Deri Llewellyn-Davies: F*** The Fear, It’s Not Real Anyway (Full Transcript)

Deri Llewellyn-Davies

Deri Llewellyn-Davies, ‎Founder at BGI Strategy Partners, presents F*** The Fear, It’s Not Real Anyway! at TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh Conference Transcript.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: f-the-fear-its-not-real-anyway-by-deri-llewellyn-davies-at-tedxuniversityofedinburgh


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.

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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.

Now there is a lot of Scottish in the room, isn’t there? So before you get all fancy, that’s been nervous, all right. So piece by piece I built up. How do you face your fears one at a time? Start slowly, build momentum. So by the time I got to Everest I’d already climbed six of the other summits. And I had to face fear on every single one — different ones, different fears. And understand Malcolm Gladwell’s famous quote: 10,000 hours. How can I stand in front of you about fear because we’re at TEDx after all? My research is 10,000 hours on the mountains facing fear. That’s my research. And my conclusions are not what you expect, because once you actually face the fear, that’s just the first step. You actually got to go into it and feel it and understand it, because it’s not going away. It never does. But what’s real, that’s real fear.

My biggest fear on Everest was passing 200 dead bodies on the North Face, the 200 dead bodies that will never come down, because once you go past 7000 meters there is no return unless you can get yourself up the mountain. That’s the rules, that’s the law. And 200 bodies testify to that. Have you seen a dead body? I haven’t and that scares me. And also this is a famous guy, he’s called Green Boots. He marks the halfway point, the dead bodies are markers on that mountain. He’s a guy just like me, dreams just like me, boots just like me, he didn’t make it. That was my biggest fear and I had to face that fear and I had to go into that fear and truly understand it.

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I’ve also faced many other fears in the mountains: fear of heights. I am kind of scared of heights. That’s a good thing by the way. If you fall you die, quite simple. It’s a protection mechanism, it’s built-in us. So real fear is real fear, it’s to protect us and when you face any of your fears what you have to do is you have to say — what happens if that — what happens if it don’t do that. What happens next? Because once you go to the end conclusion of what if I do, what if I don’t. If the end conclusion is death, in this case in Everest, it is. Then that’s a really sensible for you. If it’s not death, then what are you scared off, because here’s the other fear, ego-based fear. Those who watch the movie inside out, brilliant and there he is a sneaky bastard. An ego-based fear is real in all of us. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of humiliation; is it real? No, it’s not. We have constructed it in our own minds and by the way a lot of us spent years constructing it. It’s bad management of our minds. That’s what it is because it’s not true. We’re only born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. That’s why it’s a sensible fear to have an Everest by the way, because then if you fall and you hit the floor you make a very big bang. So that’s the two fears we’re born with.

So we have to understand the difference between the two. And here’s the thing: there’s no difference. Our bodies can’t work out. So when I say it’s not real, you have to understand it’s not real. But to you it will feel real. You’re probably thinking about right now what is my regret or what I go out with. And the moment you know what it is you’ll be scared. The question is: is it real? Bearing in mind, Everest was part of the last year. My biggest fear recently, bear in mind, I’ve been in a relationship in a marriage for 15 years which I came out of last year, asking a gorgeous woman out for date. Oh my god horrible. I mean horrible fear, horrible – because what could happen: fear of rejection. And I mean it felt worse and more powerful than what I felt in Everest. So I’ve done the research to tell you it’s the same. We can’t work out the difference.

Now in this case, was the end of — was it death at the end of that, if I asked her out for a date or what’s the worst that could happen, she says no, it was ego based. It was ego based but it felt real. We just got to go past that. Now you see once we can face it and we can feel it and we can really understand it for what it is because it’s not real, then we can actually free ourselves. Because in the freedom of fear we can live fully and only in the freedom of fear can we live a life of no regrets. It’s not the easy option by the way. It’s not the easy life. But I’d tell you it’s a lot better than going out on your deathbed with a whole heap of regret.

Now once you’ve freed yourself, you can have a bit of fun along the way. So let’s get back on to Everest. If you’re going to climb Everest, let’s do it in style. So we were going for the world record attempt, the highest black-tie dinner party in the world on the North Col. We were raising money for the Shepherds ironically and I was asked the day before the earthquake doing a bit of a dry run on base camp on the north side. If you’re going to do it bring a Michelin star chef with you, that Sat Bains you might have seen him on the television. He’s got the number one restaurant in the UK right now. We brought him with us, cool. However things don’t go to plan some times and within 12 hours Sat was down, fell to pulmonary edema. He had to be emergency evacuated off the mountain. By the way I’d seen five guys go before him just to base camp. We just lost our chef. That’s not good day.

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So when you actually step back on the mountain, understand where I was at this point now. So I’d already seen people go mental, the earthquake had just happened. I thought I had pulmonary edema and I just sat there 10 minutes in total silence. I waited for my team to catch me back up. Wasn’t I scared? No, I have faced many many fears before I got on to that mountain. I was just confused because this was a fear I haven’t faced. And the reason being is earthquake is not meant to happen on Everest. That wasn’t in the holiday brochure, because an earthquake hasn’t happened in the Himalayas since the 1800s. And in 1800s man wasn’t stupid enough to climb that mountain. So no one had ever experienced what we experienced, it wasn’t normal and therefore when we were in the middle of it we had no idea what we were in. But apparently it was due thanks to that seismic experts. And it’ll be due again in a couple hundred years. So put that one in diaries.

But let’s go back, but what you do — my colleagues caught me up two minutes later. There was various swearing and excitement and bit of strangeness but thankfully they all experienced the same thing as I did. I hadn’t gone mental. Good news. None of us knew truly what we were in still. So what do you do? You crack on, 10,000 hours are going into that mountain, 10 years we weren’t stopping now. We were in the middle of a high-altitude climb. So we continued and we continued there, you can see the summit behind me. That is just below the North Col.

So four hours later we came in and four hours later we made the SAT phone help and this is when we realized what we were truly in. Bearing in mind it was World News within 10 minutes. That’s the power of the media. The news had already reported us missing, presumed dead. It was not a good day for our families, because if we had been on the south side, we would have been dead. We happened to be high on the north side. It was then we were able to go social media very quickly, say we are alive and we’re safe.

We were alive, we weren’t safe. So what do you do at this point, now the team started to come up the mountain. Now we start to understand how many people were dead. We were up there. We stayed. And that’s the story, because despite everything, despite the fears we’d face, despite the earthquake, despite the deaths, we stayed. And three of us stayed at 6500 meters. And we were still prepared to go for summit. Because we’d already faced all the fears we needed to face. But the beautiful moment was after three days and three nights on the North Face of Everest having face to face, I could look back in the last 12 years looking death in the eye and say no regrets. I’ve gone out fully, I’ve lived fully in all areas of my life. And if I was good to – if the maker is going to take me right now I can go out with no regrets. That was the beautiful moment for me, and that’s a beautiful moment I want for all of you. Is it the easy choice? No, it’s not. It’s the tough choice.

And that’s my three little girls, the apple of daddy’s eye. In 65 years time when I’m 105, I reckon I’m going that long. So I’m really lucky, remember. I want to be looking them in the eye on my deathbed and saying, ‘girls, that is live fully, that is love fully and that is left a legacy in his wake. No regrets’.

Now, was that a life of courage? No, it was a life facing thousands and thousands of fears along the way. So I say F*** the fear, it’s not real anyway.


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