The Snows of Kilimanjaro


Joseph Campbell is perhaps most famous for his mantra, “follow your bliss,” but this is dangerous advice (or so my father once said).  I can remember discussing Campbell with my father a few years back, and when I invoked this mantra, he told me “a lot of lives have been ruined that way.”  I, of course, thought my father was full of shit.  I didn’t want to believe him, partly because I’m an idealist and a romantic at heart, but mostly because I was ignorant and completely out of my mind at the time.  I was in the midst of an existential crisis, which I wasn’t handling very well at all, and I decided I had to make some radical changes in my life because I just knew that to not do so would mean certain doom.  So I made those changes and “followed my bliss” at my own peril, and now (too late, as always) I realize that my father was right.

Somehow or other during this existential crisis I managed to find myself on a mailing list for a motivational speaker by the name of Scott Dinsmore.  He founded a company called “Live Your Legend” whose purpose was to help folks “change the world by doing work you love and surrounding yourself with the people who make it possible,” which seemed like something I could get behind.  I never bothered to unsubscribe from his mailing list because his e-mails were few and far between and weren’t at all intrusive, unlike the ones I get from Pottery Barn.  [Side note: How did I get on their mailing list, anyway? And why the hell can’t I get off of it?  Being on the Pottery Barn mailing list is like being in the mafia– you’re in it for life.]  If anything, Scott seemed to be an infectiously positive guy and his Live Your Legend e-mails brought encouragement and hope to me in a dark time in my life.  I figured I didn’t have enough affirmation or motivation in my life, so why not remain subscribed?  I truly do believe in the importance of affirmations, though I don’t really practice them myself (hmmm… maybe that’s the problem).

scottdinsmoreScott and Chelsea on vacation

In the occasional updates I received, I followed Scott and his wife Chelsea as they sold all of their possessions and left their home in San Francisco to embark on a globetrekking adventure.  All in all they visited twenty countries on their journey, which ended in Tanzania.  Apparently it was a lifelong goal of Scott’s to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so that’s exactly what he and his wife set out to do.  Well, I recently received an e-mail from the “Live Your Legend Team” rather than Scott himself (which I thought was odd) with the subject line of “In Memory of the Greatest Living Legend of Them All: Scott Dinsmore” (which was even more odd).

During his ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, shortly before he was to reach the summit, Scott was struck in the head by a falling rock and killed.  He was 33 years old.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Hemingway’s famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which tells the story of a writer who [spoiler alert] dies while on vacation with his wife in Tanzania.  As he’s dying, the character finds himself reflecting on his life and wondering whether or not he’s lived up to his full potential.  But Hemingway’s protagonist had plenty of time to reflect, as he was slowly dying of gangrene.  Scott, on the other hand, was likely killed the instant the rock struck his head, thereby preventing him from such reflection.  But from what little I knew of this man through his e-mails, had he been afforded the time for such reflection, there would be no doubt that he was indeed living up to his full potential.

Below is video from his TED talk on doing what you love, and it’s worth a watch.  And feel free to check out his Live Your Legend page, too, if you’re so inclined.  As for me, I think I’m done trying to believe in the power of positive thinking.  Life is just too random and absurd to comprehend anymore.

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