It is funny how sometimes a simple gesture or event can lead to tremendous inspiration. Many times, in hindsight, it is not earth shattering but leads to a feeling that lasts for years or even changes our thinking. In 2008 I was attending a Bar Association convention in Duluth. The guest speaker was Will Steger, the Minnesota born polar explorer and now activist for climate change. This is a guy I have read about and admired for years. We all followed him over the years when in 1986 he completed the first unsupported dog sled journey to the North Pole. He went on to also explore Greenland from South to North by dogsled, and in 1989 he went 3,471 miles across Antarctica again by dog sled. I remember seeing pictures of him and his team and his dogs back in the 1980’s and we were all impressed at how he and his team could survive in such harsh conditions. To say he was inspirational in the 1980s would be an understatement. This is a guy who had a crazy dream, but did what it took to follow that dream. Instead of thinking about wild adventures this guy went on wild adventures.
I knew Steger must be a tough and courageous guy, but it surprised me when I heard him speak at the Bar convention, and I realized how humble and likable he was. He definitely has a passion for educating us all on climate change and he should. This is clearly a serious problem that he has seen first hand. However, instead of preaching hate or blame, he is all about the educational piece and about a call to action for the greater good. His presentation started with how he was raised by great parents who let him explore his surroundings. He was clearly grateful to them for a good start in life and gave them a lot of credit. They let him explore even at a young age and to follow his dream, even allowing him and a friend or brother to take a boat down the Mississippi by themselves.
His presentation involved great pictures of his team of people that went on each expedition and of course pictures of his dogs, but also the pictures of melting glaciers and the loss of ice caps. He has been asked to speak frequently in Congress and all over the world on climate change, because of his knowledge and first hand experience and because he is an impressive and charismatic guy who can inspire us all. This is a man who inspires us to do better and to be better about protecting our environment through his humble quiet presentation. This is a noble thing, but I found deeper inspiration as I sat and listened to his presentation in that Duluth convention hall.
In 2008 I had three teenagers, ages nineteen, sixteen and fourteen and was getting to that point in my life where my kids were becoming more self sufficient. They were expecting and getting more autonomy and I expected good decisions from them and to be more mature than most of their friends. My husband and I were busy in our careers and busy with family things. Listening to Will talk about his family and how his parents loved him and expected great things from him, but did not hover, inspired me to give my own kids more leeway, but yet hold them accountable. I had few hard and fast rules, but I expected good grades, to be home at a decent hour, and they had to treat others with respect. I warned them that if they showed me that they needed strict rules by their behavior, I would be happy to give them strict rules. I never set a curfew and I never had to. They knew they had to be home at a reasonable hour depending on the day of the week and whether they had school the next day and what was reasonable depended upon their age and they knew that. They knew that if they were coming home late there better be a real great reason.
We lived on three acres of woods surrounded by acres and acres of preserve with a large pond attached to our property. The kids were always able to explore the woods with us when they were younger and by themselves or with their friends when they were older. We always encouraged outdoor adventures and encouraged curiosity through outdoor exploration. When my son showed an interest in hunting, I was fortunate enough to be able to send him out to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Ortonville, Minnesota, to oversee his first hunting experience after he went through gun safety training. When my high school senior daughter wanted to visit one of our foreign exchange students in Germany by herself that summer, we helped her work out the details to try the best we could to make sure it was well planned and safe and we let her go with our blessing.
My kids had no idea how much Will Steger may have inspired some of that autonomous parenting that we had in place. I have to say I was parented like that so I certainly leaned towards more independence for my kids, but a lot of their friends had really strict rules. I chose a different style and it worked.
I not only had inspiration for how I raised my kids as I listened to Steger back in 2008, but after the presentation I stood in line to buy one of his posters and to get his autograph and have a few seconds to talk with him and tell him how inspiring he was and is. I had seen the picture before. It was mainly of a beautiful blue sky hanging over the white blowing landscape of Antarctica. The dogs are curled in the snow in the foreground, tails protecting their faces in their harnesses waiting to get started for the day. Steger is in the picture in full Antarctic garb making the last tie downs on the over-full sled the dogs will soon be pulling across the harsh ice covered landscape. It is a beautiful picture for sure, but it represents so much more. As I stood in line looking at the poster, it was hard not to see past the beauty, to the challenge of what he had accomplished. This was no joy ride with sled dogs. This was a daily life and death struggle over more than 3000 miles. Some people had tried before him and died.
As I approached him I tried to formulate a nice statement to him, to express my admiration for him and his life’s work to educate us on environmental concerns. I have to say that my respect for him was also more than what he accomplished, but that he had in fact had a life of exploration and education as opposed to a run of the mill, work a day life. When it was my turn, he asked my name and we talked a little about the environment and he seemed sincere in his appreciation for my kind statements to him.
I shook his hand and when I left I looked at what he had written on the poster. It said, “Joan, Follow your dreams! My Best, Will Steger 2008.” Now I am sure he has written that line many times on many posters, but I felt like he was talking directly to me. It felt like he was telling me that all is possible and that no matter who you are, dreams are still important and you can work to realize them. This came to me at a time when it meant more than anything else. We were busy with our lives and sometimes overwhelmed with family schedules and it provided that inspiration to really think about our dreams and aspirations as individuals and as a family. To remember that toiling away is not the important part of life, but adventure and dreams are why we live.
I had that poster framed and I have had it in my home since 2008. I have read that statement “Follow your dreams” many times over the years and looked upon that young explorer in the picture willing to risk it all to follow his dreams. My dreams are not nearly as lofty, but they are mine. I look to the poster for inspiration in life and to stay encouraged in living life to the fullest and to have courage in pursuing my dreams. Inspiration can be found in little things. Use what works for you to stay encouraged in life and living it to the fullest.