Sunday, January 29, 2012

Making the most of our down time

Fritjof Nansen

 Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.

 People don’t like waiting. Lines, waiting rooms, oven timers, traffic jams are generally not things we look forward to. Least of all when your life is put on hold; when we have to wait to move forward. Few like their plans halted for any amount of time. My plans aren’t even that important, but I still hate it.

It’s easy to get mired down with a sense of self-pity during wait times. If only I could land this job, then…THEN my life could really get started. Or, Gee, I know I’d really be a great artist, but I don’t have the connections. If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed until “some day,” growth can easily be stunted.

I was very inspired to learn about Norwegian explorer and zoologist, Fritjof Nansen, who in March 1895, embarked on an unprecedented expedition across Greenland [made all the more complicated because the unconventional mode of transport he chose was skiing]. What had been slated as a 5-month trek, actually turned out to be much longer than he had counted on. Perhaps explorers got used to waiting and unexpected changes in plans, but I’m sure they sill got old.

The traveling conditions were bad. They had only what they could carry. They were close to starvation. If they didn’t speed up a little, they were sure to run out of food. While Nansen admitted some doubt to his journal, his guiding philosophy was, “a line of retreat from proposed action is a snare and that one should burn his boats behind him so there is no choice but to go forward. “  

The whole time he was traveling, he had his eyes on the prize, as they say. I’m sure it would be hard to be so forward focused that the day-to- day frustrations don’t get to you. At least that’s how it would be for me. Oh my GOSH!! we are out of food AGAIN!!!

So, after 78 days of skiing across Greenland amid grueling temperatures and dangerous conditions, Nansen’s crew reached the settled west coast only to realize that the last boat left 2 months earlier. Talk about your heart sinking. They were stranded for a winter in Greenland.

Undaunted, they created a hut with stone and moss. With a steady supply of bear, walrus and seal, they never went hungry. Nansen made the most of his time. He spent the winter hunting, sketching, taking pictures, studying, writing, and fishing. He explored, made new friends and learned to kayak. When he got home, he had enough notes and information for 2 books. 

He didn’t make it home until May 1896. If he had spent the time fretting and moping [like I would have done, no doubt], he wouldn’t have been able to have the mindset to be creative. In fact, he even writes as they are leaving, "It was not without sorrow that we left this place and these people, among whom we had enjoyed ourselves so well.”

Talk about making the most of a plan gone awry…



  1. This definitely puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I don't think I would have done too well if that had been me in that situation. I'd be freaking out!

  2. me too!! i just think about how i get when plans get delayed unexpectedly. he is my new hero!!...b