He knew how to deal with people. He was one of ten children in an Irish family that eventually moved to London. Ten siblings. He understood how to navigate personality. Shackleton became a journalist and then became involved in the Geographical Society. It was an illustrious group of men in that society and a poor Irish boy was held in little esteem.
“I will reach the South Pole,” he announced. Why not? He had a strong taste for adventure. He assembled a crew and got funding. He got a ship, the Endurance. I would be the medical officer.
We set sail with fanfare. We had no idea when we would be back in England. I won’t recount our entire journey. You can read that in libraries. But we lost the Endurance. The ice crushed it. I was near despair. So were most of the men. The Stygian gloom of the Antarctic began to look like a tomb for our meager bodies. We would die here.
Shackleton didn’t waver though. He led us, or rather played us, like an impeccable conductor. There was always a gleam in his eyes. His capacity for survival never wavered. He never showed weakness. I was beginning to think it was impossible for his will to slacken.
You know, of course, that we all survived. Not a single man died. I did what I could to ease the suffering of the men. What I remember about our expedition was that I was ready to succumb to the elements. I was ready to die. But Shackleton wasn’t. He had an unwavering desire for survival and grand adventure.
We never reached the South Pole. Roald Amundsen did. But I don’t think our trip was a disaster. I learned that if I could dig deep inside me and if I had a solid leader that I could survive nearly anything. Each one of the crew owed their life to Shackleton.
In one of my journals, I had written – “He was marvelous.” Shackelton. I learned what leadership was from him. For that, I am eternally grateful. I now live in the South of France and have a housekeeper who makes my breakfast and lunch. The housekeeper does things around the house without my needing to ask. She’s old and corpulent. I told her one day, “You’re marvelous.” She looked at me baffled. “Why? For living a life of service?” Yes. Yes. Shackleton served all us men. Maybe that’s the key to living. To go beyond your own ego.