ANNOUNCER: Luminaries, talking to the brightest minds in tech.
MICHAEL DELL: And my hope is that we come together to share more than technology and expertise and products, but that we share a vision of a future that is better than today, a vision of technology as the driver of human progress.
ANNOUNCER: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.
MARK SCHAEFER: Hey, everyone. This is Mark Schaefer. I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. And as always, I’m joined by my co-host, Douglas Karr, the erstwhile Douglas Karr. How are you doing today, Doug?
DOUGLAS KARR: I am doing– I’m excited. We’re going to be talking adventures today.
MARK SCHAEFER: I’m excited, because this is, like, the geek trifecta. We have just completed– this is going to be the last stage of the geek trifecta. Because we’ve talked to someone from NASA on the Luminaries program.
We’ve talked to an expert in virtual reality on the Luminaries program. Today, we’re going to talk to someone who is a National Geographic explorer. It is the geek trifecta. The only thing we need, the only thing that’s left is Star Wars.
If we can get Dell to work our way into Star Wars, then, you know, I think our lives will be complete. So what an amazing opportunity we have today. Our guest is Mike Libecki. He is a National Geographic explorer and also a Dell ambassador for the Rugged line of computers.
Mike has completed more than 80 major expeditions all over the planet. And he has a goal of 100. He’s done expeditions from Afghanistan, to Antarctica, to Greenland, to Guyana. He’s been to places I cannot even pronounce, ladies and gentlemen. Mike, welcome to the show.
MIKE LIBECKI: Hey! It’s an honor and pleasure to be here to talk with you guys and to share what I call the sweetness of life. And you know–
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, awesome– and I hope that everybody will check out some of the videos. I mean, we’ll put links to some of your videos in the show notes on the Luminaries page. But you owe yourself a favor to check out some of Mike’s videos, some of the adventures from all over the world. So I want to know, Mike, how in the world did you end up in this place? How did you get to be a National Geographic explorer?
MIKE LIBECKI: Well, there’s a long story and a short story. So I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. I started competing in mathematics when I was in second grade. So I’ve always had this mathematical mind of equations and trying to solve problems and come to these final products.
I also grew up near Yosemite National Park.
DOUGLAS KARR: Oh, cool.
MIKE LIBECKI: Yosemite National Park is the center of the universe for climbing and adventure. So when I got out of college, in the mind of math and physics, I started rock climbing and living in the woods, and the forest, and the mountains, and just pursuing climbing at a high-high level– hod on one second. [CLEARS THROAT] So when I left college, actually, I had a struggle. You know, what do I want to do with my life? Where do I want to take math and physics and this mindset of solving problems?
And I started rock climbing. And that was really the start of it all. And my grandmother was very supportive, and saying, you know, you really have to not ration your passion. You have to ask the question, why ration passion and do what your heart says.
So 25 plus years ago, I moved into the forest and the mountains and started climbing. And I found a passion for adventure. And I started going all over the world to pursue climbing and exploration and humanitarian work. And it just led into a life of working with people like National Geographic. But ultimately, just pursuing the passion of adventure in our beautiful planet, in our universe, and staying true to that.
DOUGLAS KARR: How in the world did you get a connection between that and then working with Dell?
MIKE LIBECKI: Well, in today’s day and age, technology is the key to changing our world– to communication, to information, to education. So all of the expeditions that I go on are very, very high demanding on the equipment that I use. Out in the field, in the most remote places in the planet, my technology has to perform 24/7.
It cannot fail. Everything I take out in the field has a common theme. It absolutely cannot fail, yet has to work at optimum performance.
So several years ago, I connected with somebody at Dell about using their Rugged product. And I needed stuff in the field that just worked, that didn’t fail, that could take the rain, the cold, the desert, the sand, the dust, the mayhem. And it actually worked.
And it actually made my expeditions and my lifestyle better. It actually made it an optimum performance. And that’s how it began. And it’s been an incredible relationship ever since.
