Transcript: Pen Hadow – Life after Solo (Max#13)

Here’s the transcript of the final motivating interview with famous explorer Pen Hadow. To be successful in life, Pen shares his inspiring story on the lessons he learnt from his explorations and his ventures to help him to succeed in his personal and business life, inspiring people to become successful in their own life, career and business.


Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Well hello everybody and welcome back as always to Maximise Potential Podcast. And we are now very fortunate to be entering episode 13 of the Podcast and this is of course our actual final instalment within our Pen Hadow series and I have to say you know I am happy and sad all at the same time with this because it has been an absolute pleasure putting these on to the web and on to the site and on to iTunes and the response that we have had from the series has been absolutely phenomenal. I think the one thing that has astounded me looking at the podcast statistics is just how far these episodes are going already around the globe. I think our current stats are showing that we have got downloads of anything up to 20 countries and people are downloading 100s of episodes every single day. And I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you very much for all your continued support and interest in what we are doing and I am glad that the content we are putting out there for you is of interest and is obviously helping you guys work towards maximising your own potential.

Today Pen is talking to us about, obviously where we left off before was very much he had just completed the major solo run. He had got himself in the record books. This is all about now him going home and how it changed him and talking about what lessons he has learnt from his explorations and his ventures and how he has put those into not just his personal life but also his business life. There are some great management tools that he talks about, some great lessons to do with work/life balance and also how you can attack your goals and reach the destination that you would like to get to. Over to Pen and I really hope you enjoy the final instalment of the series. Thank you.


We finished last time Pen with you finally reaching your goal that you had devoted the last 15 years of your life to. You obviously got air lifted off and finally had contact with the outside world, with loved ones, with friends, with peers, did it start to sink in and begin to take on if you like the true significance of actually what you had achieved?

Pen: I laid in my tent for nine days on my sleeping bag it was so warm despite it being cloudy, despite it being -5 actually in the tent it was like being in a greenhouse it was uncomfortably hot. I was naked on my sleeping bag in my tent for nine days going nowhere in terms of walking. I actually drifted 40 miles in that time. I had one bar of power left on my battery of my sat phone. And to be able to enable me to talk to pilots for an unknown amount of time. So the only people I spoke to often for 10 seconds or less than 10 seconds giving weather reports were the pilots for nine days after my first sort of two minute phone call with my wife and my sponsor when I reached the pole. And it was like living in a mental limbo. I had finally achieved this thing that was so huge in my head and I couldn’t share it with anybody. It was really bizarre. Mental limbo and sort of very strange nine days of my life when you least want it to not be able to talk to anybody that was when I couldn’t talk to anybody. It was like the sort the dichotic was fairly major.

Kevin: Because you must have had every emotion just flooding through your body, adrenalin, I don’t know you must have wanted to cry and laugh, do everything at once.

Pen: I think I was excited. After a day or two it started to sink in what I had done for me. No one else I needed to impress or anything but for me I thought I have done this no one can ever take it away and I will always be the first. And I think in a way it helped me to be less, I think it helped me to just calm down and really integrate all that had gone on with who I was. So actually came out at the end of the nine days when I was picked up I would stay sort of thoroughly normalised I had sort of re-engaged just as I had gone through the process myself and I remember one of my base manager saying Pen the most striking thing when we picked you up on the ice was that you were entirely normal it was just like I had just saw you yesterday there wasn’t a flicker of excitement, well there was a flicker of excitement but there was no sort of unpleasant or uncharacteristic change. You were just like you had done it, that’s what you came to do and you are really sort of feel pleased about it and lets get on with life.

I found it very hard for the first sort of six weeks, normally the first four to six weeks what you find, I find anyway is that I am back in the office in front of a computer screen, so you are going from the macro view of out there, the out doors to a micro view of words jumbling around the screen. Trying to type again coma in the right place and again it is sort of mad change in perspective. And I can remember having to just throw the chair back and get away, it just doesn’t feel comfortable, it doesn’t feel right. It wasn’t in some ladida emotional way it was just brain wasn’t really, really finding it difficult after a while and I would get a coffee wander around the garden and then come back in and have another go. But after four to six weeks it is normalised. Skin – your finger tips feel different, you can strum up to nine months later I could still strum my finger tips on the side of a hot bath and I wouldn’t be able to feel them, there was no sensation in them all the nerves were damaged but slowly, slowly they reconstitute themselves, reconnect and that is normal it is just sort of function of them being extremely cold and [query 6.29] cycle through heat and cold in various complicated ways.

