“Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”
‘Authentic Wow’ could not be embodied more accurately: James Ketchell lives and breathes it every single day of his life, stretching his comfort zone with each new adventure he tackles. Following his passion, realising his dreams and ignoring the voices of those who ‘have this habit of thinking they know better for others’ has made him accomplish the ‘Ultimate Triathlon’: rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, reaching the summit of Mount Everest and cycling 18,000 miles around the world. Next, his biggest adventure to date: circumnavigating the globe in a gyrocopter, travelling 23,000 miles.
We had a chat with James, just days before he actuated the rotors of his gyrocopter @Popham Airfield in Hampshire, UK for his round-the-world trip in the air on March 31st, 2019. We wanted to hear about the motivation behind his undertakings and his approach when it comes to planning and preparing. And we met a very humble man who believes that ‘there is no ‘lucky’ when it comes to success. You have to push yourself if you want to achieve something.’ Then, two sentences later: ‘I am lucky to be able to do what I’m doing.’
What is the predominant feeling when you think of your upcoming adventure – circumnavigating the globe in a gyrocopter?
Above all: I don’t think of the scale of the whole operation. I break the complete task down into pieces. For the moment, I am thinking about the first few days, until I get into a rhythm, not about finishing. At this point, I think about the 4 days I need to get into Friedrichshafen, that’s enough for now. I don’t let my brain race away, thinking about everything that could happen.
Have you ever, for a moment during one of your ventures, thought about giving up? And if so – what made you keep going?
I never had the desire to stop. Whatever trouble I was in – whenever I was tired, came into bad weather, etc. -, I knew that if I only wanted it 99%, the missing 1% would get the better of me. So I kept going, remembering what a wise person once said to me: ‘If you can make it through 3 days on the sea, you can also make it through 3 months.’ Towards the end of my adventures, I actually did not want them to end.
When you were in that little boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – did you not feel utterly alone?
You are never alone, if you have the right mindset. Whenever I am physically on my own, I think about all the people that have helped and supported me getting to the start line. There’s always someone with you. And what you must remember: everything in life is temporary. So, whilst physically I was in the boat on my own, or I’ll be in the aircraft on my own – it’s not going to be forever. I know I’m going to meet someone at some point, it’s all going to be over at some point. I’ve learned over time to enjoy the moment that I’m in. I remember when I rowed across the Atlantic, initially, when I first got out there, I was wishing time away, because I just wanted to do it. And then when I was almost finished, I thought ‘why would I wish all that time away?’. The same happened when I cycled around the world. So no, I don’t worry to much about being on my own.
How do you mentally and physically prepare for your adventures?
The honest answer is: To prepare means to live and breathe whatever it is you are trying to do. You need to be obsessed with it. If you want to do something and do a good job of it, and you are starting from scratch, you need to be obsessed: Learning how to row, how does the boat work, how do I fly – you have to get ‘one’ with it. A good boxer has won his fight before he steps into the ring. I feel that my projects are very similar to that, and I personally need that obsession in order to be successful.
Speaking of successful – how would you personally define success?
I would define a successful individual as someone who is fulfilling their potential. It is not about money at all, it’s about being happy, fulfilled, content. What makes a successful person is having the ability to do something when they don’t feel like doing it. If one can master that, they are going to go a long way. There are a lot of factors that determine success: Being only reactive will not get you very far. You have to be proactive. People who are at the top of their game, successful athletes for example, don’t win gold medals and then just stop. They keep going. Also, there is no point in constantly comparing yourself to others, I gave it up long ago. Success is very subjective.
What is the ultimate characteristic for you that made you successfully complete your adventurous projects?
The truth is, there are multiple answers, it is not just one thing. You need to have discipline. You need to be able to do things, day in and day out, even when you can’t be bothered. And by default, you are going to get good. You have to have a willingness to put yourself out there and take a bit of a risk. Always taking the safe option will not make you get anything great. Also, the willingness to not give up – and last but not least: kindness. Always treat people the way you yourself want to be treated.
Do you have any rituals before you start for an adventure? For example, what will you do the minute before you get on that gyrocopter?
I will go right into my flying mode. I have a process of things to check and things to do, and I’ll start methodically working through the checklist before I take off – and that’s it really. I try not to think too much. Overthinking and thinking too much can be quite destructive. The brain can start talking you into situations that are never going to happen. I just don’t do it. What I learned over time is the good a to-do list can do. I write everything down, make my lists of things so that I just have to work through them.
How would you define leadership?
For me, leadership means inspiring someone to do something. Just instructing someone to do something is not leadership. That would only be a boss who is in a senior position being paid more telling someone below them to do something, and that person is doing it because they don’t want to get fired. A real leader will bring everyone in, so that they feel inspired to work for that person, wanting to do more. In order for people to be able to lead, they have to have a great level of people skills.
On your trip, you will visit schools and youth organisations, giving talks and inspiring young people by sharing your story. What is your message to them?
My ultimate message is: The only thing between you and your dreams is work. I feel like it is my duty to spend time with young people, encouraging them, helping them to believe that they can do a lot more than they might think they can. I will also share with them what I’ve come to realise myself: ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining’. It is very true – even if you only ever see it looking back.
(published 31st March 2019)