Explorer Mike Horn has so many staggering firsts to his name that it’s hard to believe he’s been around for a mere half-century.
Since 1997, the South African, who turns 50 in July, has swum the length of the Amazon alone, walked to the North Pole in complete darkness and realized a journey around the equator without the help of any motorized vehicles.
That was all prior to his 8,000-meter ascents and election to the Laureus World Sports Academy, a prestigious organization that celebrates the use of outstanding athletic feats to effect positive social change, in 2007.
Horn is currently undertaking the north-to-south circumnavigation of the globe. The expedition, Pole to Pole 360, is expected to take two years via sailboat (the Pangaea), skis and kayak.
Upon its completion, Horn will be the first person ever to have circumnavigated Earth using this route, which will take him across Antarctica and the North Pole. We managed to catch Horn in Namibia, where he just finished a week-long trip with his family, and he agreed to answer our questions. Prepare to be inspired.
What did you want to be when you were eight years old?
When I was young, I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. I’ve always wanted to contribute to the world by helping people. Today, I’m not a doctor, but hopefully, I still help people even though it is in a different way than I had dreamed of when I was eight.
What is your favorite time of the day?
I love waking up every morning (when I do sleep) to a new and exciting day! Every day is an opportunity for new adventures and new discoveries, and waking up with the feeling of limitless potential is by far my favorite moment. I always say, “If you haven’t learned anything today, it was a waste of a day.”
What (if anything) are you afraid of?
I am not afraid of many things in life, but I am afraid of passing time and the jeopardized future of our precious planet. Time is passing rapidly and if we do not change our attitudes and behavior quickly, our children will suffer from our mistakes.
Where did you eat lunch today and what did you have?
Today I ate local game meat in the desert of Namibia. While growing up, I spent a lot of time here and it always feels refreshing to come back to rediscover the lands I grew up on and the local flavors I became accustomed to.
Which book(s) are you reading right now?
When I am undertaking an expedition, I do not usually have the time to read, as I am busy writing my own journey, but when I do read, I read about explorers, adventures and nature.
What/who inspires you?
I have been inspired by many people in my lifetime. I believe allowing yourself to be inspired is allowing yourself to grow and dream bigger. From a young age, I have been inspired by my parents for the freedom and the roots that they gave me, as well as polar explorers such as [Ernest] Shackleton, [Roald] Amundsen and [Robert] Scott for their limitless imagination and willpower.
Today, I’m inspired by everyone who has his or her own mountain to climb and challenges to tackle, and do so with strength and determination!
What are the most common misconceptions that people have about you and your missions?
One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that no matter what you do or how good your intentions are, people will always have misconceptions about you. It’s normal; we’re only human. If there were two main misconceptions people have about me and my mission, they would be the following: [That I am] carelessly leaving my family behind while I venture the globe and doing so for the fame.
I’ve often been criticized for selfishly risking my life while my wife and kids were waiting for my safe return home. Exploration is not only my job, it is my passion and purpose. Every time I left on a new adventure, I did so with my family’s consent and warm support.
Every step I took on every expedition I undertook, returning back home safely to my family was my destination, my reason to try harder and to stay alive.
As for the misconceived search for fame, my wish is simply to share my adventure with the world in hopes of encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones [toward] exciting and fulfilling horizons. It is not only the discovery of the world that I encourage, it is also the discovery of one’s self.
In your opinion, what is the key to success?
People often believe motivation is the key to success, but I believe that it takes more than that. In order to achieve anything in life, one needs to be disciplined. Although I’m an explorer and live for my passion, I am not always motivated to undertake challenging situations such as walking in below-freezing conditions or climbing up mountains above 8,000 meters, where oxygen is only a scarce resource.
One thing I have acquired over my years as an explorer is the discipline to push further and strive for greater. Everyone needs to be disciplined to achieve success in his or her life. Motivation without discipline will lead to unrealized dreams.
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