He was born prematurely with respiratory distress syndrome. Not believing he would live the day, he was baptized immediately by the doctor who delivered him; his dad!
He got to stay and set out to leave this world a better place than he found it. With all the odds against him, he pursued an impossible dream: Set foot on top of Mount Everest. His passion was to keep living his dreams and give his life true meaning and purpose with the promise to give back the gift he received to other children.
In this interview, François Langlois, a father of four children and the third Quebecer to reach the 7 Summits, talks about how his birth story shaped his attitude towards life and helped fulfill his dreams.
Meet François Langlois.
Antonia: You got to stay! How did your birth story affect you later on in life?
François: My dad told me about it when I was twelve years old. Now, I didn’t know back then but, that day, he planted a seed inside me. After I lived the day, I spent six weeks in an incubator fighting a whole slew of illnesses. Apparently, the nurses and doctors noticed my chest expanding and told my dad, “He’s a fighter. Look at him pant. He doesn’t want to leave.” He repeated this to me, “Son, you’re fighter”. Then, he said something that stuck with me for the rest of my life, “You got to stay, so you have to make it count and make it worthwhile. When you leave this place, leave it better than you found it.” It set me on my path and shaped my attitude towards life.
Limitations Are Illusions
Antonia: Growing up, did it affect or limit you compared to other kids?
François: I was physically smaller than the other kids and my four older brothers. It was difficult to keeping up with them in sports because I’d be out of breath and burning inside. When my dad told me, “Son, you’re a fighter,” I accepted myself this way, pushed myself harder and never gave up. Today, I realize that limitations are illusions we create in our mind. If you put your complete attention on yourself instead of on how much better everyone around is, you will accomplish great things.
Antonia: Is this what led to climbing Mt. Everest?
François: Yeah, so almost 35 years after my dad told me this story, I received an email from the guide on my previous expedition on Mt. Rainier. It was an invitation to a group of people, “I’m going to climb Everest. Who wants to come?” I immediately accepted the invitation. It turns out, he send it to me by mistake and told me, “Sorry, you’re nowhere near being qualified.” You can’t imagine all the arguments I had to give him to be on that team. In my mind, in my heart and all my being, I was going.
Up until then, I had always questioned why I got to stay and what I was meant to do. Because of my birth story, climbing Everest was one of my dreams. When I read the email, I thought, “This is my chance to find out why I got to stay here. God wanted me to stay and I need to find out how I can make it worthwhile.”
In the fifteen minutes I spent on top of Everest, looking out at our world, I remembered my dad’s story. I played it over in my mind and said, “Thank you God! I got to stay and live my dream. From this point on in my life, I will promise that whatever I do, I will pay it forward to other kids that are sick and in distress.”
So, I continued my path of climbing the Seven Summits and other expeditions. With each one, donating to various charities for children. Today, ten years later and over six million dollars raised, I can say that I can leave this place a little better than I found it.
Antonia: WOW! That’s truly an amazing contribution! So, your childhood battles followed you into your adulthood.
The Power of Letting Go and Acceptance
François: Yes, actually more than that.
Two years after Everest and other expeditions, I had just returned from climbing Mount Logan in Canada and began experiencing strong pains in my chest. After running some tests, they found I had a cyst, a benign tumor on my left lung. It had gone unnoticed from birth and had grown to the size of a grapefruit weighing a kilo of fluid. So basically, I had been living my life on one and a half lungs. It was the reason why I would easily get out of breath when I did any physical activity. When they removed it, for the first time in my life, I felt what a full breath of air was like. Not knowing was the best thing that could have happened. I had nothing to blame for not being as strong as the others. I accepted and took full responsibility for my physical capability. Something that has shaped every decision and action I have taken in every aspect of my life.
I always say that I had the privilege of not knowing. But, many people carry the knowledge of something that happened to them in the past and never end up pursuing what they really want. If they could let go of that knowledge and accept themselves as they are, they would be amazed at the capacity and strength of their bodies and mind. And, slowly but surely, step by step, one by one, they would accomplish anything they set out to do.
Also, the day I received that email, I felt I had nothing going on in my life (no family, no girlfriend, and no career). Otherwise, I probably would not have gone. It’s funny but, sometimes, when we feel this way or, that we are in the worst possible situation, it’s the best thing for us. It’s probably because something big is trying to work itself in our lives and we are exactly where we’re supposed to be in order to make space for it to manifest. We may not understand it and may not know why, but we will recognize it when it’s time if we let them take their natural course.
Not Letting Others Dictate Your Life
Antonia: When you announced you would climb Everest, how was it received?
François: A few months before going, my dad invited me for breakfast. He said, “I’m just going to ask you straight out. Please, don’t go!” That was a really tough moment but, I looked at him and said, “You know, I have to go.” So, he stuck out his hand and said, “Be the best that you can.”
The others, I must say, were respectful enough not to tell me what they were thinking but, basically thought I was nuts!
For me, it was Everest. But, this is true for anyone who wants to do something that goes against conformity.
You know, in life it’s like we are all on a mountain. There’s a mass of the population at the bottom of the mountain. The ones that say, I can’t. I can’t do it, I have to stick to conformity, where it’s safe and I know my world. So, they don’t try. Then, there’s the other group who make it half way up. They’re the campers. So, they climb for a while and are content with it. They put up the picket fence around the house and stop there. The last group, are the few who always keep climbing, the ones who question the status quo and conformity.
