Sir Edmund Hillary can be heard speaking on a podcast about his life and achievements. Two things are striking. Firstly, he was a very natural orator and spoke in a very calm and controlled way. Secondly, and more powerfully, he possessed incredible humility. In the interview, Hillary describes himself repeatedly as ‘average’ and ‘not particularly gifted at anything’.
Perhaps it is fitting that Hillary was not the first choice in the 1953 British Everest expedition but rather had to watch as two others set off on a summit bid ahead of him. It is unlikely he complained once. A quiet and unassuming man, described as being ‘exceptionally strong and abounding in restless energy, possessed of a thrusting mind which swept away all unproven obstacles’, Hillary seized his opportunity and paired with Tenzing Norgay, reached the summit despite his self-proclaimed ‘limited abilities’.
Hillary is a hero of ours not just for his achievements, but for his humility. He also dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy to bettering the lives of Nepal’s Sherpa people, who he loved, building schools and healthcare facilities with that same restless energy that saw him reach the roof of the world.
We find him inspiring as he continued to explore and push boundaries long past his successful ascent of Everest. He became the first man to reach both poles and the summit of Everest, this is significant proof of his physical strength but also his mental strength. Hillary explored until the very end. Just a year before his death and at the age of 87 he made a trip to Antarctica to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Scott Base, the research facility.
For a man of average abilities, Hillary achieved an awful lot and lived a full and inspiring life.