The sixteen survivors of Flight 572 were hailed as heroes and cheered as celebrities, and today Parrado is a successful businessman and television personality in Uruguay. Married for twenty-nine years with two teenage daughters, he travels the world, racing cars and giving motivational talks. He tells me about one powerful experience in Salt Lake City, Utah. While delivering a speech about his ordeal in the Andes, he noticed a rather unkempt woman crying in the audience. Her hair was untidy; her clothes looked rumpled; and her face was color-less and without makeup.
When Parrado was finished, she approached.
"You saved my life today," she told him. "I was dead. I was born again today."
A few years earlier, she explained, she had accidentally run over her daughter while backing out of the driveway. "I killed my baby," she told him. "I've been dead." She explained that she didn't care about anything anymore. She didn't look after herself. She had stopped living. Parrado didn't know what to say. He pulled the woman into his arms and hugged her with all his might. No, this disheveled woman hadn't survived seventy-two days on a glacier. She hadn't lost half of her family and her two best friends. And yet, he thought, Could there be any doubt that in the ways that mattered most, she had suffered as much as I had?
Until that moment, Parrado tells me, he had always felt a strange, uncomfortable pride about his survival struggle. Only those who stood on that frozen slab would know the depths of despair, the killer cold, and the horrors of starvation. Adventure magazines had always ranked the ordeal in the Andes at the top of every list of history's greatest survival stories. Movies and documentaries were made about their struggle. With the woman in his arms, however, he discovered something deeper and more universal. "We all, at times, face hopelessness and despair," he writes in his remarkable memoir, Miracle in the Andes. "We all experience grief, abandonment, and crushing loss. And all of us, sooner or later, will face the inevitable nearness of death." After hugging the woman for a long while, words came to him and he whispered: "We all have our own Andes in life. You also have your Andes."
When it comes to adversity, it's human nature to make comparisons. Which is worse? Getting trapped in the freezing Andes or accidentally killing your child? These questions are inevitable but lead nowhere. While some challenges appear to be more daunting or excruciating than others, if you're going through your own ordeal, it doesn't make any difference where it ranks on some imaginary Richter scale of survival. The second rule of the Survivors Club is that it's not all relative. Sure, adversity comes in many sizes and shapes, but if it's happening in your life -- if it's got your undivided attention -- if the stakes matter to you -- then contrasts are irrelevant. The Big One is happening to you, right here and right now. Relativity doesn't matter. No matter the crisis -- on a glacier or in a driveway -- the second rule of the Survivors Club means that your challenge is just as big a deal as anyone else's.
3. The Third Rule: You're Stronger Than You Know