Now, it’s not to judge one over the other. It’s pointing it out and recognizing that each one will express and respond to life based on their own perception. More importantly, to become aware of our own mentality so we’ll never have to mutter these three words later on in our life, “I should have…”
Fear of the Unknown
Antonia: Absolutely. And, fear of the unknown. Physically, all the odds were against you of making it to the top of Everest. How did you get past the uncertainty of not knowing how it would turn out?
François: Ah Yes. That’s a biggie!
I never stopped to analyze the possibility of not making it. I knew very well it would be difficult and was actually voted as the least person expected to make it to the top. But, all my life I was faced with this constant battle. It strengthened me psychologically, which is far more important than physical strength. So, I didn’t waste my energy in imagining all the things that could go wrong. Instead, my attention was on everything I needed to do to make it happen.
You know, another funny thing is that we all go through struggles in life, but most people will try to resist or run away from them. It becomes a scary and fearful part of life that they want to avoid. If they approach struggles and obstacles as a part of life, they would gain an understanding and clarity to confront them. Their minds would develop the strength to stop imagining all the monsters and wouldn’t be afraid of living.
And, more importantly, I understood my reason for wanting to do it, which had nothing to do with external gratification. Once you gain a deep understanding of your own reason for doing something and are connected to your purpose, there’s no room for fear. Your thoughts are not other people’s thoughts or, how successful you’ll be or how much money you’ll make. Your full attention will be on the task at hand and moving forward facing whatever challenge comes your way.
Antonia: How about during the actual climb, did you ever feel like giving up?
François: It wasn’t easy and for a long time I was the last in line. All around me, everyone was convinced that I wouldn’t make it. At 8,000 meters, Jason, the guide, turned to me and said, “I don’t think you should continue.” This was after four days climbing, we were at the last camp going for the summit and he’s telling me to stay back. I thought his decision was irrational and told him, “Jason, I’m going to rest and decide in an hour.” He kept insisting and at some point I got angry and said, “Jason, I will decide in an hour. I’ve earned my right, I’m here, I’m feeling good, and I’ll decide if I should go.” Now, I only found out later that he was worried about me and wanted to protect me. At the time I had interpreted it completely differently.
This happens the minute you or anyone tries to do something outside the ‘box’. You will be exposed to others’ rationalizations that what you’re doing is nuts. They will express their own fears into trying to talk you out of it. Their intention may be to protect you but, it is their fear talking and doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work out. I continued the climb and went from being the last in line to the second person of the group to reach the top.
Living a Life True To Yourself
Antonia: You have four children. How have you been able to manage following your passion, going on expeditions and raising a big family?
François: For me, it was easy for a major reason. Again, my priorities, my goals and dreams were all extremely clear and there was no compromising if anything would get in the way of them.
Remember I mentioned that climbing Mt. Everest was only one of my dreams? Well meeting the love of my life and having a family were on top of my list. This was my priority. So, after I met Karine and had children, everything revolved around them. Of course, this didn’t mean giving up my dream and stop doing what I loved. I continued my expeditions, only when it made sense to go. The whole paying forward was not just for other kids, but, also for my own kids. There was no question for Karine and I that we wanted a big family and be involved with our children. For her, it was clear, she wanted to be a stay at home mom. For me, I rearranged my work conditions and moved my office in my home. This removed about two weeks a year of commuting to the office. I got to spend so much more time with my kids. We pretty much cut out all kinds of stuff and expenses, living modestly and basically sticking to our needs. We made a choice together based on what we both really wanted and our priorities. It led to a series of decisions that were unconventional in today’s society but, in our favor and the quality of life we wanted.
When you are clear about your priorities and your goals in life, it may lead to making unconventional decisions and stepping out of conformity. You do them because they make sense to you and are aligned with your purpose. It won’t matter what others think or say about the way you live because you’re living a life true to yourself.
The Dalai Lama has a great quote that I love. He says,
“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
For us, having both of us working just didn’t fit with the quality of life we wanted. It would have meant a lot more expenses, more stress and not seeing our kids nearly as much as we do now. So, in today’s society, we had to break this rule and a few others effectively, in order to be stress free and live both our passions.
You know, if it’s all about the money and possessions, or conforming to society and other people’s expectations, sooner or later things will begin to break down. If there’s no foundation on a clear purpose, principles or values, our decisions and actions may drift us away from a life true to us and our happiness. We may end up living with regrets and one day saying those dreadful words, “I should have…”
You see, everything is possible, even with kids, when you stay true to your values and priorities. It doesn’t mean giving up on your dream. Actually, it will teach kids to stay true to their values regardless of what other people say.
Antonia: Is this the most important thing in life for you?
François: Yes, absolutely! If in your heart you know that what you do is good and true, you have to push the people who try to knock you down aside. Keep following your path and dreams. You’ll always be surrounded by people who will contradict you. They are expressing their own fears. No matter how rational it may sound, it’s still their own fears and doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You will just be living against the conventional rules, but living true to yourself.
Everyone has that one dream deep inside, that summit they want to get to. It’s a matter of acknowledging it. If your dream is NOBLE but, scares you because of the unknown, then take the first step. We all want to stand on top of Mt. Everest, whatever Everest is for you. But, you’ll discover that it’s the journey that will embellish you. The two years of training and preparation, the tons of gear you have to shift, all the objections and obstacles you’re going to face and surmount as you’re following your dream; that will shape you. If you try, you’ve already succeeded. At the end of your life, you won’t say, “I should have…”