly when they fail. But I'll publicly defend anyone who has the guts to try something difficult, with no guarantee of success, as long as they haven't done something stupid or irresponsible and haven't unnecessarily put others lives at risk.

Don't be afraid to try something new, or risky, or difficult, just because you might not succeed.

If you fail, big whoop.

If you've identified and accepted the risks, then if you do don't succeed, no harm done. At least you'll have a good story to tell, and a bunch of lessons to help you on your next quest.