A few years ago, when I finished reading Ffyona Campbell’s amazing account of her trek from the very bottom of the African continent to the top, On Foot Through Africa, I made the mistake of raving about it to a friend. Ffyona walked around the world, over a period of 11 years, breaking almost all the records men had previously set. My friend’s response was, “What’s the point?”
I’m embarassed to say that I had trouble finding an answer for him. I mumbled something about the discoveries made when people push the boundaries of human endurance, but it sounded weak to my own ears. I even suggested it was like when Tenzing and Hilary conquered Everest – but my friend’s response was the same dazzling question. He couldn’t see the point in that either.
And now we’re looking at the latest outrageous conquest – sailing around an entire planet in one small pink boat with a brave but largely inexperienced 16 year-old. Jessica Watson‘s achievement has been lauded high and low over the last few days since she landed, wobbly-footed, in Sydney Harbour, to the thunderous cheers of thousands who turned up to watch. As I witnessed her comport herself with surprising maturity in the face of the world’s media, my friend’s words came back to me. What was the point?
I finally had my answer in the form of this unassuming girl with the big heart. When asked more than 7 months ago, why she wanted to sail around the world, solo, non-stop and unassisted (the most difficult of the round-the-world records) she said that she’d been inspired by no less a person than Kay Cottee, who, in 1988 had become the first woman to complete the same journey.
I remember reading Cottee’s book soon after it was published and was blown away by the extraordinary journey, her incredible strength and the amazing adventure of it. I still harbour desires to sail around the world (albeit in a luxury yacht complete with crew and chef 🙂 ) so it doesn’t surprise me that Cottee was the inspiration for Watson. Nor does it surprise me that she was also inspired by Jesse Martin’s circumnavigation in 1999 that captured the world record for the youngest ever attempt.
And that’s the thing about people who make these leaps of the imagination. They inspire us. People surrounding Sydney Harbour waiting for Watson’s little boat to rock through the Heads were so excited for her, couldn’t imagine doing such a thing themselves, but felt so proud that she had done it. They all walked a little taller, and, I’ll be willing to guess, when they got home, some of them – perhaps only a handful – started thinking about their own dreams and how, no matter how absurd, there might be some way of making them come true.
My cynical friend of course, would just comment that more people doing pointless things is no improvement – but he would be very wrong. There’s always a point when people pursue things they’re passionate about. It changes them, and it changes those around them. Our passions make us happy, and help us spread the happiness to others. That’s what inspiration is – the ability to capture the essence of another’s incredible experience and translate it to our own lives.
I like being inspired. I like how it feels. And I like what it drives me to do – follow my own passions and achieve things that might otherwise seem impossible. Hey, if a 16 year-old slip of a girl in a pink boat can do it, I think I might be able to as well. And it wouldn’t seem pointless to me at all.
What inspires you? Has Jessica Watson made you want to go out and tackle that dream you’ve kept hidden for years? Has somebody else inspired you to take on your dream?