A Million Tiny Sacrifices

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”


Have you heard this saying before?

Are you aware of the incredible context with which these simple words were initially delivered?

The infamous words were said by Captain Lawrence Oates during the Terra Nova Expedition.


The Terra Nova Expedition was an expedition to the Antarctica which took place between 1910-1913. The expedition was the brain child of explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who aimed to lead the first group to reach the geographic South Pole. Captain Lawrence Oates, a former English cavalry officer, was selected to be a part of Scott’s team for this expedition.


Over the course of the expedition it became evident that both Oates and Scott strongly disliked each other. Oates wrote in his diary;

“Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition. He is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere…”.

Scott, somewhat more even-tempered wrote in return;

“The Soldier [Oates] takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.


Despite the in-fighting and mismanagement of the journey, the team attained their goal in January 1912 when they reached the South Pole.


…from that point, things went south [pun intended] – and no one from the Terra Nova made it home alive.



Now, at this point of this article you’re probably starting to think “why are you sharing this harrowing tale with me, and where does the quote at the top fit in?!”

That’s understandable, I’ve rambled a little bit.

…but bear with me.



During the return leg of the journey, Captain Oastes’ feet become severely frostbitten and old war wounds had (reportedly) re-opened, leaving him very weak and unable to walk the distances needed each day. Oates’ increasingly slow progress coupled with the unwillingness of the rest of the team to leave him behind had caused the team to fall dangerously behind.


On the morning of 16th of March, Oates said the simple words quoted to his companions;

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”

Oates then walked from the tent, into a blizzard and −40 °C temperatures, knowingly to his death.

His death is viewed as an act of self-sacrifice; aware that his ill health was compromising his three companions’ chances of survival, he chose certain death.

While questions can be (and regularly are) raised about the capability and organisation of the team on the Terra Nova expedition, what can never be questioned is the bravery and self-sacrifice of Captain Oates.


The story of the Terra Nova came to my attention for the first time in many years last night and it stuck with me as I lay in bed and tried to sleep. I tried my best to put myself in Oates’ position and replayed it in my mind repeatedly, trying to judge what my own reactions would be in a similar position. The truth is, I can’t. You will never know how you will act in such terrible and extreme circumstances. The only thing I could do was try to learn from it, use Oates’ self-sacrifice as an inspiration to improve my everyday life.

I began to think of the little self-sacrifices that I do/could make every day. How these can positively impact both my own mood and the mood of those around me. Simple examples such as;

  • When your technophobic family members ask you to show them how to check their emails for the 40th time
  • When you can’t have that beer because your friend/family needs you to drive them somewhere
  • Slowing your stride on a narrow pavement because the person in front of you is on crutches
  • …visiting anyone in hospital!


I’m going to strive to be more patient in life.

I’m going to take more deep breaths and enjoy the tony moments of “self-sacrifice” in everyday life.

Things could always be worse…





p.s, The Terra Nova wasn’t successful in being the first expedition to reach the South Pole.

A Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had preceded them by 34 days.