I recently watched the ITV documentary ‘Our Everest Challenge‘ narrated by adventurer Ben Fogle. The show took us through the tough journey Fogle faced reaching his goal of summiting Everest. In the final scene, he realised that dream when he stood on the highest point on earth.

Despite my love of all things adventure and the outdoors, the show left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Why? Because the underlining message in the show was so wrong.

 Stood on the summit Fogle dished out his advice: “this is for all those people who were told they couldn’t, they shouldn’t, they wouldn’t. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, with the right stamina and grit and determination.”……

But I really have worked hard

Time and time again I’ve heard adventurers in magazines, on shows and in talks claiming that their victories have come down to nothing more than hard work. But when I heard Fogle give this advice on the top of Everest it made me angry. I don’t doubt that Fogle worked hard to reach that point. He likely pushed himself in training, dedicated a lot of time and money to the project, making other sacrifices along the way. But claiming that grit and determination are the essences of success ignores all the other factors that had far more weighting in the outcome.

Are hard work and success really connected?

I’m sure you can all think of a time when you worked your butt off and still failed. Straight out of university I took a job working in operations for an African travel company. Young and eager to please, I pulled more hours and gave more energy to that job than any since. No matter how hard I worked though I just couldn’t reach my targets. It might have been my lack of experience and skills or maybe even the political situation in Africa at the time putting people off travelling there….whatever it was my level of effort did not equate to the results that came out. In contrast, I then took a job at a consulting firm where I worked minimal hours, taking extended lunch breaks and spending many an afternoon zoning out while staring at my computer screen. Despite my laziness, I bagged a pay rise and was praised for my good work in the company. I’ve seen cleaners on minimum wage working so hard every hour of the day versus multi-millionaires cocky with their blase attitude to work while the money and promotions come rolling in. Hard work and success are not so obviously connected.

It makes us feel worthy

We all want to say our successes are down to hard work because we want to be recognised for the effort we’ve put in. We want to believe that grit, determination and smart thinking are what stood us out from others when we win. But it’s not true, or rather it’s not entirely true as a statement on its own. What Fogle fails to recognise in his speech about his success in reaching the summit of Everest are all the other platforms that got him there. It’s not comfortable or glamorous admitting our own privileges and the platforms that are often out of our control that merely come down to the luck of where you are born, but these need to be recognised. Fogle was born a white able-bodied heterosexual male in a developed country exposed to wealth, a good education (and the self-belief/confidence that brings), a loving home and influential connections. In other words….in the lottery of life he hit the jackpot! Privilege likely had far more of a say in his success in reaching the highest point on earth than his hard work.

A damaging message

Adventurers want to share their success and leave their audience feeling inspired. I’ve been guilty of honing in on this too in my talks, but this repetitive message of ‘work hard and you can achieve anything’ is damaging and inconsiderate. I’m not saying people shouldn’t work hard towards making dreams a reality, but the simple fact is that some are restricted by circumstances and no amount of hard work will change that. A single dad living in poverty in a developing country might have a dream of climbing Everest. Sure he might reach that dream, but he also most likely will not if accounting for the barriers he faces. The logistics, time and money involved just might not make it feasible. It’s a fact of life. The same way that Victoria Pendleton (who joined Fogle in an attempt to summit Everest) had no choice but to give up at Camp 2 because her body couldn’t acclimatise. It all came down to circumstances completely out of her control and no amount of hard work will change that. So how do people feel when they are working hard but somehow the ‘hard work equating to everything you’ve ever wanted‘ message isn’t working out for them? Probably inadequate and guilty. Perhaps a more gracious and realistic message that Fogle (and the many other adventurers out there) could have left the world is….. “This is for all those people who were told they couldn’t they shouldn’t, they wouldn’t. With some luck, support, good timing and a maybe a bit of grit thrown in, you might actually reach your dream. But don’t feel bad if you don’t….sometimes things don’t work out how we want no matter how hard we try!” Am I being too harsh? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below. Follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I give all my advice out for free on my website. If you want to say thanks, you can buy me a coffee! *Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her Wild. Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.

12 thoughts on “The secret to getting everything you’ve ever wanted!

  1. I think you have nailed it actually. I hope you got support for your disquite on his statement. Sometimes with the best will in the world you achieve what you want and all the determination and hard work won’t make it happen. Things get in the way, life gets in the way. Circumstances change, accidents happen but that shouldn’t make you feel any less about your self or a failure

  2. I agree with your message, sometimes it’s luck, moving in the right circles, money, time, lots of factors, but privilage seems to be a big factor. I too have had many knock backs, female, working class, not academic, but I still want to do well and feel valued. Unfortunately I don’t always feel this working with my peers. Some will read your article and think your wrong some think your right, that’s life, you can have your opinion, we all can.