I then went straight into another project which I was organising, leading to the South Pole. So what was it six months later from the North Pole I was heading off towards the South Pole and nine months later I was at the South Pole again having done another unsupported journey but this time with somebody else, a past sledging partner. Then I wrote my book, and the manuscript got handed in in June of the following year so really there was a whole year where my life was absolutely full on. I had a two week holiday in that time and that was it, family holiday. And even on holiday I was working pretty hard frankly. So it wasn’t until 12 months later that I was really able to start thinking well where does this leave me now, what is the situation? And what I realised is that I now was different, you know where am I now that I wasn’t before and I realised I had a sort of profile, nationally and in fact internationally at the time and I had a certain authority as being seen as some sort of authorative expert on matters North Pole and Arctic Ocean and Sea Ice. And I had a sort of reputation within the Polar community for being you know at the forefront.

And in talking to some scientists I realised, actually in the bath, I had two linked thoughts in one bath so it was one of my better more successful baths. Which was a) people with sea ice travelling experience have a service that they can offer the scientific community. We can gather information that the scientists really need to understand the rate of sea ice loss and project when we are actually going to have an open ocean. We can gather some critical data they can’t get. And in the same bath I thought actually the way to do this is not to drill it; it is to develop some technology that will digitally record the thickness of the snow cover and the ice below it. It is about 2 – 3 metres thick just to give you an idea. And we can provide this unique service to science which will enable the global community and the policy makers within it to take the necessary actions if there are actions to be taken.

And that took me back to where I actually wanted to be before this as in since I was 27 and you could argue since I was 2. Which was to be a proper explorer going to places others cannot, finding things out that others cannot and communicating it. You know exploration – you know explore and oration – you go there and then you have to communicate it. That is what explorers do it is part of their function otherwise you are not an explorer you are an adventurer. And if you are an adventurer you are a sort of glorified tourist if you are living at the sharp end. I mean you could argue that my sort of thing was extreme tourism. Whereas exploration is about serving the wider community.

Kevin: Sure.

Pen: And I realised that I could now do that. And that was hugely exciting. The former thing was more of a trial I put myself through. You could almost say it is like a right of passage.

Kevin: Yep.

Pen: But that had enabled me to move to the next stage which was to be an explorer which is what I am now. And many of things, no I would say some of the bigger lessons I learnt having thought hard about it in my work on the sea ice I now apply in business. There are very transferable lessons. I now run a business you know a multi million pound business that links business, global brands to supporting scientists who are trying to understand some of the biggest environmental issues of our time. In the same way that business and brands if you like sponsor sport, if you remember I was the man who worked with Mark McCormak who invented sports sponsorship literally. Then business and brands started to get involved with the arts and I forecast now that it is time business and brands support the natural sciences.

Because if you accept the natural world upon which we depend entirely for our survival is showing stress of stress in response to our activities and I don’t just mean greenhouse gas omissions and the consequent global climate change and global warming I mean all sorts of things. Your local river levels are probably lower, many of them are much lower levels than when we were children and there is pollution all over the place in rivers and so on. If you accept that it is showing signs of stress and strain and therefore also accept that we need to manage our relationship with the natural world better then never has it been more important and urgent that we understand how the natural processes and connected systems work. So that we can manage our relationship with the natural world better. And that is where exploration which links if you like business with science comes into play. We can, we are made to both move, advance the scientific understanding and communicate it to those who need to know – the global public and global policy makers. That is my work now.

Kevin: I remember when we were speaking in the early interviews you expressed that you always felt quite unfulfilled initially in the very early stages of your career and that was what took you to go on this journey. To actually reach the goal which in your case was to achieve the solo expedition. And now it sounds to me like that you can settle down, that you can start giving back because you have achieved what you personally wanted to achieve you can now apply those lessons within a more of a business environment but combining that with the greater good.

