Difficulties Be Damned

I finished reading “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann a few days ago. The book is the story of Percy Fawcett, an explorer in the early 1900s, who dedicated his life to mapping and exploring the Amazonian jungle. He risked all he had, his reputation, his health, his relationships with his family and friends, to find new places and to seek El Dorado.

I found myself relating to him and empathizing with his monomaniacal drive for this one goal. His family motto was “Difficulties Be Damned,” a motto that I have adopted. I find myself repeating it as a mantra while working up a particularly tough hill or when I can feel myself getting bogged down in doubt and fear.

Not to say that I am doing a work anything like his of exploration and scientific discovery, but it is unusual. It requires a dedication and single-minded purpose that can be tough to maintain in the day to day drudgery of putting one foot in front of the other or in the face of doubt presented by people around me. They mean well, but it isn’t helpful to hear the very uncertainties I already feel verbalized by others.

Fawcett encountered this from people when he would tell them of his expeditions, and I found his description of them fitting and comforting:

‘There were the Prudent, who said, “This is an extraordinarily foolish thing to do.” There were the Wise, who said, “This is an extraordinarily foolish thing to do; but at least you will know better the next time.” There were the Very Wise, who said: “This is a foolish thing to do, but not nearly so foolish as it sounds.” There were the Romantic, who appeared to believe that if everyone did this sort of thing all the time the world’s troubles would soon be over. There were the Envious, who thanked God they were not coming; and there were the other sort, who said with varying degrees of insincerity that they would give anything to come. There were the Correct, who asked me if I knew any of the people at the Embassy. There were the Practical, who spoke at length of inoculations and calibers…There were the Apprehensive, who asked me if I had made my will. There were the Men Who Had Done A Certain Amount of That Sort of Thing in Their Time, You Know, and these imparted to me elaborate stratagems for getting the better of ants and told me that monkeys made excellent eating, and so for that matter did lizards, and parrots; they all tasted rather like chickens.”

It is good to know that some things never change. People were doubting dreamers a hundred years ago, and they are doubting us today. But take heart. Keep pressing on, doing whatever you dream up, knowing that there are others out there, so many, like Fawcett who reach across generations to spur us on.