  3. This is such a perfect summary of just about everything I find difficult about the adventure community Bex! Thank you so much for continuing to shine a light on it x

  4. I think you are being way too harsh, but then I’m an able bodied, half decently educated, white male born in to a poor but class mobile & loving family. Fogle’s message is a message of hope to aspiring people whichever way you look at it. Your version may tick all the boxes but he was probably just really chuffed he’d made it to the top as anybody would be. You’ve had time to ponder over what he said whereas he was just saying what he thought was right in a moment of great satisfaction and achievement. To criticize somebody for this is in my mind pretty petty!

    1. Thanks for your comment Luke. Although I focus a lot on his summit statement that theme of ‘my hard work got me here’ runs through the whole documentary and also in his previous adventures. If someone doesn’t succeed does it then mean that they haven’t worked hard enough? I think Victoria in the documentary proves that is definitely not true.

  5. Ben Fogle only had the chance to do this because of who he is, people should recognise not everyone is that fortunate.
    He will also of had a huge amount of support both logistical and financial which is out of reach for most people.
    Simply there are only two things you need to climb Everest-
    Time and money!
    It’s not beyond your dreams to attempt it if you have these, therefore the summit is out of reach for most people
    This makes Bens inspirational message just that little bit hypocritical
    Ben is very fortunate that he can make a good living from these adventures through his TV films and subsequent spin offs

  6. This is spot on.

    Recognising your privilege doesn’t detract from your achievements. It shows you think beyond your own existence, and you can challenge your boundaries.

    Unfortunately, we usually ignore our privilege and it’s true effect on our lives. We think we overcome every obstacle in isolation, without the help of our circumstances.

    Ben Fogle had months to prepare what he would say if he reached the summit. With his platform and privilege he has a responsibility to send positive and honest messages to his viewers. This is an example of where he did not.

    No question that this is an absolutely amazing achievement that he will have for the rest of his life! Just a bit disappointing that the message he gave is a lie.

    Saying success is a result of hard work is a slap in the face to people who grind everyday to make ends meet.

    1. Thanks for your comment Elleni and you articulate the point very well! It does appear to be human nature that we ignore our priveledges preferring instead to believe it was our grit that overcame every obstacle!

  7. I understand the point you are making, but I agree with Luke, he was euphoric, and most of us would be if we made it to the top.
    Yes he’s been lucky to get the funding (I very much doubt his TV salary would pay for an Everest trip with Kenton Cool), he’s the son of TV vet, not billionaires.

    However, you barely mention Victoria Pendleton, she has not had the benefit of a privileged background, she is female and yet she also got to go. So I don’t really see how the privilege argument stacks up.

    They were both fortunate to have Kenton Cool, a team of expert Sherpa’s and a decent weather window.

    I found the documentary disappointing, far too much to cover in one hour.

    1. It certainly was a rushed documentary!
      I actually think Victoria Pendleton proves the point I’m trying to make in that really hard work only has one part to play. She worked incredibly hard yet circumstances meant that she ultimately failed. The fact that Fogle summited and she didn’t, was down to nothing more than luck (in this instance physiological…your body either suffers AMS or it doesn’t).
      Privilege can come in many forms but it’s also about acknowledging that a lot of the outcomes in our life are down to just down to luck, timing and circumstances. Sure we can work hard and grab opportunities when they come but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we don’t achieve because the simple fact is that it might just be out of our control.

  8. Rubbish! The guy conquered bloody Everest, his two feet took him to the summit but you resort straight to the ‘white male privilege’ nonsense. Race and background does not come into this. All this article does is make excuses. A ‘single mum living below the poverty line’ decided to have a child and now her life is dedicated to that child, she put that priority that before her goal of summiting Everest. Ben has dedicated his life to adventure and so he has a much higher chance of summiting Everest and he did.

    1. Thanks for your comment Alex….although I can’t agree that ‘white male privilege’ is nonsense! It’s interesting that you claim that the single mum ‘chose’ to have children therefore that’s the reason she is in the situation. Did Fogle not also choose to have children? Yet he is in a situation where his wife can look after them and he can afford the time and money to take months off at a time to train and attempt to summit Everest. He was in a lucky position that he could afford TO dedicate his life to climbing Everest.

      Perhaps the single mum in my example lost her partner due to an accident or ill health. Maybe she is living below the poverty line because she was made redundant or she didn’t get a good education as a child because of where she grew up. These are all things that she did not choose!! Working hard and being dedicated is just one part of what it takes to achieve a dream and to aim big….you also need luck, timing and circumstances to be in your favour.

      You say that race and background doesn’t come into it. I wonder out of the 4,000 people who have climbed Everest (who are not paid Sherpa’s doing it as a job)….how many of them are minorities coming from disadvantaged backgrounds? I don’t need to look at the statistics to know this one….I think I already know the answer 🙂

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