Character in extremis — a vivid example

My blog last week contended that, since character was not a hidden trait but one that is exposed during tough times, the only way to build such character is to seek out or at least choose difficult paths in life. It may not get you quick results, but it will help you gain enduring qualities.

The blog sparked a note from my longtime friend Larry Kaagan, a seasoned world traveler/hiker and respected environmental scanning trends researcher, who shared an example that brings this to life. He explained that at trailhead kiosks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon there are posters, warnings and all manner of information on how to survive the extreme conditions of inner-canyon backpacking.  People die from exhaustion, dehydration, heatstroke and all sorts of problems down there, as summer temperatures routinely rise over 115 degrees; even “mild” weather in that extreme environment knocks strong people down with stunning regularity.

The most important (some say the “only” important) thing is to drink lots and lots of water.  Hikers are often med-evacuated suffering from dehydration because they were “saving” the water in their canteens.  There is a pamphlet in that kiosk summarizing all the relevant survival information; the title is “Why Suffer?”

On his most recent week-long backpacking trip down there, one of the people in his group, a vastly experienced climber who has left his footprints on mountains in the Himalayas, Alaska and elsewhere, took a look at the pamphlet and put it back with a sneer on his face.  He said, “It should read ‘Why NOT suffer?’ It’s only in extreme situations like these that people learn to reach within themselves and figure out what they’re capable of…”


About paulheagen

I am an executive coach, advisor and confidant who helps leaders better understand, refresh or redirect their purpose in their business and personal lives. Over my 35-year career as a corporate executive, communications consultant and trusted advisor, I have guided executives through “defining moments” – those unique times when the decisions they make, the words they speak, and the qualities they exhibit can influence not only the destiny of their organization but also their own lives and careers. When it comes to my clients and my life work, I am ferociously passionate and restlessly inquisitive about uncovering the unique dreams, vision and purpose that lead to exceptional leadership.
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