Pen Hadow, polar explorer, ocean conservationist and Tictrac content contributor, shares his thoughts on the lessons he learned on motivation and leadership

When it comes to setting intentions or resolutions, we all have our own way of achieving them, but this year is a little different. Due to the challenges caused by the pandemic, mentally we’re being tested more than ever and the motivation to create goals and reach them can be hard to find. However, establishing and working towards targets, plus encouraging others to do so, is one of the key elements to maintaining a positive mindset, especially during a challenging time.  

As a polar explorer and conservationist, one of my greatest achievements has been leading an expedition to the North Pole. And like anyone who is trying to achieve a goal, I’ve dealt with many unexpected ups and downs, but resilience is the key to bouncing back, no matter what the challenges are – even if it’s battling with sub-zero temperatures or running out of food supplies!  

So what have I experienced during my attempts to reach the North Pole? In 2003 I was the first person to trek solo, and without resupply, across the Arctic’s sea ice from Canada to the North Geographic Pole – a feat that took three attempts over 15 years and will likely never be repeated due to climate change. I’m also the first Briton, without resupply, to reach both the North and South Geographic Poles from their respective continental coastline. The experience overall taught me all about perseverance and endurance, which is a key life lesson no matter what you’re trying to achieve. 

The following advice is based on the lessons I learned during my expeditions, but could also be applied to the challenge of reaching any type of goal, including career and work-related ambitions. I hope that some of what I’ve learned will spur you on to think about what you, and your teams, want to achieve in 2021 and how to get there. 

Nothing in life is smooth sailing

As with any goal, having passion is imperative. I can say this looking back when I didn’t succeed in 1994 – I took that as a crushing failure. And it was quite public as it was reported in the newspapers. But I didn’t give up, my passion for what I wanted to achieve helped me to stay focused and determined. In 1998, I got much closer – but ultimately had failed again. In 2003, on the third attempt, I finally succeeded! When I reflect now, I can say with absolute confidence that the first two attempts weren’t just temporary setbacks, they were the essential opportunities to work out how to complete my journey. I broke down in detail where I had gone wrong previously and by doing so, I could piece everything back together again to make a better plan.  

Passion will get you far and it helps to make the setbacks you experience a little more bearable, as you know, ultimately, that you really do want to succeed. 

Take stock and navigate your route  

When setting a goal, it’s important to recognise that motivation is not a constant presence. It will come and go and you will get days where you don’t have any drive, but then it returns again. It’s all about sticking with it, not giving up at the first hurdle and believing in yourself that your motivation will come back. But, while you’re waiting, do what you can to keep going – whether it’s reading around the topic, asking for help or just re-planning your process. During my expedition, there were some very low moments, including battling with the freezing cold, isolation and trying to overcome mental barriers. At the time it was hard to find the motivation to see past the situation, but looking back now I realise you can always find the strength to move forward. 

Celebrate the milestones and set short-term goals

When pursuing any goal, it’s important to celebrate the wins, as this helps to maintain a positive mindset. Every little step along the way is a success, so then take that successful feeling and build on it with another step forward.

To make your journey more manageable, setting yourself short-term goals will also help you on your way as it’s less overwhelming. As you start to move forward you will feel closer to what you want to achieve. My advice would be to make each step really small, and you’re far less likely to fail. And after a few months, each step will add up to a lot of progress.

Motivation and determination pays off 

Once you have reached your goal, and you will – relish in knowing that you have succeeded. After the third attempt and after 15 years, I had reached the Pole. Within minutes of arriving, I had this overwhelming sense of utter relief that I would never have to worry about it or think about it again. I found that I got back 80 to 90 per cent of my headspace and I could consider all those things that I just wouldn’t have been able to before. 

These are the main lessons I learned during and after my journey. After reaching the North Pole, I realised that if you want to achieve anything, you need to work out the process, then grind through the steps no matter what might try and get in your way. Eventually, even after multiple attempts and failures, you can still reach your own ‘North Pole’. 


This content comes exclusively from Tictrac, a leading employee wellbeing company.


By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.