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Erling Kagge: The Famed Norwegian Explorer on Silence, Philosophy, and Summiting Everest

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: December 2, 2020

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“I strongly believe that we are all born explorers. In the sense that when you’re one year old you learn how to walk, you walk out of the house, and you start to wonder what’s hidden between yourself and the horizon. And soon you will start to wonder, what’s even beyond your horizon? So this spirit of exploration, that’s something we all have. I kept it more than most people, but it never goes away. We all have it to a certain degree. Being an explorer is not something you begin being, but something you slowly stop being. You still have it until you die.” — Erling Kagge

In this episode of Outliers, I talk with famous Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge about his record-setting expeditions and the importance of exploration in life. 

In 1990, Erling and his expedition partner Børge Ousland became the first people to ever reach the North Pole unsupported. Over the course of 58 days, they covered nearly 500 miles on skis, pulling hundreds of pounds of supplies behind them the entire way.

In 1993, Erling became the first person to make a solo, completely unsupported expedition to the South Pole. He covered over 800 miles in 50 days without any contact with the outside world during the entire expedition; this feat landed him on the cover of the International Edition of TIME magazine.

And in 1994, Erling summited Mount Everest, completing what’s called the “Three Poles Challenge” by reaching the North and South poles as well as the summit of Everest, all on foot.

We discuss his philosophy on the importance of silence and walking, as well as a few of his favorite books (including how a classic like Frankenstein can be relevant to technology today).

The New York Times has described Erling as “a philosophical adventurer or perhaps an adventurous philosopher.” Erling is the author of several best-selling books, including Silence: In the Age of NoiseWalking: One Step At a Time, and Philosophy for Polar Explorers. He’s also the founder of Kagge Forlag, a Norwegian publishing company that publishes over 100 new titles each year. His writing has been featured in The New York Times and Financial Times.

Topics Discussed

  • 00:00:07 – How Erling’s daughters inspired his book about silence
  • 00:06:16 – Erling’s experience walking solo to the South Pole
  • 00:09:32 – We are all born explorers, and it’s important to continue that throughout our lives
  • 00:11:44 – Erling’s expeditions across the Atlantic and to the North and South Poles
  • 00:20:33 – Erling’s struggle with dyslexia, and how reading became an important part of his life
  • 00:24:10 – How Erling dove into philosophy
  • 00:27:09 – On how Erling got into book publishing, and finding surprise hits like books on woodcutting
  • 00:32:56 – Everyone must find their own South Poles to explore
  • 00:36:57 – The publishing process at Kagge Forlag
  • 00:42:41 – Why moving slowly is better than speeding through life, and how walking plays into that
  • 00:46:27 – How Erling’s solo journey to the South Pole was an expedition into himself
  • 00:47:46 – Erling’s book recommendations
  • 00:52:16 – Erling’s daily rituals

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode and check out my notes on Erling’s latest book Philosophy for Polar ExplorersTranscripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

Books recommended by Erling

Articles about Erling

Books written by Erling

Books published by Kagge Forlag

The Takeaway

We are all born explorers, naturally curious and fascinated by the world around us. Exploring isn’t something we grow into — it is something that we slowly lose; but that doesn’t have to be the case. Keep your explorer’s spirit alive by walking whenever and wherever you can, spending time in nature, and taking time to turn inward to explore yourself.

Actionable Ideas

  • To achieve seemingly insurmountable goals, break them down to their smallest elements, then focus on one element at a time. As Erling says, “Of course, the secret to walking to the South Pole is to put one leg in front of the other enough times.”
  • Some things in life can be learned, but others require real-world experience. Erling quips, “Experience is the best education you can have, but it’s very costly.”
  • “I believe in making life more difficult than it has to be, so I don’t mind reading books I really don’t understand properly. I think it’s healthy to try to listen to music and read books that you don’t really understand.”
  • “If you spend three or four hours every day looking into a screen to explore the world, not turning inward and exploring yourself, then you will soon have the impression that life is very short. That impression will just grow on you as the years pass by and then you are as old as me, 57 years old, you start to go to 60th, 70th, 80th birthday parties and every party someone is talking about life being short. And I didn’t really understand that all these days, weeks and years, that was life. That’s a little bit sad because you have this huge opportunity to have a rich life and then you’re kind of wasting it by never breaking free. I’m not saying that we should walk to the South Pole like I did, but somehow you need to find your own South Poles, and as I said early on, I think most people are underestimating themselves in terms of the possibilities.”
  • “I believe in routines, because there’s so many decisions to do during one day and so many things to think about… So I try to get up around the same time every morning. I eat oat porridge almost every morning, like four or five mornings a week… Then I usually try to walk to my office. Now, with Corona we have a home office, but usually I try to walk either to my office or back from my office, or both… I try to cook every day… Then I try to go to bed more or less at the same time every evening. In the evenings I read manuscripts, I read papers and I read literature.”
“I strongly believe that we are all born explorers. Being an explorer is not something you become, but something you slowly stop being. We all have this spirit of exploration in us to a certain degree.”

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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