Pen: I think that is exactly right I could never have planned this. I tried terribly hard to plan it but it proved to be not plannable. What has happened for me is that you know I find myself in the Polar Regions I identified the leading edge project challenge to be done and I managed to get there in the end and achieving it. And then even during the journey I had no life frankly beyond reaching the Pole. Until I could reach the Pole I couldn’t move forward, it was like a complete block, there was no point just keep floating more and more resources on achieving this thing until you have done it – that is what really happened. It became obsessional not healthy for me or people around me, my family my wife in particular. But when I did do it as I was approaching the Pole in the last two or three days I was starting to realise I think I am getting to get well now what. It wasn’t that it hadn’t occurred to me that I would get there it was just there is no part in planning. Now I could start planning and it was massive release really of energy. All that headspace that was previously occupied in trying to bring off this feat and I tell you it was massive on a daily basis for years. When I drove my children to school I didn’t hear the questions they asked in the back of the car let alone answer them. When I was watching telly with my wife I wasn’t really watching telly most of the time I was planning how I could get the weight of the sledge down. How I could increase the temperature of the snow in the bags that I had collected in the night before I melted in the morning so they would be warmer so it wouldn’t need so much fuel to melt them and therefore I could have a lighter sledge. You know that’s what it got to. So suddenly oh I didn’t have to worry about any of that it was a whole new world.

So there was the sort of enormous release of energy which was rather hidden when I had to then work very hard to pull off the South Pole project but then it started to sort of you know become more evident there is all this headspace what am I going to do. There is no planned arc. The North Pole I realised was just a stepping stone, a staging post, it wasn’t the end game. I sort of knew it wasn’t but it was to all intensive purposes until I got there. As soon as I got there within hours if you like it was just a stepping stone it wasn’t the end game. And you are right there has been this transfer from all about me and there are very strong personal nurturing as opposed to naturing reasons why I felt I had to do what I did, really powerful and they had to be powerful to achieve it but they have all been addressed. So now if you crudely say I feel I am my own man now I can do whatever feels right more broadly and I have found this way entirely sort of naturally, feels very comfortable this is what I should now be doing. And it is working.

But I do want to say something that I feel passionate about because it all sounds rather good doesn’t it so far. But there are prices that are paid. Well let me put it this way there are prices that I have paid and they are very high prices. The immense focus drive and all those other positive words that it took to pull this off have a flip side. And the flip side is for every degree of focus that you apply you are by definition leaving out other things. And I would really like to flag up that maybe the work/life balance is something that needs to be thought about very carefully.

For those that are looking to maximise their potential how do you marry that ambition with getting an appropriate life balance? And I don’t have the answers but I think that being aware, every time you tighten the focus on what it is that you are trying to achieve, be aware of the things that you are letting go or not attending to whether it be your partner, your immediate family, your wider family, your friends – is that what you want to do? How long are you going to leave them, how long are you prepared to let them go before the price is too high. And maybe one way of looking at it, and I am only just starting to think about this myself is it is, I can hardly say that I tried to do this all too quickly the North Pole – it took me 15 years.

But I think that maybe there is something in the idea that fulfilling your potential you don’t have to do it in the first ten years it is a life process and in not hurrying you can keep engaged with more people. And I think the big lesson that I have learnt since I reached the Pole is that actually you can’t achieve anything worthwhile without involving and engaging and working with and recognising the role of other people. No one does it absolutely on their own even me on the North Pole. It wasn’t a solo act. Without my wife’s support in letting me go whilst she looked after two young children I couldn’t be on the ice just at the most basic level. So there are people playing their part in enabling things to be possible for you. Sometimes it is made obvious and sometimes it is not. But I think I had a responsibility to proactively work out who was doing what for me to make this possible. And what price they were paying. And if they are paying a price what is the upside for them you know. And having said all of this are you actually going to deliver – give them that upside, work it out and give it to them. Don’t just take things for granted. So I think it is actually a big subject for me is all about the people that you work with. They are the people that make things possible for you and if you do it in the right way they get a buzz out of it as well and then everyone starts to be fulfilling their potential.

Kevin: It sounds an awful catch 22 situation that you were in. From the discussions that we have had over this time it seems like without that dedication to the cause, to reach your goal as it was then which was to reach the North Pole that you would have been an incredibly restless unfulfilled character anyway. And yet by devoting yourself to that and achieving your goal I guess it has had knock on affects in your life in a direction that you necessarily would have never wished for them to happen. What have you taken away from all of this and also the approach that you are now taking with this understanding that by a complete devotion to one area of your life it does actually have a knock on affect?

Pen: I think that it is one tactic within the strategy of fulfilling ones potential is to prioritise areas of your life and give extreme or extraordinary focus on one area and others therefore get deprioritised and get left relatively unattended. And I think maybe, it is only for me, fulfilling ones potential is to not necessarily be at the expense, well I think one should be aware that there is a holistic view of potential. Potential doesn’t have to be a laser like long range beam into the far distance to reach a particular thing whether it is to achieve a salary of £100,000 a year or to end up with a pension that is you know £5m or to drive a BMW brand new corporate company car before I reach the age of 25. It’s taking people along with you on the journey. Sharing the journey. How do you do that? That’s what interests me and I think what is probably increasingly I am trying to do.

