Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 19, 2009

Shackleton’s Want Ad

Ernest Shackleton is one of my historical mentors. He lived during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the period from 1897–1922 during which sixteen major expeditions from eight countries focused on the Antarctic continent. Shackleton first ventured to Antarctica in 1901 aboard the Discovery as a member of the well-financed National Antarctic Expedition under the command of Robert F. Scott. Although this was the best equipped scientific expedition to Antarctica to that date, Scott and his team failed to reach the South Pole.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica in 1908 aboard the Nimrod as a member of the British Antarctic Expedition. By January 9, 1908, Shackleton and three companions had trudged to within 96 miles of the South Pole. However, finding themselves dangerously short of supplies, Shackleton made the most difficult decision of his life — he turned his men toward home. He later told Emily, his wife: “I thought you’d rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”

In 1911, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the British explorer Robert F. Scott led their respective expeditions to Antarctica in an attempt to reach the South Pole. On December 14 of that year, Amundsen arrived at the pole a month before Scott. Sadly, Scott and his four companions died on their return journey.

In 1914, with the prize of the pole already having been claimed by Amundsen, Shackleton set his sights on an ambitious new challenge — a trans-Antarctic expedition from the Wedell Sea to the Ross Sea. He hoped to be the first to cross the cold continent on foot. Shackleton described this expedition as “the last great polar journey that can be made.”

Shackelton's Want AdIn December 1914, Shackleton set out with twenty-eight men on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He is credited with running the most successful want ad in history: “Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

I am inspired by Shackleton’s want ad, but even more so by the hundreds who responded to the ad. Out of these applicants, Shackleton carefully chose and built his crew around a core of experienced workers. He looked for people who shared his vision and enthusiasm for exploration, optimists, those who wouldn’t flinch at menial tasks, and those who had the expertise he lacked. He made sure that every man he hired knew exactly what was expected of him.

Shackleton’s wise selection of a crew proved crucial to their survival when the Endurance, their ship, was trapped in the ice pack and later crushed. Shackleton and his men survived a twenty-month ordeal — one of the greatest survival stories of all time. After reaching Elephant Island, Shackleton selected a few men and made a daring attempt to reach a whaling station on South Georgia Island in a small lifeboat. He promised the men he left behind that he would return for them. Every day a man was assigned to watch for Shackleton’s return. Shackleton did return and rescued every member of his crew. All of his men survived in good health and in good spirits.

Long before Shackleton placed his ad in a local newspaper, God has been looking for and recruiting adventurous individuals willing to risk it all to advance His purposes and declare His glory among the nations. What will it take to advance His purposes? In the words of A.W. Tozer, “… every advance that we make for God and for His cause must be made at our inconvenience. If it does not inconvenience us at all, there is no cross in it! If we have been able to reduce spirituality to a smooth pattern and it costs us nothing — no disturbance, no bother and no element of sacrifice in it — we are not getting anywhere with God. We have stopped and pitched our unworthy tent halfway between the swamp and the peak.”

The truth is that many will get to the end of life’s journey wondering what God could have done in and through their lives had they been willing to give Him everything. I don’t want to have those kinds of regrets at the end of my journey. Instead, I want to go beyond — to go and to do and to engage with others for God’s glory. I am willing to risk it all for His purposes, to live passionately and adventurously for God, and to give Him everything. Doing so is costly, but failing to do so is even costlier. So, don’t settle for mediocrity and comfort. Sign on for the adventure of a lifetime!

• • • • •

Check out my reading list on Sir Ernest Shackleton under the Adventure | Exploration section of my Books page.


  1. This article made my day!

    Thank you.

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