Overcoming Challenges – What I Learned from Aron Ralston

“What’s extraordinary in you?”

Aron Ralston


Imagine having to drink your own urine to survive. Imagine breaking your own arm and feeling euphoria because it will help you survive. Imagine having to amputate that arm to live to see another day.

I had the privilege of seeing Aron Ralston speak in person recently.  For those that aren’t familiar with that name, you’re probably familiar with the story.  In 2003, while hiking through the Utah canyons, Aron’s right arm got trapped between a boulder and a canyon wall.  After 127 hours of captivity, he managed to escape by severing his arm with a dull pocket knife.  His story was the basis for the recent Oscar-nominated movie, 127 Hours.

I’ve been to many conferences and seen many $50,000 speakers.  Most are really solid, but Aron was the best I’ve ever seen.  His story….the perseverance and will to live are amazing.  As he said, we all have “boulders” in our lives.  And, we all have to find our way out from underneath these.  Although it’s hard to picture yourself in his circumstance, we can all relate to these “boulders” of life.

What I learned from Aron:

Our greatest challenges are many times our greatest gifts

It was amazing to hear him talk about the fact that he wouldn’t change a thing.  In fact he stated that this was the “greatest thing that ever happened to me.”   Aron continues to climb mountains and engage in extreme adventure.  With one arm and one claw, he is still crushing it.

You will face challenges time and time again.  They’re all tests.  What are you going to do about it?  Pack it in?  No, you’ve got to keep moving forward.  Step by step, inch by inch.  You can’t help what’s happened in the past, but you can control how you approach your circumstance today. Whatever you’re going through, take that one step forward.  You will be amazed at what one positive step can do for you.  It’s simply a matter of viewing your challenge as a tragedy or a blessing.

Vision is crucial

During his final day, he almost gave up.  He was out of water.  He had a vision.  It was of a little boy sitting there, a blue eyed boy.  He was visualizing his future son.  I get chills writing about it, because he showed a picture of his one-year old son (with blue eyes).  Leo is now one and was named after the courage he gave Aron in the canyon. It was this visualization that gave him the drive to keep going.  He said that once he had that vision of his son, he knew he was going to survive.

It’s a great lesson.  When you’re facing challenges, visualize yourself succeeding. Athletes do this all the time.  If you’re nervous about an upcoming presentation, visualize yourself giving the talk of your life.  Look back at a time where you felt great, exuded confidence and delivered.  There’s something extraordinary to visualizing success.

The will to love is greater than the will to live

During his ordeal, he thought a lot about his family.  His parents; His sister’s upcoming wedding and all the times they shared.  His future son.  His future wife.  All of these propelled him.  Sure, the will to live helped him get through this, but he said that his will to love was the real catalyst to survival.

It’s not what you do, it’s who you are

Aron talked about “eulogizing relationships, not accomplishments.” One of the things that got him through the 127 hours was videotaping himself and leaving a message for loved ones.  During these sessions, he realized that any accomplishment he had wasn’t close to the importance of his relationships.  Thankfully, he’s able to see that through for the rest of his life.

“I was going to see it through to the end.  You don’t get there when you quit halfway. “

There was a point in time where Aron Ralston almost gave up.  He was “standing in his grave” and on the fifth day he figured that was it.   He already surpassed the two days he thought he could survive, but he felt the end was near….going as far as to carve OCT 75 to APR 03 and RIP on the surface nearby.  You may be at this point at some time in your life.  Use the lessons from Aron to get passed these challenges and you’ll be better off for it.

So, what boulders are you facing?  What about your loved ones?  Pass this on to someone you believe this can help – you can use the email link below.  Thanks!

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4 thoughts on “Overcoming Challenges – What I Learned from Aron Ralston

  1. Excellent recount of what sounds like an epic talk and indeed surreal experience for Aaron. I can only imagine. I’d love to meet that guy one day. You bring up one of the most powerful tools any one of us has in doing big things…finding an incredibly compelling reason why it’s a must. Aaron’s was his son to be. One of mine is my wife Chelsea and giving here all I can, and come to think of it, my future children ought to be on that list as well!

    Nicely done Jon, and hats off to Aaron for creating such a story to tell!

  2. You know, this is one remarkable story I’ve read thus far this year. I can only imagine the many thoughts of not surviving Aron had to surpress for his survival.

    I can only imagine the agony he had to endue in order for him to survive the odeal. If they’s something Aron’s courageousness has taught me is that, as long as you are alive and have the means to triumph at what ever cost, its just a matter of you taking the necessary steps to achieve that the end result.

  3. Scott,

    Thanks for the comments, my man. Yes – it’s so important to find inspiration and meaning for what you do. I hope you can see Aron someday, as he really was an incredible speaker and the story is truly amazing. – Jon

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