More specifically I think that because if we just think about maximising potential how does one do that I think that the limits on ones potential are really in your mind, mainly they are in your mind. If you imagine a box, draw a box on a piece of paper, sorry draw a square on a piece of paper and then you draw sort of three wiggly circles within it, one within the other within the other. And in the middle circle you write the word ‘play zone’ and in the next layer out you put ‘adventure zone’ and in the third layer out you put ‘new frontier zone’ and in the remaining edges within the box that is left you put ‘misadventure’. What realising potential is partly about is expanding these, the area of which these zones occupy within the box. The box is infinitely huge actually. So maybe you shouldn’t put a box just put ‘misadventure’ on the outside on the bit of paper and the rest of the paper is the infinity. Now a lot of my work as a guide when I was a professional guide for 15 years going on 20 years on the arctic ocean was about very quickly identifying what people’s ‘play zones’ were, where they felt totally unchallenged easy peasy and then when they were sort of moving into ‘adventure zone’ they were starting to spark up – this is pretty fun actually I am getting the hang of this, I can do this, I can do that and I am pretty charged. And then recognising when they are in the ‘new frontier zone’ so they are now, now it is really exciting and pretty scary, I think I can do this just. And then you have got the ‘misadventure zone’ – that’s where it is bloody terrifying and if something goes wrong in my world you are going to die. In a corporate world you are going to get fired.

So it is all about getting to know your colleagues in a business context where they are totally comfy, where they like to be which is adventure. Probably not the adventure zone all the time that would be exhausting so a mix of play and adventure. Repeat you know consistently but not all the time. Providing new frontier experiences. It is all about progression, incremental improvements, expansion of the zones so that you are pushing out, if you like on this bit of paper, you are pushing out those circles further and further and further and further and further out and the interesting part bit are actually the lines because that it is the interface between adventure and new frontier. That is where you want to be, really working at all the time. And you can’t do it on your own you need to have technical skills, you need to be supported in those experiences and so it is training. Technical is training; support is coaching and having sensitive superiors or whatever the phrase is you know managers and a sort of a programme. You need to know where you are heading on your career path or within your company and then all things are possible. Because you are never over faced with some huge thing that really sets you back. You just think oh sales is not for me I am not a sales person far too scary I am just no good at it. You never want to get there; there is no need to get into that situation. So incrementally you can just go on. That is what I have done I have just gone on and on and on and on. And I am so far down the corridor that there is hardly anyone else left. You know there is just me and a Norwegian and a Japanese chap that is about it. But there is nothing very clever about it we have just kept going.

Kevin: Yeah.

Pen: Leadership is, well a lot of it is about supporting and enabling those around you to fulfil or expand your potential. But you should be fulfilled and fulfilling your potential at any point. It is not an end point it is a process. So as long as you are in that interface between adventure and new frontier often enough the fact that you are in your play zone for 20% of the time is fine. You just burn out if you are trying to be amazing on all fronts at all times guess what you are going to be hugely egocentric, you are probably going to be hugely unpopular and isolated and that is not actually what it is about.

Kevin: And from what you are saying as well you can apply it equally within your own career, within your own life because it sounds to me that if you flip this over and you look at it from an individual perspective then what you are saying is challenge yourself, take yourself subtly away from your core competencies, away from your comfort zone, learn new skills, experience new activities and constantly add to your repertoire.

Pen: Well it is certainly what I am doing and sometimes I do it deliberately because I have thought about it and I think right this is what I need to do. And sometimes it is sort of in the moment or immediately after I think gosh I know what I have just been doing there. I think that a lot of people need to be proactively supportive. Just hoping that people are going to fulfil their potential. I mean some people for all sorts of good reasons don’t know how to do it or even sometimes why they should do it. And none of it is rocket science; it is all very straight forward. The sort of incremental progression with them being supported and guided along the path. So I don’t expect everyone to go around with people listening, those of you listening now are probably more inclined towards maximising your potential. But probably those around you if you are a sort of management or leadership position who wont necessary get it but would be enormously grateful more often than not to be shown what this means and how you do it because it gives you a sort of momentum in life. You are going somewhere, you are not just you know standing still. And standing still not always but can sometimes be actually not a good situation to be in.

