We have all heard the term endurance and associate it mainly with sporting activities that require extended periods of effort, such as ultra running, multi-stage events or adventure experiences such as eco-challenges and ocean crossings.

I currently define endurance as the ability to keep going through tough terrain.  

But is tough terrain, and therefore, endurance reserved for athletes and adventurers? And, can we only learn about endurance from those types of people. The amount of literature around the topic which centres around these types of people seems to suggest so.

In exploring endurance, I differentiate between CHOSEN ENDURANCE and FORCED ENDURANCE. At times, the need for endurance is forced on us through circumstances. Many people face hardship and struggle every single day. They require endurance to navigate consistently tough terrain. Can we honestly exclude the elderly grandmother who has single handedly raised 5 grandchildren, living below the poverty line in a rough area with no running water or electricity for the past 20 years, from the category of people both display endurance. Definitely not. Could we turn to her as a teacher of what it means to develop endurance? Absolutely.  Can we learn more about endurance from the pioneers, the Mandela’s, those forced into endurance due to circumstances. Of course.

For the athlete who chooses to place themselves in the midst of tough terrain, they too require endurance to navigate those circumstances. And, we can learn a great deal from them, right back from Shackleton’s incredible voyage (on a ship called endurance!), to Courney Dauwater, an incredible ultra runner taking on significant races and winning them.

But there are some fundamental differences between CHOSEN AND FORCED ENDURANCE.

CHOSEN ENDURANCE is typically for a period of time. FORCED ENDURANCE can be ongoing.

CHOSEN ENDURANCE includes time and space for self-reflection, healing and recovery. FORCED ENDURANCE can be for extended periods of time, or even life, which has negative consequences on health, mental wellbeing and can even rob people of their hopes and dreams.

CHOSEN ENDURANCE allows you to prepare in advance, and train for the tough terrain that you will be navigating. FORCED ENDURANCE is relentless; you have to learn and adapt constantly and perhaps had the circumstance spring on you without warning.

CHOSEN ENDURANCE often ends in celebration and with good food and drink. FORCED ENDURANCE often ends with a funeral, a mix of celebrating a life mixed with the real and raw reflections on the tough circumstances that they had to endure.

At the end of the day, none of us are excluded from the need from endurance. We will all, at some point choose endurance or be forced into it. We will have to navigate tough terrain. And in order to navigate the tough terrain, we require endurance.

Endurance is not a skill. Nor is it a trait. For me, endurance is an eco-system. It’s a multi-faceted approach to navigating tough terrain. When we begin to open the endurance box and unpack what’s inside, we learn more about how the key areas that we can focus on in order to develop endurance in our lives.  And, whether you are in the midst of chosen or forced endurance, I believe what’s in the box looks the same.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require GRIT.

Grit for me is what you choose over a victim mentality. It’s the opposite of giving up. It’s the decision to keep going to matter what you are facing.  When facing up to tough terrain, there are simply times when you are dry of every ounce of inspiration or motivation. That is when we need grit. Grit keeps us going.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require purpose, vision and values.

These elements of our story are fundamental to developing endurance. For Shackleton, it was about exploration and discovery. For Mandela it was about liberation. For the athlete it’s about testing limits and finishing challenges. For the woman single handedly raising those children, it’s about survival and ensuring the next generation get educated. We all have our reasons, but those reasons are key.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require a positive perspective.

I have been privileged enough to travel to some of the poorest places in Africa. Meeting those who live in squalor, I was always amazed at their ability to focus on whatever good was around them. In fact, at times it seemed those with very little were far more happier than those who had excess. Perspective is a powerful attribute when it is a healthy perspective. I have had to hang onto a positive perspective while running 100 miles or while navigating a difficult period in my business. Forced or chosen, perspective is key to endurance.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require a system.

Getting through circumstances whether it be a race, adventure or lifelong struggle requires a system. Forced or chosen, endurance is all about what I can put IN in order to ensure that I get to the finish. It’s the inputs which count, from preparing daily meals, to fetching water, to collecting grant money, to developing a training plan, to buying the right gear and eating the right nutrition. Those who choose endurance certainly have the luxury of choice here and the resources to develop world class systems. Those who are forced into endurance simply have to make do with what’s in front of them. Regardless, endurance includes a system of daily actions which all build up to help us through.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require adaptability.

No circumstance or plan is predictable. Change is a part of the picture. Our ability to be agile, adjust and think on our feet is a critical component of what it means to have endurance. It may fly in the face of grit, but in actual fact agility and grit go hand in hand. Too often, we grit out a circumstance when in actual fact there may be another way. Remaining open to alternatives and being willing to change routes underpins successful navigation of tough terrain. Of course, there are circumstance in both chosen endurance (summiting Everest for example) and forced endurance (being in prison for 27 years) which have limited or no alternatives for getting to the intended goal. But for the most part, there can be another way if we look for it, and when we find it, embrace it.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require a tribe.

This is really about the spirit of ubuntu, which is literally the idea that we NEED each other in order to do life. We celebrate successes and good times with others. We also call on others when times are tough. In the most trying of circumstances, you will find people rallying and working together to find a way. Those in abject poverty will navigate it with an incredible sense of community, helping each other whenever they can rather than holding their possessions back. Even the lone athlete or adventure, when commenting on what saw them through, will reflect on a loved one or recall a conversation. They may also have a support team around them. Very rarely is endurance simply about one person. Most often, surrounding all of those who endure is a tribe.

Chosen and Forced Endurance require a surrender to failure.

True endurance includes failure. There will simply be moments when we don’t succeed. This can be as tragic as the inability to cope with circumstances resulting in full blown medical challenges or pulling out of a race due to injury. It could be a demotion. It could be the end of a relationship. Whether forced or chosen, the road will include loss and failure. This is a very real part of life. Endurance requires all of us to face failure in the face, no matter how touch. It’s how we deal with failure that counts.

These are some of the aspects that make up endurance. This is part of the eco-system that we must develop in cultivating endurance in our lives. My. Commitment is to explore endurance in more detail, to unpack these elements further, and to learn from those choose endurance, and from those who are forced into endurance. Because we all need endurance, it means that we were all designed for tough terrain. We were designed for The Middle.

If we can talk about it, we can develop it in our lives and help others to do the same.

Share this post