MARK SCHAEFER: Have you ever melted a popsicle on your laptop? Just asking for a friend– I’m wondering. Does it withstand a melted popsicle?
MIKE LIBECKI: Well, let’s just say I’ve had these Rugged devices completely frozen, minus 60 degrees. And I’ve defrosted them, and they’ve worked perfectly. So–
MARK SCHAEFER: Wow.
DOUGLAS KARR: Amazing.
MIKE LIBECKI: I’ve had this stuff sit in humidity and rain and desert dust. I mean, when I go on these trips, especially with all the product that I take, even the tech, I go out there to test them. I test them to fail.
And you know, it just keeps getting better and better and better. And everything is working. And again, imagine, in the most remote places on the planet, my equipment has to work at optimum performance. I have to rely on it even with my life. I mean, it’s very real for me.
MARK SCHAEFER: Now one of the things I enjoyed seeing, Mike, is how you integrate technology into your actual treks. And one of the videos I watched was a lovely piece of content about your trek to the Mount Everest base camp. And you were going through Nepal.
And you were helping villagers install solar panels so that they could have reliable electricity. You were sharing the computer and the internet with children. So that’s a very interesting part of the way you address adventure, the way you pursue adventure. You kind of give back to the world along the way.
MIKE LIBECKI: And that’s really important to talk about because, as an explorer, as an outdoors person, as a human, if we’re not giving back, then something’s not right. And we need to get into the mentality of asking ourselves every day, what are we doing to make the world a better place? What are we doing to give back?
And with all of the places I go to, I see orphanages and villages and communities that really don’t have quality of life. And they deserve it. They’re humans just like you and I.
We’ve evolved to having technology, to comforts, to medicine– all of the things that we take for granted, at least a lot of us– I believe our global community deserves all that. So I’m focusing on giving back to the most remote places, communities, orphanages, people in need. And just like you said, with solar energy, taking new computers, providing internet to places that have never had that before.
And that’s part of– that’s just one of the things that I do as a mission, as a human, to make the world a better place. And it’s very powerful. And it’s sign of the times. Technology is going to make our world a better place.
MARK SCHAEFER: Now is there a special angle, a special passion you have? It might be education or environmental causes. Is there something special that you aim to do when you go on these treks?
MIKE LIBECKI: Absolutely, I mean, the first and foremost goal is to have fun, to be safe, to come home alive. And those are pretty easy to have in that final product there, to do that. But I want to go above and beyond and make the world a better place.
I mean, if you can imagine orphanages, communities, kids that want an opportunity to go to college, they need to be up to date on how to use computers, technology, have the internet. They need to have energy to run that with the solar. I mean, this is a very huge passion for me.
But also conservation– what are we doing to make sure that we’re treating the planet in a good way? Not using plastics, not using one time use things when we go out to eat– I mean, every single little detail that I can think of, we all need to start with ourselves. We all need to ask the question, what are we doing to give back? And we need to be disciplined enough to focus on that and to make sure that we’re doing our part.
DOUGLAS KARR: As I was reading all about the treks that you’re doing, I was really, really intrigued. Because Mark and I often talk about our daughters a lot. And that’s that a big part of your adventure is now taking place with your daughter, Liliana, at your side. That sounds like the most incredible job in the world.
MIKE LIBECKI: Well, I think you guys understand. And anyone out there that’s a parent just understands. You want to be your child’s hero. You want to set the best example you can for your children.
And our children really are the stewards of this planet. Their generation, the next generations to come are the stewards of our planet. And I believe there’s a responsibility that we’re all one people here, and we need to bring this global community together, and have a positive, healthy way of life.
And so my daughter, you know, she’s grown up with this lifestyle of traveling the world. When she was young, she probably thought, oh, this is just normal. But as she’s gotten older, wow, my dad’s lifestyle isn’t very normal.
And now she’s into– she’s 15 years old. She’s been to 28 countries, all seven continents. She founded her own nonprofit 501(c)(3). It’s a humanitarian organization called the Joyineering Fund that we do together.