Kevin: It is interesting when you speak about that because I think over the last 18 months in particular I think more people have not just felt like they have been standing still but have felt like at times the whole world has come crashing in on them. I can only imagine that you as a perfect example is someone who faced that type of scenario time and time again when you have been constantly having to go back to the drawing board with your projects to try and find solutions to problems that people just simply didn’t have answers to. And I wonder if you can relate some of those experiences to what people in a business world or a career world have actually been going through in the last 18 months.

Pen: I have been in my outdoor life in, under immense pressure and on the point of collapsing giving up and I now know what my response is in those situations and let’s just say it has worked for me so far. It is I cant really usefully convey in the sort of 360o holistic all singing all dancing exponential way what it is like out there when things are going badly. That is what I would call show time. Now you can either say now it is time to seriously think about giving up or you can start to say this is what it is all about. By which I mean this is where we discover what sort of person you are, what sort of person I am and what I do next will inform me and those around me of who I am, of what I stand for, of what I am capable of, but really who I am. I don’t think I am a quitter, I know I am not a quitter but are those who said I have no doubt Pen you gave up in 1994. You can dress that however you like you quit, you quit in 1998. But I didn’t obviously in 2003. But I came very close to it on a number of occasions and I think it is important that people know that, it wasn’t all sunny and just kept going in some sort of semi heroic style and I really had some desperate moments. But what I used to think was this I am under a lot of pressure I will think about the sponsors because they funded me and they would expect this of me and I said that I could get there. But to be honest pretty quickly that doesn’t cut ice. With the best will in the world it gets you same way but it may only be another five minutes, it gets you five minutes further or five days further but really when you are under extreme pressure we are talking about minutes. So then you think about your family – your parents, your brothers and sisters, your wife, your partner and that gets you quite a lot further.

But for me it came down to my children and I wanted to be able to look them in the eye when I am an old man and they are in their 30s or 40s and they say Dad you know when you gave up tell me about that, why did you give up. I wanted to be able to look them in the eye and say I gave up for this reason and I wanted to be able to sit in that armchair and say it with confidence. That was an entirely understandable and good reason to be giving up. And I often found that even while thinking these thoughts I was already moving through and out the other side of the pressure. All things seemed to be possible – I don’t actually have to stop now I am still walking I am still pulling a sledge there is no absolute reason looking around why I have to stop so lets just keep going. I used to think of having my children and I do this in business as well, I have this vision of my children able to watch me from a webcam while I am in a business meeting, while I am doing what I am doing and thinking especially when one is under pressure would my children be proud of me now. Because I can go back home and say, you can say what you like, but actually watching you right now would they be saying ‘good old dad wish I could be more like that or be like that’. Or I hope when I am in that situation I would be like that. And you know it is a form of pressure but sometimes it is not really designed to be pressure just a matter of helping you to refocus on what you can be, who you are and what you can be. And that’s just you know that’s what I do. You are not alone there are people you are carrying along on the journey and you define who you are by the actions that you take. There is a really valid thought, I forget who said it, be careful what you dream because dreams become thoughts and thoughts become actions and actions become behaviour and behaviour is you. And I think that is quite informing really.

Kevin: Pen thank you as always for your time and for such a wonderful insight into your life.

So there you have it that concludes our interviews with record breaking explorer Pen Hadow. What I would like to highlight to you I suppose lets just talk briefly about some of the people we have got coming up. I think one of the next interviews I am putting up live on the sight and on iTunes will be a wonderful piece from an expert in communication who can help us all in harnessing the power of our communication that bit more effectively whether it is within our personal lives or within our work. So that will be fascinating to listen to as well as we have got an excellent update coming from Elliot Cole who’s outdoor triathlon season is drawing to an end and he is going to come on and really give us a review of how his first full season at triathlon has gone. He has made some incredible steps this year so that is going to be a pleasure to listen to as well.

And that brings us to about it. I would like to ask as always actually if you have been enjoying the podcast please, please, please could you just spend a couple of minutes go to iTunes put a quick review on there. It really helps other people get a feel for what this podcast is all about and I would just really appreciate it.

And finally I am going to finish off with a song today called ‘Diffuse’ from the Volume 3 album from Xerxes. So please enjoy it and tune in very soon to the next episode of maximise potential. Thank you.


Thanks for viewing the transcript of the final motivating interview with Pen Hadow. We hope that by listening to the range of interviews on Maximise Potential, you are taking positive steps forward to being successful in life and maximising your own potential.

The next motivating interview on the Podcast, Kay White, NLP coach, Communications Specialist and Trainer, offers career coaching advice on how to develop effective and powerful communication in your everyday life helping you to be successful.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!