Graduation 2020 — An Adventure

Adventure in an orange canoe by Benjamin Davies for Unsplash Photos

Our Austin neighborhood held a blinking-headlights, pickup truck procession for high school, elementary and fifth grade graduates, who were showered with confetti as the vehicles moved slowly down the street. As today’s graduates, they walk into unknown territory—like those preparing for a spacewalk or a cross-country bike expedition.

None of us can predict what the next six months or six years will bring to them or us, but we can expect a changed world, requiring flexibility, maybe even more than book learning. Though that will not go to waste.

In the rush to succeed at life will each graduate carry with them some knowledge of the sacrifices made on their behalf by the community, their parents and teachers, and even those who have perished in the pandemic who lived within fifteen miles of their homes? Or the medical teams who worked to save them?

Do our graduates feel unscathed by the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes so rapidly as to be missed in a healthy blink? Or will they carry an invisible scar deep within them that comes with the knowledge that life can change just that rapidly?

Not unworthy lessons if they also carry within them the antidotes so useful when a society, even a world, has been upended—confidence, not cockiness, but a sense that they carry within them the tools they will need to meet the challenges that life will bring. Part of the challenge here also falls on the parents, who through simple tasks doled out from an early age, show their children their trust in them and their abilities. Sure, the milk will spill, but it is a lot easier to have them clean that up now than it will be later.

Times like this the monumental challenge is to conjure optimism. Saying “this too shall pass” and we might find what is on the other side has more than a bit to recommend. What choice do we have? More importantly if we the elders do not show some optimism, why would the youth, who are the legacy for the future? Few are wearing rose-colored glasses but moving forward requires we begin to lift the gray cloud from our eyes.

Once an eon ago, when people made comparisons of approaches to education around the world, some admired the lengthy school day and rote learning offered every Japanese student. But upon closer examination they found that the American students, who had more flexibility, more exercise, and opportunity to puzzle out ideas, were better problem solvers and more inventive.

The proof, at least of the inventive nature of Americans, is in the number of patents approved by the US Patent and Trademark office in 2019—333,000. That is a lot of ingenuity and we are going to need every bit of it. So, the hope is that today’s graduates will use their individuality to join us in solving problems, create some new ones, and work together to unscramble the future!

Need parting advice from Lincoln. Part of his genius—his curiosity–carried him in many directions and made his struggles easier to bear. Abe was the only sitting President to hold a US patent for a device that helped lift barges and ships off sandbars, a problem that had played around in his mind since his youth, but he finalized over his Presidential desk–worked something like a bellows. His interest in Euclid’s Geometry, complicated indeed without an instructor’s help, won him a dinner date with the well-educated Mary Todd.  He spent a year during the Civil War consuming all the books West Pointers read about battle strategy, so he could converse intelligently and review battle plans, sending telegraph messages into the field—the first President to do so. That’s more than curiosity. He believed in learning something every day. He said: “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

In parting, I will say that I did not attend my college graduation from Indiana University—may parents never really forgave me, their eldest. I had a reporting job lined up, beginning two weeks to the day after my last exam. I knew once I started work I would not have a vacation for a year. So, I visited Galveston, burned like the Yankee I was and hobbled around the Houston Space Center on sunburned feet. A vacation I never forgot. 

Encourage curiosity and find an imaginary flight of fancy for these graduates or plan a trip, even a family fishing trip with plenty of time to reminisce. That will provide a proper send-off and launch them onto their own life adventures!


Endless Time Creates Endless Stress; Use it to Serve You, Not Abuse You

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis

Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.

Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.

It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.

WHEN? The Universal Question

We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN?  When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?

No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.

There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.

Use your stress to propel you forward. By Forgetmenot. Jancene Jennings

Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:

“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:

  1. Acknowledge Your Stress

Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.

Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.

Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.

Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?

Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this?  Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?

  • Own Your Stress

 Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.

Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”

  • Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!

If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.

Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow.  Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.


On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.


Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)

Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020

Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733

American Psychological Association center/ 800-374-2721

 American Counseling Association


Don’t Let Them See You Sweat

“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The words etched above Lincoln’s head explain why this place is an American shrine, not to be sullied.

A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!

Establishing the Critical Goal

Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.

Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.

Jousting with Journalists

Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).

Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851. 

Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.

 Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse

Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.

In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.

 Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”

Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.

No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)

Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Who Was the Greater Martyr?                                           

The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.

Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.

Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough.   (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)

Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:

” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”  

After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)

In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting. 

Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)

Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?

If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this  road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!

The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.

The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.  

The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Inside the Lincoln Shrine             

Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.

Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead.  Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.

The World Sweated After His Final Speech

Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”

Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”

Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.

Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:

“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and  undefined when, where, and how.”

The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.

Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.

You decide: Who was the greater martyr?


Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47

Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013

Mr. Lincoln ‘s White House, Notable Visitors: Henry J. Raymond

David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017

Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862

Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862

Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)

Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014

National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.

Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12

NOTE:   Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act., “Today in Media History: Reporters describe Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address,” Nov. 19, 2014, “The Gettysburg Address,” accessed Sept. 7, 2018

Saturday Night Live YouTube channel, “Weekend Update: Jedediah Atkinson on Great Speeches,” Nov. 17, 2013

Email interview with Eric Foner, historian at Columbia University, Sept. 7, 2018

Plan B: Create Your Own “Luck”

Clover to inspire your “good luck” that comes with planning and effort on your part.

Ronald Amundsen and Captain Robert Falcon Scott each led a team of adventurers competing to reach the South Pole first. Note how each team leader prepared BEFORE they hit the trail. Each planned for a three-four months’ expedition and had 56 percent of good days of weather, and expected a 1400-mile trip (think New York to Chicago and back) without any means of modern communication onboard. Can you determine which team returned first?

Captain Scott, 43, led a British Expedition to the South Pole nine years earlier, reaching 82 degrees South, 530 miles from the South Pole. A member of the Royal Navy instead of a scientist, he trained on torpedo boats though one he captained ran aground in 1893. Seeking to become an explorer, he befriended the man who would select the team leader. The dogs his team trained prior to the expedition died of disease, which might have encouraged him to switch to ponies. On the first expedition, he squabbled with Ernest Shackleford, a well-known Artic explorer who had sought the pole with Scott in 1901. The disagreement came regarding the territory each man had staked out for exploration.

For the expedition, Scott:

  • Selected ponies as the beast of burden
  • Placed a single flag at their depot destinations
  • Used untested “motor sledges” to carry the supplies
  • Complained about his “bad luck” in his journal
  • Brought one thermometer for key altitude-measurements and exploded “in an outburst of wrath and consequence” when it broke

Amundsen, 39, showed a fascination for discovery. At 28 purchased a small, Gjoa ship and became the first in 1900 to sail through the tiny islands of Northern Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after he determined to enter a sailing race in Spain, two-thousand miles from Norway and bicycled the distance.  Then he sought to participate in the trek to the North Pole, but Perry and Cook had claimed it. So he angled himself into the leadership of the Norwegian set out to conquer the South Pole. It bothered him little that Scott announced his intention first or that the Norwegian Queen, Maud, was British and might not smile upon his competing with her countrymen’s adventurer. Amundsen moved forward. His intensity marked him among the explorers and drew on this in training, to overcome whatever obstacles might suddenly appear in his way (like a 9,000-foot mountain or a glacier in the middle of the route.) Before arriving in Antarctica, Amundsen laid down the gauntlet to Captain Scott, who was in Australia purchasing final provisions for his expedition. “Beg leave to inform you Fram (Amundsen’s ship) proceeding to Antarctica. Amundsen”


  • Posted 20 flags four miles out, so in a blizzard his crew would still find the route to the depot on their return
  • Built buffers for distance, time, weight of sledges to carry provisions and amount of food necessary
  • Plotted a route that placed his base camp 60 miles closer to the South Pole than Scott’s camp, shortening the arduous over-land travel coming and going
  • Embraced the possibility of change, presuming unfavorable conditions and chance events
  • Built a contingency plan should something happen to him so the expedition could be successful without him
Learning to drive, feed, and care for the huskies made a tremendous difference in Amundsen’s success in the Artic.

