Develop and Deploy

Well, I survived. No, it wasn’t anywhere near as physically demanding as last year’s adventure in the highlands of Scotland but it was not easy either. I should have guessed by the slogan on the website ‘Develop and Deploy’. I am fascinated by so many military things but when it comes to actual deployment, I find myself wondering what on earth I was thinking! I had to constantly remind myself, ‘It’s not meant to be easy. No pain, no gain’ and all of that.

James Ray, the hugely likeable, charismatic but also naturally contemplative leader and founder of 4MUK– the organisation that organises these Extreme Character Challenges in the UK called it a “self facilitating journey”.

In other words, this was going to be a classic case of “however much you invest in the process, you will reap a huge personal dividend.”

As with before however, I can in all integrity, only reveal snippets of the experience as one of the primary drivers of all XCC experiences is the element of surprise and how you as the individual deal with that challenge that is suddenly looming in front of you.

I prepared as meticulously as I knew how and was feeling very high levels of excitement and anticipation all the way to Liverpool Street Station. After a couple of cryptic clues to oil the wheels of wonder and intrigue still further, we were finally given a platform number and six minutes to get on the train.

Despite my preparations however, a great deal of this went out of the proverbial window after the first RV point. I can’t exactly tell you why but suffice it to say, when I look back, a lot of life simply does not pan out the way we planned does it?

The question then becomes, ‘What are you going to do about it, and how can you work towards turning it around as a positive?’

As ever, there was a lot of walking but this time, it was mostly warm and sunny – always my preference – in contrast to freezing fog, wind and rain.

There was however, plenty of water involved and surprisingly, I loved every minute of it! Many of you will have hopefully read my blog about what it felt like to complete the Blenheim triathlon and how much pain that put me through. My attitude towards swimming has never been the same since and this held me in good stead over the course of this leadership challenge, put it that way.

Another obstacle that I think I can reveal to you was a herd of steers who didn’t take too kindly to our gang of five ushering them away from the gate we needed to access. Our elder statesman, Geoff (see below) took charge at this point and bravely came through the gate last and survived.

Along the way, we shared stories of our lives and the journey we have been on until this point. In the midst of the struggles and potential sources of stress, this is the ultimate leveller and instigator of true camaraderie, heart to heart intimacy and is always my favourite element of experiences like this.

In our group alone, we had a man who had raised £20,000 for international charities on two different occasions and is now energetically raising money for a defibrillator to be installed outside their local convenience store.

Another guy who survived being blown up in his military truck that landed nose down in the road and lost none of the men under his command. His latest mission is to help rescue 1000 addicts off the streets of Brighton.

Someone else who left their native country because some bad people were potentially coming after his Dad and therefore him also.

I could say more but that would involve revealing things that are not so obviously anonymous.

What I will say is we all went in at the deep end, shared our hearts as well as our hurts, and this always helps the next man to step up and be honest and vulnerable.

Finally, we stood in a circle of five and stepped into a metaphorical but equally, very real arena where we declared our dreams, plans and intentions going forwards and why they mean so much to us. Our small band of brothers then challenged us, forcing the questions that we often refuse to ask ourselves.

‘Why do you want it? How much are you willing to give? Tell us the plan and when you are going to deliver it? Is that realistic? Who else is going to help you?’

With barriers broken down by all that had taken place before, these men were driving each other deeper still, towards the destination that lies inside the heart of every man if he has the courage to confess it and dare to be challenged.

Develop and Deploy‘ is the headline for this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who like me, needs that push to go further and for longer.

The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done In My Life

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I’m sure that you’ll be thrilled to know that the blogs won’t stop just yet…

I survived the Extreme Character Challenge!

The organisers encourage those who have made it not to be too specific about the details of the weekend to maintain the mystery for potential future sign ups. Uncertainty in life is all around us they reminded us, and in many ways, it is a good thing, as it forces us to put our trust in someone or something else. It can stretch us and push us – sometimes to the very limits of what we believe we can endure – but when we come out on the other side, we enjoy the euphoria of knowing we have overcome so much more than we ever imagined we were capable of.

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What I can tell you is that at several points, I felt like giving up.

Sometimes I found myself asking the question, “What was I thinking?!”

At other times, I asked my friend Terry – who was the main reason that I made it there at all, “What were YOU thinking?!”