And we’ve done expeditions all over the world that are absolutely focused on giving back to those in need. But more specifically, to the most remote locations in the world that these kids don’t have an opportunity. So she’s been a huge inspiration to me and everyone around us.
That hey, dad, what are we doing to give back? These adventures are great. They’re beautiful. But with the planet and people, what is the give back? What are we doing to make a difference?
And so we’ve been really focused on that. And one of the beautiful things about that is it’s all teamwork. And Dell has been a huge part of our team to make sure that we’re making that difference and to have that incredible teamwork to do so.
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, it is truly inspiring. And I’d love to hear more about the Joyineering Fund. Can you describe that initiative?
MIKE LIBECKI: Yeah, you know, if you think about the name itself, the Joyineering Fund– so you have Joyineering. Think about mountaineering, or engineering. This is the act, the purpose, the intention of bringing joy to the world.
And we’re doing our part as a family. And so are our non-profit is– the board of directors is myself, my daughter, my brother, my sister, my mom. It’s a very focused, family-oriented nonprofit to give back. And to make sure we’re thinking about these are all families.
These are all people that love birthdays and weddings and eating good food and having joy in their lives. So we want to bring joy. So it’s the act of Joyineering that we’re doing.
MARK SCHAEFER: So how does that– how does that show up? So this is a nonprofit foundation. If somebody were interested in learning more or being involved with that, what does that look like?
MIKE LIBECKI: You know, it’s pretty simple– as going to the JoyFund.org and just learning about what we do. And we’ve learned a lot the last several years of doing these expeditions that are focused on humanitarian work, especially bringing solar power. When you think about solar energy, you might think, OK, we’re providing solar energy, and they have lights, or they’re powering the computers or the internet, or their refrigeration system, or their water filtration system. But one of the things that’s really special, and I’ll give you an example– if we’re setting up solar energy at a very remote orphanage in Africa, or in India, or Peru, wherever these places are that we’re doing this, even having lights at night that you didn’t have before will stop people from stealing their chickens or their cows. Or it even provides security.
It provides a better quality of life. And we’re just being blown away by the stuff that we’re providing. It’s really creating a better quality of life. And to even further go into that, when we’re bringing computers and internet to villages, communities, orphanages, all of these kids want a chance to go to college. And with those tools of technology, they’re going to be able to go on and have a chance at going to college.
A lot of these kids, they’re the first in their families ever to get an education. So if you think about this, that one person or the hundreds of kids that we’re helping, that’s changing all of their generations to come forever– that they can all have education. They can all have new opportunities. They can go on and get the information from the internet and become educated by being self-motivated. They have the tools to become a higher quality community, people, family.
And it is incredibly special to us because we’re witnessing this. We don’t just do this and say, hey, here’s the computers. Here’s the internet. Here’s the solar. Here’s the water filtration.
This is sustainability. This is a forever thing. We’re teaching them how to maintain the equipment, making sure they have updated software and technology. We’re staying in touch with them. I mean, it’s a very powerful thing when you think of how this will affect the generations to come.
MARK SCHAEFER: I think it’s really awesome that we have somebody in the world who has a goal of bringing more joy to the world. Thank goodness for you.
MIKE LIBECKI: [INAUDIBLE] you have to remember, this is very important for me. To get a lot of this information to you guys and whoever is listening is, you know, it’s teamwork. This is absolute teamwork. And it’s not just– it’s hundreds or thousands of people. Everywhere from the people making the product, to supporting us to ship it there, for the team going out there and installing it, the teachers, the directors– I mean, it’s the teamwork is– it gives me chills right now thinking of all the amazing, beautiful people with the intention of making the world a better place. And it really comes down to that teamwork. And it is so special.
MARK SCHAEFER: So it’s interesting. How would you measure success? If you look back at your life– let’s say you and I are having this conversation five years from now. And you go, oh, Mark, wow. What a five years it has been since we last talked.
You would not believe what happened. Do you have a metric or just something formal or informal to say, yes, I’m making progress with the things I’m passionate about?