Amundsen’s team reached a sunlit, -10 F degree South Pole on December 15, 1911 at the same time Scott, who started five weeks later, was 360 miles out as the British Expedition man-hauled supplies through the ice and snow. Scott’s team saw the Norwegian flag on the South Pole on January 17, 1912 and recorded their “bad luck” at the time. The Norwegian team reached the sea on January 25 on the exact day Amundsen had built into his plan for their return.

Scott’s crew, had nobly performed hundreds of scientific experiments as intended for their expedition, collecting wildlife and rock samples. This ate up valuable time, but did result in 15 bound volumes of never-before discovered biological, zoological, and geological findings and transformed use of a camera on an expedition. This was the Royal Society’s intention for the expedition, Captain Scott tacked on a desire to race to the South Pole.

Unfortunately, no one from the British Expedition survived to provide a personal account. The findings came from documents left behind. Captain Scott and his crew all were stuck in their tents in a blizzard just 11 miles from their base camp. Scott and the last two died of hypothermia March 29, 1912. Eight months later their frozen bodies were found in the snowbank that drifted over their tent.

Sadly, the Scott party also learned that ponies do not hold up in the snow and had to be shot. Sweat on the horses turned to ice on their hides. The mechanized sleds sounded like a great idea but broke down in the extremely cold. The human team was forced to pull the supply sleds, which proved to be too heavy a burden. The single flags by the depots made it too easy to miss the mark, particularly in a blizzard, which wasted time and energy.

While Amundsen’s crew had good weather on their return, they were also traveling a month earlier, when better weather could be expected. March 1912 brought -40 below weather and blizzard conditions in Antarctica for Scott’s exhausted team.

Investing Time in Preparation

Amundsen invested the time and developed the skills needed to survive and lead a team in the Artic. He had lived among the Eskimo to learn how they survived in sub-zero temperatures, ate raw dolphin meat, dressed in loose fur. Amundsen noted the Eskimos’ slow movements to prevent excessive sweat that could turn to ice in sub-zero temperatures. The Eskimos also taught him how they used dogs to pull their sleds, how much dogs could transport, and the amount of food men and beasts needed in the cold. He built redundancy into everything he did, so when one system failed, he could develop a work-around to save the day and his team.

Amundsen’s philosophy: You do not wait until you are in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance.  (Jim Collins, p. 15) 


The Artic explorations were a century ago when self-reliance substituted for reaching out on social media. Conditions were such, though, even if Scott’s team could have reach out, it is unlikely help could have reached them in time. But these explorers, not entirely unlike us, seek to succeed in uncommon times and in a place we do not entirely recognize.

Jim Collins, a student of leadership for over twenty years, talked about the need to be “hypervigilant” in good times and bad—even in calm, clear, positive conditions. It is a certain type of “productive paranoia” that leader’s practice or can learn to duplicate. He believes that conditions will –absolutely with 100 percent certainty—turn against each of us without warning, at some unpredictable point in time, at some highly inconvenient moment.”  P 29 Collins

That is why it is wise to think and strategize about the “horrible what-ifs” that impact a state, a nation, a continent, and in this case an entire world in lightning fast action.

Ronald Amundsen set the standard: “Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”    

Ronald Amundsen, The South Pole (McLean, VA: IndyPublish, 2009), 192.

Jim Collins, Great by Choice, (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) day in history/scott-reaches-the-south-pole/