Deri Llewellyn-Davies, Founder at BGI Strategy Partners, presents F*** The Fear, It’s Not Real Anyway! at TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh Conference Transcript.
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Deri Llewellyn-Davies – Founder at BGI Strategy Partners
Courage. What is it anyway? Are you born with it? Do you acquire it over time? I propose today that it’s a myth. And what we’ve got to get to is its source: fear. Because if you can truly face that, you can be free and it’s not real.
11:56 a.m. 25th of April. Not many of you will remember that minute and what you were doing. But that minute was going to change my life. I was in the Rombak valley on the North Face of Everest, 6,300 meters up. That is really bloody high. And the Rombak valley is the final spine as you go to the North Face and it comes down in a massive bowl and up into the center comes a ridge, a spine ridge. And you can see me climbing it just in the background there, and that rock is terminal moraine.
We’ve been climbing for four hours. It’s one of the most brutal high-altitude climbs in the world before you hit the North Col. And we had another four hours to go. I’m smiling, but what that masking is I cannot breathe right there. But it was a beautiful day. That valley is also framed by ice pinnacles called ice penitentes. That’s me 10 minutes before and that’s me 10 minutes after. So you can see the size of those ice pinnacles, the only place on earth they actually occur.
And as I was walking — I was alone by the way – I’d separated from my team, I had a moment of isolation in the mountain. I took my pack off, placed it on the floor and the floor winter there. And then it went back again. And that’s when I hit the deck and held onto the rock with my bare hands until I drew blood. I rode a bucking bronco and the bucking bronco was Everest itself. That was one thing I know for sure. That mountain is not meant to move. It’s kind of stable.
So then after it stopped, it went totally silent. And I thought I got mental high-altitude pulmonary edema, swelling of the brain. That’s what happens up there. I thought it was my turn, and you’ll see why in a little while. But then the biggest fear for mountaineer is avalanche. When you have an avalanche you hear boom first. You’ve got about 20 seconds to put your pants before it hits you, because there’s nothing else you can do.
And in this moment, it wasn’t one avalanche, the entire Rombak Valley avalanche: boom, boom, boom. And then the ice pinnacles started to crack and crash all around, 100 foot-high ice pinnacles crashing. I sat there in the palm of God and I watched Armageddon unleashed all around me. And I was safe. If you ever want to do an adventure come with me, because I’m really lucky.
But that’s not the story, it was what happened next. And I’ll just put into context you might have seen the earthquake in the Pole. We were in the middle of an 8.1 earthquake. I didn’t know anything about earthquakes. That’s a really big one by the way. And we were right in the epicenter. And what you saw on the south side on the news where the avalanche came and ultimately killed a lot of my colleagues, that was below the red helicopter.
The red helicopter was the highest helicopter rescue in the world. We were the star well above it. There was no rescue for us. I love the fact that most geese and ducks fly only that high by the way. That’s my favorite part of that slide. That was the deadliest day on the mountain in history and one of the worst natural disasters in the world. What does that mean? 9,000 people died that day. 9000 people in the port and 19 dead on the other side of the mountain just over from where I was and my comrades. That’s a big day.
But where that day began was 12 years before, because what happened next, if I don’t put it into context you will assume I’m crazy. If you don’t think I’m crazy already. 12 years before, I sat on my father’s deathbed. It was two days before he died. He held my hand and he looked into my eyes. Now understand I’m a Welshman, working class boy from West Wales, a tiny little village called Langham, where I come from most of the men are completely emotionally challenged. So the fact that my dad was holding my hand looking into my eye was a bit weird anyway. But he lay there and he said this: ‘Son, I’ve been such a fool. I haven’t lived my life fully. I regret so much’. That’s the day it changed for me and that’s when I actually stepped up for the first time and said, ‘I am going to live a life of no regrets. I am not going out the same way. On my deathbed I’m going to have a different answer. That’s my choice’ and that’s where it changed. That’s where it changed me.
Now at that point if you’re going to go big, but if you’re going to go with no regrets, go big. So I decided to do the Global Adventures Grand Slam, and that involved climbing seven of the highest mountains in the world, running six marathons back to back across the Sahara Desert, six marathons across the jungle and Ironman and the two Poles. Why through an Ironman, and that was the hardest one by the way. And every year I have gone ahead and done one of those things, to the point now, we’re kind of doing most of them.
But here’s the thing. The moment you commit is the moment you get really excited. And what is that you’re going to commit to? By the way this is not about adventure as much as you think. This is not about adventure, this is about your true-soul calling. Mine’s adventure which it wasn’t by the way, this is a tough one. This could be art, this could be poetry, this could be music. But it’s something inside of you that you need to express before you die. Otherwise you are going to go out with regret. By the way this covers all areas of life. This is relationships, this is business, this is why I started to become an entrepreneur right after this moment. And once you’re doing in one area it permeates and it goes into every area.
And for me adventure is a kind of cool metaphor. And the moment you commit you need to face that fear, because it isn’t going away. Now you need a big enough why as well, that’s a bigger topic for today. My why is always I come back to: am I going to regret it? That’s my big why and always looking at my father’s deathbed and saying: am I going to regret it if I don’t?
So if you’re going to start to face the fears, start small. I didn’t. I started with six marathons back to back across the Sahara Desert. That’s a really stupid place to start. Don’t do that. Legal disclaimer: don’t do the crazy shit I do. But when I got on to the mountains, I’d learned from that. And so I decided to start on – I am a Welshman — let’s start on Snowden. Now no one told me the slide at the time, that is apparently called a mountain. I now realize it’s a hill and I completely got led astray on that one thinking I was suddenly imagining.