MIKE LIBECKI: Absolutely. And you know, the way I look at life or reality is it’s all energy. We’re all energy in motion. And the key to energy is keeping that motion. It’s growing at just continuing the motion and going forward.
And so I’m a big believer in setting big goals. So we’ve set all these huge goals for our foundation. We’re going to Lebanon, to Iran, to Afghanistan, to the Philippines. We have all of these projects that we’re continually looking, who needs help? What can we do?
And so we’re staying in motion, and we’re trying to be– and I think there is an interesting word here– superior. We want to be superior to our past selves. We want to be better than we were before. We want to learn and make things better as we go along.
So I think setting big goals and the discipline and the intention to meet those goals or exceed them is very important in life, whether it’s relationships or it’s staying healthy. But in consideration to do what we want to do to make the world a better place, continually pushing the bar to setting bigger goals and continuing to do our part, which is key here.
DOUGLAS KARR: Mike, I’m curious. With, what is it, over 80 expeditions under your belt, can you describe some of the more memorable ones to us?
MIKE LIBECKI: Yeah. I mean, it’s been an incredible journey of having the opportunity to do these expeditions around the world. I mean, imagine going to the most remote places on the planet, literally in Antarctica, or Papua, New Guinea, or Greenland. And even with today’s technology, places that rescue is still impossible, where you’re out there, 100% self-sufficient.
I remember I did a trip to Greenland a couple of years ago where, you know, I’m out there by myself for 40 days. And this was focused on exploration and climbing. Because a lot of the expeditions I do are adventure-oriented to untouched places. And I had polar bears coming into my camp, going into my tent. And being around polar bears and being in a situation of just majestic beauty like that is so powerful.
And that’s one of the things I do, that we actually do as a family, is focus on conservation, focusing on things like stopping trophy hunting with polar bears. There’s a lot of different stuff that I’ve found out over the years of these trips that have really inspired me to say, hey, are we treating our planet as our own mother, our Mother Earth? And any of these places I go, the people I meet, the polar bears, the penguins, you name it, it’s just so inspiring me to live in those moments, to be in those moments of now, as I call them and just say, hey, are we living with integrity here?
I remember I was on this trip in Siberia. And it was minus 67 degrees. And just embracing that moment, that if my equipment that I had failed, I would freeze to death within minutes. And there’s just these powerful emotional moments of being alive that have inspired me to say, OK, it’s not only life, but it’s the quality of this life. How are we living a quality of life? And gosh, I can tell you stories all day long from these trips. But it just comes back to the magic power and beauty of being alive and embracing them.
MARK SCHAEFER: But the one thing everybody wants to know, there’s gotta be a time where you went, oh, no.
We want to hear your oh, no moment.
MIKE LIBECKI: You know I’ve had some pretty interesting moments where I have seen– I’ve looked at death in the eyes, minutes away from me. And when you’re on these trips, you have to be able to identify the line between dangerous and too dangerous, or you’re not going to come home. There’s been very, very intense political situations that I probably won’t get too in depth with.
But in climbing in general, I’ve seen where I’ve made a choice that had I not made that choice, I wouldn’t be here today, with incredible amounts of rock fall that will just squish me into the fragile human I am and I’ll fertilize the Earth at the base of this climb. I mean, it’s been a big challenge, especially as a father, to say, OK, listen, you’ve got to come home alive.
And it gets emotional. Because there are moments out there that, if I’m not prepared with that polar bear, that polar bear would have eaten me that day. But you know, it’s those moments that you get close to death that you have that real connection with fear. And you can see, wow, we’re just humans here. We can go at any time.
And it’s been a big awakening of just look at this beautiful life. The time is now. And we need to be full participants in being alive right now.
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, Mike, when I was a kid growing up, my dad was a photographer. And I think we had an entire basement full of National Geographic that truly opened my mind to the world and what was going on within it. I’m curious, as you look at National Geographic, and you look at how technology is impacting getting your story out, what does the future hold for adventure expeditions with regard to technology?
