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The Three Most Important Questions

The first step to achieving a goal is committing to it. Here are the three ways I identify a worthy challenge.

This week a local conservation agency asked me to take on an issue that is close to my heart. Unfortunately, I had to turn them down.

It’s never easy saying no. Advocacy, changing things for the better, is what I do.

I watched my father die slowly from Alzheimer’s disease. My best friend James died of cancer at just 33 years old. Our rhinos are being slaughtered every day. And I get regular requests to do speeches for charities doing important work. I care deeply about all them, but I can’t let myself get pulled off course.

If you look at my campaigns so far this year – protecting the Ross Sea in Antarctica, stopping mass balloon releases over Gibraltar, exposing corporate sponsorship of shark-killing competitions in the USA – you might ask, what do these things have in common?

The answer is the Ocean.Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 19.33.48

I’m a maritime lawyer and an endurance swimmer. After my swims in the Arctic and Antarctic, I decided to concentrate my efforts on being a voice for the oceans, speaking up for those who don’t have a voice – the whales, sharks, turtles, coral reefs, dolphins, penguins, toothfish and the like.

I was invited by the United Nations to be their Patron of the Oceans, a role I take very seriously. It has put me in a unique position to effect change. As a neutral and independent ocean ambassador, I can speak out on issues that are politically sensitive. I can speak truth to governments and corporations. And I can move quickly.

Our oceans are under assault, from overfishing, pollution, and climate change. Fish species are disappearing. Coral is bleaching. Marine creatures regularly wash up on shores with more plastic in their bellies than food. How do my team and I choose between the many ocean issues crying out for attention?

Before we embark on a campaign we ask ourselves 3 simple questions:

One, are we passionate about the issue? Campaigns can be long and challenging; if we’re not passionate about the cause, we simply won’t be successful.

Two, is it big enough to matter? Small doesn’t inspire change, and nothing commands respect and grabs attention like confronting a Goliath. We’ve had to face down some major corporations, governments and, during our polar expeditions, some very scary sea conditions.

The third question may seem like a contradiction: is it small enough to win? If you take on something too big to make significant progress on, it will drain you, demoralize you, and waste your energy.

We need to choose our battles wisely, because I fund these campaigns through my writing and public speaking. So once I’ve paid my home expenses, I channel every penny I make into our campaigns.

And I won’t stop until I see a world where peace and respect for nature prevail.

Impossible, you say? If you’ve been following me over the years you’ll know that the word “impossible” excites me. Next week, I’ll write about an upcoming event, a mission that’s not so much impossible, as impossible to ignore.

Watch this space!

Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and the United Nations Patron of the Oceans

Photo credit – Kelvin Trautman