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You don’t sail across the world’s seven seas and summit the world’s tallest mountains without learning something. Martin Frey, the Guinness World Record holder for being the first person to do it, sums up the key to success in one word: “relentless.”
Frey, a highly successful business leader who was an early employee at Cisco, says, “I’ve been an angel investor but am currently transitioning my time and focus towards projects that drive social innovation, and my portfolio towards investments that have a social impact.”
He explained key lessons from his adventures that have meaning for social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders.
Martin Frey during his North Pacific sail, courtesy of Martin Frey.
Climbing the seven summits, the highest peaks on all seven continents, and sailing across the seven major oceans of the world of the world took 11 years. He began in 2005 and finished on April 17, 2016.
“Your attitude will define your success more than your capabilities.” Frey learned this lesson on his first summit, Denali, back in 2005. He was in a group of six people, only two of whom reached the summit. He says he had no physical capacity the others didn’t, nor did he have more climbing experience. He said, “When it didn’t go as they wanted, it bothered them. It caused physical deterioration to accelerate.”
“Embrace the unknown when everything is ambiguous.” One key factor, he notes, is the ability to accept the vicissitudes of life. He saw that both on the mountains and in the sailing races around the world. He noted, “We were in a storm for six days and it started to get to people. They couldn’t deal with the uncertainty.“
“When you are tacking into the wind you have to maintain momentum.” Momentum is more important than short term direction. You can’t steer the ship without forward momentum. This lesson, he says, is especially important for nonprofits. In any business, it is more important to make progress, find customers or donors and to make something happen than it is to be on exactly the right course. This insight leads to the next.
“Constantly course correct as you go.” Sometimes, he says, you should change course. This has to be done along the way. You can’t return to port, you must keep moving forward, but with an adjusted goal or destination in mind.
“Anticipate your transitions.” He shared this insight with students graduating from Utah Valley University in May of this year. “While cross-country skiing to the South Pole, I realized that I was in another transition, having just completed the 7 summits. As I crossed the barren Antarctica, I planned my sailing circumnavigation with my family and then actually purchased a sail boat while on my satellite phone still in my skis. I knew by then that if I didn’t move quickly that my ultimate goal of achieving a world first would be at risk.”
“Relentlessly solve problems and remove variables.” He says, “We passed a lot of other sailors because we were relentless at solving problems. Others would get stuck in port waiting for a part. It wasn’t brashness, it was a relentless determination.” He said he consciously worked to remove the variables that would take the team off course, sometimes thinking two or three ports ahead to order parts and supplies that would be needed along the way. In Bali, he hired a guy on a moped to take him to a machine shop to have a part made. “I was relentless.”
“Climb the invisible mountains.” While Frey climbed mountains you can see, he says, some people climb invisible mountains. These may be personal challenges like overcoming addiction or learning to speak Mandarin, or they may be service to others. Feeding the homeless may not bring the notoriety of climbing Everest, but it is a mountain worth climbing. He said, “My wife Kym has focused her life on climbing the mountains of service. Her support and influence has improved the lives of children, shut-ins, the hospitalized and the disabled. Sometimes she wishes she had more visible accomplishments that she could lay claim to, like starting a business or writing a book, but her dedication to service always brings her back to climbing the invisible mountains. These types of meaningful pursuits will culminate in a life that matters, and certainly bring more joy than any business or book.”
Martin Frey, atop Everest, courtesy of Martin Frey
Frey is at heart an engineer. He has no interest in ideas that sound good and don’t work. When he talks to nonprofit leaders, he is focused on measuring success. “Donors and investors also need quantifiable metrics to evaluate various charities and ultimately determine the results of their charitable giving or impact investing.” He believe these lesson have value because they work.
On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Frey will join me here for a live discussion about his seven lessons from sailing around the world and climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.