Swedish explorer Johan Ernst Nilson has sailed to the Arctic and Antarctica, walked across Alaska and climbed all Seven Summits. He has completed more than 60 adventures in 182 countries. The mentor uses his expeditions and adventures to highlight climate-related issues and environmental awareness.
You are one of the world’s leading explorers and motivational speakers. How did you start your activity?
Johan Ernst: I started my expeditions when I was 23-years-old. At the time, I was working as a piano player. I made a bet with a friend of mine that a person with the lowest grade in gymnastics bike from Sweden to Africa. You can do whatever you want if you use the same focus like learning to play the piano. I went to my manager, quit my job and biked to the Sahara.
52 days later, I reached Africa. I was able to do this because of my mother who motivated me every day. When I went to Africa, I was looking at the sand, and I though, Did I just bike to the Sahara? No, that’s impossible. But I did every day, though, I got to the Sahara. That is how it started! Every day, one more step.
How did you decide to be a coach?
JE: It came pretty naturally because I had been asked many questions regarding what I was thinking when I was walking across Alaska or climbing Mount Everest … Business leaders like Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins contacted me. I started my coaching programs based on what you think when you are up there at 8,000 meters. Do you want to give up? What keeps you going? What are the thoughts that you have in your head? What keeps you going one more step? Did these things came naturally? What did I think when I was almost at the top?
Before I start an expedition, I ask myself, why do I want to do this? What’s the point? Same thing in love, friendship, well in everything, I ask myself: Why do I want this? And it’s all based on one thing: on my experience from my expeditions and how I solve problems when it seems impossible. Because my vision and my philosophy are that everything is possible, and the impossible takes more time.
Can you tell the story the boy in the wheelchair?
JE: A boy, Aron, called me up and said: “Listen, I totally lost my vision in life. Due to cancer, I’m paralyzed, and I’m sitting in a wheelchair. Could you help me to want to live again?” I agreed to coach him, and I sent him the GPS coordinates. Aron called me back: "So this is not in Stockholm. It’s a national park, and it’s a mountain. It’s the highest mountain in Sweden. It’s 2,000 meters high. And I’m in a wheelchair.”
I replied: “Well, that’s not my problem. I’m going to start the coaching on this mountain. If you want me to be your coach, this is where I will be. Ýou have arms, right? You can crawl.”
We did this expedition together and he came up to the 2,000 meters summit, sitting their crying with bleeding hands. He asked, “Can we start the coaching now?” And I told him: “That was the coaching!"
That was experience was bigger for me than climbing Mount Everest because Everest was an ego thing.
You use expeditions and adventures to highlight climate-related issues and environmental awareness. In your opinion, how should influencers convey the right messages through their social media feed?
JE: I often tell people “you have a platform and followers, so you have a responsibility.” You need to do something with your platform, even if you don’t do it the whole time. If you’re a model, for example, then you’re a model. That’s how you make your money. You’re posting pictures of yourself, which is fine but every now and then, you can also say you’re so glad that this beach is so beautiful and not filled with plastic. Add some interesting information now and then. So that’s what I do. When I’m coaching other Influencers, I give them ideas and thoughts on what they can do to change the world. I think that is so powerful.
I once did a campaign based on the killing of rhinos in Africa. The idea was to post pictures of ourselves without noses. I sent it to many of my celeberty friends and it went viral. I do these kinds of campaigns all the time.
I arranged the world’s highest rock concert at almost 6,000 meters on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania where we broadcasted live on Facebook. All funds raised went to Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to save elephants.
It’s important to try to use the social media platforms to do good. That’s my main thing.
It’s not about reaching most people; it’s about what message you reach them with. Even if you have 200 million followers, if none of the followers do anything, then it doesn’t matter. If you have three followers and then three people do something then that’s more powerful. Social media is a new power tool, and with power comes responsibilities. Some people have problems with social media, some get bullied. People feel ugly. I think using your platform for something good is very honrable.
I think that every influencer should sit down with paper and pen and ask themselves: Who am I?
What is my message to the world? How can my presence make this world a better place?