As the world continues to observe lock-downs and strict bans on close contact, many of us are left searching for a silver lining to social isolation. Social distancing keeps us safe, but can it make our lives better? Mike Horn believes that it can.
The long-time brand ambassador of Mercedes-Benz and Laureus Sport for Good has been recognised as one of the world’s greatest modern-day adventure explorers. Since 1997, he has been credited with many firsts and ground-breaking expeditions, such as Pole2Pole, a three-year circumnavigation of the globe via the North and South Poles over land and sea. Powered by the legendary Mercedes-Benz G-Class, he was also a part of Drive to K2, driving across 13 countries in 15 days, from Switzerland to Pakistan in order to ascend K2, the world’s second highest mountain.
In January 2020 shortly after his return from an Arctic expedition, the South African born Swiss adventurer took part in the Dakar Rally for the first time, navigating for the French Enduro and rally driver Cyril Despres.
Mike is no stranger to being isolated, having spent time on his own on numerous expeditions. The loneliness never broke his spirit. Instead he discovered that being alone became a source of inspiration, new opportunities, and a means of enriching his life.
In this interview, he shares his tips on taking advantage of social distancing and overcoming the challenges of navigating the new norm.
Mike, the coronavirus crisis is forcing people into social isolation throughout the world. For many people, this retreat into solitude is frightening. What do you have to say to them? During your solo expeditions, what experiences did you have with social distancing?
The crisis is quite unsettling for people, of course. After all, we were given the order to decelerate from the typical breakneck pace of modern life down to just a crawl from one day to the next. That isn’t easy in our closely linked and fast-moving world. However, you can also see social distancing in a positive light, because it allows you to gain time for yourself, time that can be used intensively. As an example, I’ve always found social isolation to be something that enriches my life: Each time I was isolated from people was an amazing period in my life. That time alone gave me the chance to focus completely on myself and find my personal answers to all the questions I have. I’m convinced that when you want to set goals and make your dreams come true, you often have to do that alone, without any diversion.
So social distancing is more of an opportunity than a threat to you?
Yes. I don’t think you have to be afraid of social isolation if you know what possibilities it brings with it: The actual social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic need not be anything like involuntary downtime. Instead, it can become an amazing moment for everyone to set new goals, to get creative and to reconsider and develop their personal life. And perhaps it can be the first step towards improving your own life and making new dreams a reality.
What tips do you have for life in social isolation? What advice would you give to those affected?
My advice for everyone living in isolation is to be creative, enjoy the isolation and make a decision to do things you’ve never done before. We now have the freedom that time gives us. It’s up to you to be creative with it. Stay positive, stay motivated and live for today – not just for the future and not just in the past. Live in the moment you’re in at the moment – because we have an amazing life ahead of us.
Many parents are currently working from home yet still have to look after their children, as day care centres and schools are closed. This represents a huge source of stress for them. How do you look at this, and how do you deal with extreme challenges in general?
This is indeed a great challenge to those affected in this way. It’s not easy to do your job well and be a patient person in charge of your children at the same time. I think the best way is to deal with the new situation in a manner that is as relaxed as possible. People shouldn’t put so much pressure on themselves. It’s even possible that the new situation could be accepted as a challenge that represents positive change. Challenges in themselves are not necessarily bad. On the contrary, they can make us strong and inspire us to embrace new and creative solutions. When I crossed the Arctic Ocean for example, I had to face a lot of uncertainty regarding the weather and rough seas. And I loved this uncertainty because it challenged me to find creative solutions each day.
Is your current isolation at your home in Switzerland different to what you have experienced during your expeditions?
I’m currently spending time in Château-d’Oex, Switzerland. Here it is an ideal place for an explorer to be isolated. My domicile stands alone surrounded by fields and forest, the perfect terrain for me to take some down time and train for my upcoming adventures. It doesn’t feel very different to my experience during my expeditions. Although, to be honest, the weather is much better here in the Alps than on the Arctic Ocean.
How do you think society will change in response to this in long-term (or only short-term)?
We cannot be entirely sure that society will change in response to this unprecedented event. Perhaps, once this passes, we will all go back to our usual lives? But I certainly do hope that some of us will retain the positives that can be drawn from this experience and continue applying them in our ongoing lives. I believe the positives include: slowing down the pace of our daily lives, taking time for ourselves and our families, feeling inspired and being creative, revaluating what we need and don’t need, encouraging people to reduce overconsumption, and establishing solidarity between local but also global communities.
How can this be transferred to the challenges families are facing at home?
I would like to give people some encouragement in this regard. I think everybody is able to get creative, find new solutions and establish new ways of living together well. People should try to accept formerly unknown daily challenges as personal challenges. Undertake to find good solutions for all participants together. I know it’s not always possible to stay motivated, but with discipline you can overcome most of the problems in your daily life.