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Terry had been before in Wales, last October, when they had the worst weather ever – but this time the weather was remarkably kind. This time it wasn’t the weather that was our enemy. It was the distance, the grind, the slow, snail-like pace that took us further up the mountain, one footstep at a time… and the snow.

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On the first hike, on the first night, every time I stopped to take a breath, I looked behind and saw a small army of men coming up from the rear, appearing as a train of angels, each with their head torch guiding them along the muddy path.  This vision inspired me no end… except when I lingered a little longer than usual and turned back to face the front to find that there was no one in front of me at all!  I had suddenly, and accidentally, become the point man.  This was particularly daunting given that my head torch was far from beaming.

Another time, when we were asked to do something I was not particularly happy about, I turned to Terry and said, “I’ve realised the only way I am going to get through this is to pretend I am a prisoner of war.”

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During what became infamously known as The Longest Day, our team made it to the saddle of the mountain and as we carefully made our way along the narrow pathway, we could spot some of the other teams still in the valley – appearing as nothing more than small dots on the lush green landscape. We felt sorry for them, knowing they were at least two hours behind us – but at the same time, getting a renewed burst of energy as we realised how well we were doing.

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Some of us struggled more than others in our team of eleven. A couple of the guys had issues with their knees. One man swapped his rucksack weighing eight kilos in exchange for his friend’s rucksack which weighed fourteen kilos! I was both inspired by his servant heart and willingness to help his friend as well as embarrassed – and somewhat ashamed – that I didn’t force myself in front of him, an older man, to do the same thing. My pack weighed ten and a half kilos and I confessed to my friend who took the extra weight on that I wished I could make the same offer but at the time, I truly didn’t believe I was capable of carrying any more than I was already struggling with. That gave me plenty to think about for another few thousand steps.

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Later, I realised I had run out water and had no idea when I had last drunk any. I asked for water from anyone who had some just as I realised I was becoming a bit delirious. I could literally feel myself about to pass out but my team-mates (by the time you finish this kind of challenge, we no longer use the term team-mates as we have all become brothers) surrounded me, fed me plenty of water and an energy gel. Within a minute or two, I was okay again and able to continue. Any pride I had stored up with the relative absence of physical issues quickly got blown away in the same way that another guy’s rucksack cover was swept off his back and flew down the mountain like a flag without a pole.

That humbled me at the same time as uniting me more than ever to this band of brothers – all of whom had dared to believe that four days’ trekking in the Scottish Highlands would enable them to find something that only extreme challenges like this can reveal.

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By the time we sat in a tight circle on the last day, sharing our deepest thoughts, emotions and revelations, we had all discovered something worth fighting for.

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The scariest thing of all is this: several of the newbies on this trip are already declaring their intention to do it all again. I need more time as it truly was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

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Even the crew told us it was the hardest Extreme Character Challenge ever and yet, for the very first time, no one out of the approximately 177 men that had gathered together had dropped out early. That in itself, is quite an achievement for every single one of us.

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Photos courtesy of 4MUK

How the Words of a Dying Man Could Save You

Today I listened for more than an hour to someone who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal illness and has been given only weeks to live. To be honest, I had never heard of him before one of the marketing experts I follow sent me an email about his situation. Persuaded by a close friend to deliver one last webinar, (an online seminar in case you’re unfamiliar) I listened to it live just this afternoon and was taken aback not so much by his material, because as both he and his friend made clear from the introduction, “What you will hear is not new but coming from this unique perspective, allow what you hear to be thought of in a new way.” No, I was taken aback by his willingness to make himself so utterly vulnerable, with emotions exacerbated by morphine and yet, still able to offer great wisdom in a way that truly resonated with me partly because of his use of a journey as a metaphor for life, which I love to ponder a lot.

He was extremely honest about the mistakes he had made and the things he is thankful for. In honour of his courage and genuine commitment to helping others, even during his literal dying days, the only other things I will post here today are the questions he posed for us all to consider and a link to the webinar itself, should you wish to listen to the recording.

His name is Mike Seddon and his friend helping him to deliver the webinar is Dov Gordon. If I didn’t think it was worth your time, I would not of course, have written this blog today. At the very least, I highly recommend you take time out to reflect on the five questions he got us to seriously consider:

1. “What’s My Why?” & “Am I Living It?”

Mike_and_Dov2. “What Does Success Look Like?”

3. “Am I Enjoying the Journey?”

4. “Am I Hanging Out With the Right People?”

5. “What Would Happen to My Loved Ones if I was No Longer Around?”