In conversation with Johan Ernst Nilson

It’s not every day you meet someone, and you casually ask them ‘who is your Wingman’ – and their response is… ‘The Dalai Lama’.

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Johan Ernst Nilson is a Swedish explorer who has completed more than 53 adventures in 160 countries. He is an 'environmental explorer', using his expeditions and adventures to highlight/campaign for climate-related issues and environmental awareness. He visits the Dalai Lama at least twice a year for spiritual guidance and trusted advice…

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Since his first expedition in 1994, he has spent over eight cumulative years sleeping in a tent whilst exploring, has spent over 18 consecutive months on one exploration, reached the highest mountain on all seven continents, kayaked from Sweden to Africa, ridden a jetski over the Atlantic, the list goes on...

Here are some takeaways and soundbites we thought worth sharing from talking to Johan: 

1) “When it comes to climate change no one can do everything but we can all do something”

2) It’s amazing how many challenges/ acts out of your comfort zone start with a bet. His friend bet him he couldn’t cycle from Sweden to Africa so he just did it. It took him 52 days. That’s how his adventures started.  

3) Not a Walk in the Park is one of his next projects, to raise awareness against illegal poaching in partnership with a major streaming service content maker… His friend Leo Di Caprio also realised the best way he could affect change was to utilise his access Mayors and decision-makers. They are hatching a plan alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger around a Zero Emissions global platform. Watch this space for both initiatives…  

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4) “We should all leave the earth with a plus, not a minus”

5) “It’s amazing how many people grow up not hearing the words ‘It’s possible”.

6) Johan has spent a lot of time being able to think (for example kayaking on his own for 12 hours a day for 180 days). The more time you spend thinking the more you end up back at the ‘why’. When you are living life at full speed, you often don’t stop and ask yourself why enough. Why do I work where I work, why do I love my wife, am I doing exactly what I should be doing?

7) One of the biggest challenges to leaders in business is to know what is enough. Or that often more success doesn’t make you happier. Johan has known CEOs for thirty years that each year say ‘I’ll be happy when I get this big deal done, then they find the next bigger one’….After 30 years they look back and realise chasing the next thing and the next thing hasn't made them happy.

8) When Johan was younger, he decided he wanted to teach himself something that people would pay to watch him do, three years later he had taught himself to play the piano professionally…

9) One of the most disappointing things he has discovered was there was garbage on Everest. So Johan organised 200 people to collect it all up – it ended up being 8 tons of refuse…   

10) His mantra when climbing Mount Everest started as just repeating to himself ‘Everest’ but then quickly turned to ‘Never rest’

11) His biggest achievement was not climbing a mountain or completing an adventure, it was helping someone else climb a mountain. He helped a handicapped boy in a wheelchair up the biggest mountain in Sweden (600ft).  

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13) Success for yourself soon becomes empty. For who were you doing it for? Once you have achieved for yourself you quickly realise it’s more important to share that knowledge and be a part of something bigger that you can influence. 

Thank you to the Milken Institute and Young Leaders Circle for the opportunity to hear Johan’s stories and words of motivation.  

For more information visit www.johanearnst.com @explorerJEN @johanernst