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Explorer Mike Libecki’s 7 Rules for Success

The globe-trotting adventurer on being prepared, owning failure, and embracing optimism.

One of Mike Libecki’s favorite sayings is, “Dream big… and climb those dreams.” More than nearly anyone else alive, Libecki lives by those words. A full-time explorer and climber, the 45-year-old has led expeditions and completed first ascents in some of the wildest and most remote places in the world, often doing so solo. With roughly 75 expeditions under his belt to such places as Afghanistan, Antarctica, Guyana, China, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Papua New Guinea, Yemen, Indonesia, and Polynesia, he’s a living throwback to the era of great explorers and uncharted lands.

Libecki brings the same dedication to parenting and he even brought his 14-year-old daughter, Lilly, along on his excursions to places like Antarctica and Peru. He’s been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and is widely revered by the world’s top explorers, but of his most prized honor is winning a “Father of the Year” award at his daughter’s school near Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s his advice on tackling your next great adventure, whether that’s braving a far-flung jungle voyage or just getting back in the gym.

1. Be Prepared

“I look at every expedition as a mathematical equation: What are the variables and what are the constants? If I am going to Antarctica for two months I need to be 100-percent self-reliant, my medical kit better be badass, and my repair kit better be complete. While there are variables outside of your control, there is no excuse for a failure because of not preparing correctly.

If you are not going above and beyond, don’t expect to succeed. If you are just doing the minimum, someone else will step in front of you.

2. Embrace Optimism

“From my perspective, there are two ways to experience an expedition, and two ways to experience life: With joy, and with ‘pre-joy.’ I see ‘pre-joy’ as a combination of the demand for sacrifice and positive attitude needed in order to keep going. It’s utter optimism — the kind you need to embrace when it’s minus 67 degrees or you’re pulling ticks off your body in a hot, humid jungle or you’re missing your family so much you’re crying like a child.

As a father, as a parent, as someone who is trying to lose weight, or becoming part of their community, all of the hard work required is part of ‘pre-joy.’ If you want to reach that workout goal or change careers, it all comes back to that discipline.”

3. Own Your Goals

“If you are not going above and beyond, don’t expect to succeed. If you are just doing the minimum, someone else will step in front of you. And if you don’t commit to your goals, don’t cry about it when you don’t reach them. You make your own choices.”

What’s been really powerful is explaining to your child that anything worth doing in your life is going to take compromise and sacrifice.

4. Own Your Failures

“On a summit or during an expedition, you have to define the line between dangerous and too dangerous. I was recently climbing a tower and I was 200 feet from the top and the rock was horrible. I decided, ‘You know what, I need to turn around.’ The most powerful, incredible experiences I have ever had are probably the failures — when you don’t reach the goals you were hoping for. These experiences offer the most important lessons you can learn. Sometimes you have to walk away. You come back stronger and smarter — and you will be successful the next time.”

5. Lead By Example

“To find the fuel for my discipline, I tell myself I am not only doing this for me, I am also doing it for my daughter. I am doing it to show her, it is not just about this life, it is about the quality of this life. I can tell my daughter stuff all day long, but if I am not showing by example, I am going to fail in that message.

It’s been really powerful showing Lilly that anything worth doing in your life is going to take compromise and sacrifice. As she gets older, she is starting to understand that. She is 14 now, and she has been to 28 countries. She has been to all seven continents. I tell her, ‘Look how much it cost to get here.'”

6. Acknowledge Your Team 

“If I am standing on a summit or in the center of a jungle, it is because of the thousands of people I work with. Teamwork is the absolute key to everything we are talking about, from my sponsorships to my friends to my family. I would not be able to do any of this without Lilly’s mom. Without Lilly’s mom making sure everything is amazing when I am gone and without her support when I take Lilly with me, nothing could happen.”

7. Give Back

“For any goal I am interested in pursuing, if there is no component that gives back to people, animals, or the earth, I am not going to support or recommend it. It has to be an authentic part of the equation. So what are you doing to offset your carbon footprint? What are you doing to be the change we want to see? As parents, this needs to become part of our normal routine. Maybe it’s bringing a backpack when you go on a hike and picking up every piece of trash you see. Maybe it’s asking for no straws when you go out to eat. We need to teach the next generation that this needs to become the norm.”

Featured Photo: Mike Libecki in Greenland, photo credit Andy Mann/3StringProductions.