Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic was written by George James Grinnell. The book is about five young American men’s journey into the Canadian Arctic with backpacks and canoes. Entirely elective and not by necessity, these men embarked somewhat haphazardly into one of the most dangerous, volatile wildernesses in the world — in a bid to ‘discover themselves.’
Tragedy strikes on the journey, but many realizations and life lessons are learnt that forever changed the trajectory of their lives, particularly the author’s life, who was one of the five men on the journey.
I found this book an intriguing and relateable read, with three excellent life lessons that also translate well for entrepreneurship.
Three Life Lessons From Reading Death on the Barrens
Trauma changes us, but that’s not always a bad thing: People are learning more about of the life-long implications childhood trauma can play on their personalities and decision-making process as adults. However, trauma can also have an essential and positive role in who we become — and how we pursue life.
Author George Grinnell went through a lot on this journey into the Canadian Arctic and witnessed a horrific, life-altering event; but, the trauma helped him find his calling in life. It also brought his rather restless mind some peace in the proceeding years when he had to deal with even heavier personal stuff.
The point is, don’t always have a negative view of the trauma you’ve experienced in life. Many times, there is a silver lining and learnings that can serve you forever.
The less you plan, the freer you become: While the five men had a high-level plan that they had to reach a particular destination during this trip to the Canadian Arctic, there was only a loose, generous schedule of when they had to arrive there. This allowed them to take many ‘vacation days’ along this arduous journey. It was during those ‘vacation days’ that they got more in touch with who they wanted to become.
These vacation days meant each man had time (sometimes weeks-long) to do as they pleased, alone in the wilderness. Their days consisted of reading, fishing, smoking, walking around, drinking tea — whatever they chose.
When was the last time you had a day to yourself, just you, and you didn’t have one thing planned? These are times when self-talk has free rein. Important.
You can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re going: Hard deadlines for destinations, be it symbolic or physical destinations, suck the learning process out of the journey. I’m talking about deadlines such as “I have to be a millionaire by 35’ or ‘in 2025 my business must generate $50 million a year in profit.’ God laughs at those who make these types of specific, hard-date plans.
Life, and business, are fluid, evolving, and require us to change course dozens of times along the way. You’ll never fully enjoy the process if your goals/destinations are hyper-defined. Be loose with where you want to be by a given time. This will allow for detours, which can open the door to many opportunities you otherwise would have had no clue existed.
Required Reading for Entrepreneurs
Adventure stories that involve great challenge and perseverance should be required reading for entrepreneurs. Reading about the harrowing journeys of people like Ernest Shackleton, James Cook, and Gertrude Bell serve as inspiration to us. Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic, by George James Grinnell, is one such story of an adventure with many lessons for life and entrepreneurship.
PS — Entrepreneurship is a journey of continual learning for those who crave challenges and growth. Let me share some of my learnings with you. Subscribe to my newsletter below. Only my best content will land in your inbox.