Thursday, January 26, 2012

A very thin line between bravery and foolishness

I wanted to share one story that I heard from NPR Saturday Weekend Edition.  It was a story about a team of three explorers led by a Swedish man S.A. Andree.  In the late 19th century, Andree had this novel idea of traveling to the North Pole using hot air balloon.  He devised this special mechanism to control balloon's navigation using heavy ropes, and calculated that he can reach the North Pole within 60 hours considering winds and weather patterns.

After his much anticipated lift-off to the sky (his balloon was funded in part by Swedish royals and Alfred Nobel, the founder of Nobel prize), he became yet another name of a thousand or so missing people who ventured out to conquer the North Pole.
What was interesting in the story was what the author of The Ice Balloon, Alec Wilkinson, said towards the end of the conversation with Scott Simon, the host of NPR Saturday Morning Edition.
SIMON: In the end, where do you weigh the balance between bravery and foolishness of Andree's mission?
WILKINSON: It's a fascinating question, isn't it? If the Wright Brothers had crashed and died, would they be madmen? But that's sort of the problem with being a pioneer, is that when you're the very first person to step off into space and off the edge of the earth there are perils awaiting you that you can't quite imagine.And the thing about pursuits such as Andree's is that they are the results of obsession. And once any of us steps into the realm of obsession we have constantly to wonder: are we being right? It's usually determined by the failure or success of the thing that happened to these people, but some people fail very honorably and certainly, Andree's failure was honorable.
I think Wilkinson is spot on.  It is a very thin line between bravery and foolishness, obsession versus vision.  When people look at you spending hours, days and years obsessing over your idea and persisting at making it work, you may very well be called a fool.  You may really be obsessed with launching your own product and seeing it become popular in the market.
One day you might feel like you are so close to making it work, you can almost taste the victory.  Another day you feel like you've completely wasted your time in pursuing your hopeless daydream.  It's difficult to maintain self confidence when overwhelmed with many challenges to overcome one by one.  You have to wrestle with yourself asking the question, whether you are really right.
Who cares?  No one is going to be able to tell you that you are a fool until you give up or die.  Find something that excites you, grab on to it and keep going.  At least you'll be remembered for your honor.

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