Social distancing as an opportunity: “Stay positive, stay motivated and live for today!”

Apr 14, 2020

Interview with Mike Horn, Extreme Adventurer and Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador

The world is firmly in the grip of the crisis triggered by the coronavirus. In many countries, there are lockdowns or strict bans on coming into contact with others. How are people to deal with the social isolation that has suddenly been imposed? Is lack of contact with friends and acquaintances only a source of stress? Or can social distancing also make our lives better? 

Mike Horn is convinced that the latter is true. The long-time brand ambassador of Mercedes-Benz and
Laureus Sport for Good is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest modern-day adventurer-explorers. He also works as a speaker and coach.

Mike has undertaken exceptional feats of endurance, determination and courage, extending the boundaries of human achievement. Since 1997, he has accomplished a series of world-first and ground-breaking expeditions, such as “Pole2Pole”, a three-year circumnavigation of the globe via the South and North Poles including ocean crossings and overland expeditions, and “Drive to K2”, powered by the legendary Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Together with his team, Mike drove across a total of 13 countries from Switzerland to Pakistan, covering more than 10,500 km in 15 days, in order to ultimately ascend K2, the world’s second highest mountain. He also completed “Amazon”, a six-month solo crossing of the South American continent on foot and by means of the riverboarding sport known as hydrospeed.

And in January 2020 – just a few weeks after his return from an Arctic expedition –the South African-born Swiss adventurer took part in the Dakar Rally for the first time, serving as navigator for the french Enduro and rally driver Cyril Despres.

On many expeditions, Mike spent months on his own – completely alone and without any technical aids. However, loneliness didn’t wear him down. On the contrary, he finds being alone to be something that enriches his life, a source of inspiration and new opportunities. Mike shares his experiences in this interview, providing tips on how to take advantage of social distancing and overcome the new challenges in your day-to-day life.

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 in regard to 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.

Mike, thanks for your time.

Mike Horn during his “Pole2Pole” expedition: Sailing on his boat Pangaea on the way to his Arctic crossing in September of 2019.
Mike Horn on his "Pole2Pole" expedition: Here during the Arctic crossing in December of 2016. © Dmitry Sharomov
Mike Horn, extreme sportsman and Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador.
Mike Horn on the way during his expedition in the Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Mike Horn preparing his Pole2Pole Expedition in Canada