MIKE LIBECKI: The main thing about technology is– when I go on these expeditions, when we’re doing the give back, when we’re working on conservation, if we don’t come back and tell these stories and get people excited about being alive, get people emotional about taking care of our planet, then my job isn’t done. So these expeditions, these adventures, these give back, yes, it is making a mathematical difference. But without coming home and telling these stories, the job has not been done.
And that’s one of the most powerful parts is making sure that we go out with my film crew, and we capture it in the highest quality, and we come back and tell these stories that are making people laugh, they’re making people cry. They’re literally changing people’s lives and saying, oh, my gosh, where’s my part? What am I doing?
And I think there is a bigger message here that I really want to make clear is that– just asking ourselves, I could ask you guys. What did you guys do last month to give back in any way? What did you do last week to make choices that are healthier for our planet? What are you doing next week, next month, next year?
And if we’re all thinking about this, gosh, what are we doing, then I think that’s something really important. Because what has to happen is it doesn’t need to be a special thing that we’re giving back, that we’re making healthy choices. It needs to become normal.
That hey, what are we doing, mom and dad, this weekend to give back? What’s our give back for this next month? What are our projects that we’re making the world a better place?
And I think that’s the thing here that I’m really being inspired with and wanting to inspire is it needs to become normal that we’re connecting globally and locally of doing good for our planet and people. And I think that’s a really powerful thing that our next generations really have to bring to fruition here. It’s just normal to give back. And what are we doing to do that?
MARK SCHAEFER: Has there been an example where you actually saw one of these projects come back and reward you? I’m thinking about you have you kept in touch with a village, or a person, or a child who has benefited from this joy that you’re bringing around the world?
MIKE LIBECKI: Absolutely, and there’s several examples of that. And not only that, but some of the things we’ve learned to do better. But hearing from the orphanage we worked with in India and hearing that the computers that they’re using and the software and the technology is giving them up to date on what– the tools they need to go to college. So there’s so many kids who want to go to college. If you don’t know how to work a computer and give a presentation, and work PowerPoint and work in Word, you’re not going to have that opportunity to get into college.
And so just finding out that even in India, the last project we did, the computers that we brought, and the education systems, they’ve learned from that. They took that knowledge and went in to apply for college and are accepted. They’re able to go into college and do that. If you don’t have that knowledge and that education, you can’t move forward.
And that’s an example from the orphanages we’ve worked in Africa, going to middle school and high school. That’s also from Peru, from– even in Nepal that you talked about. There are communities that took these computers, and they know how to go in and do a PowerPoint presentation. They know how to take– we bring cameras. They take photos.
They can edit the photos. They can put it in a PowerPoint. They’re able to communicate and at least let people know that hey, I, have a passion. And I want to have education. And they already have the tools to take those steps forward.
And like I said, this is sustainability. This is not a one time thing that we feel good about ourselves. We really want to make an impact. Our nonprofit’s 100% give back. No one gets paid. It’s what can we do to make the world a better place before we leave this planet.
And I’ve gotten e-mails from the last project we did the last couple weeks of everything’s working great. They’re learning this and that. They’re taking it to high school. One of them wants to now go to college to be specializing in how to make solar energy and how to bring solar energy to other people.
MARK SCHAEFER: Wow.
MIKE LIBECKI: These kids are taking this on. It’s going to change their generations to come.
MARK SCHAEFER: Wow. Wow. That’s amazing. Well, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there listening to our show and listening to you today. They’re thinking, wow, how could I do something like that some day? If someone wanted to be a National Geographic explorer, how do you prepare for that?
You mentioned, for example, you sort of had a youth that was oriented toward adventure and climbing, and you lived near Yosemite. There’s not really a curriculum, I don’t think, for becoming a National Geographic explorer. But what advice would you give to a young person who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
MIKE LIBECKI: I think in today’s day and age, you can call it the rat race, the society, the mayhem– I should say immaculate mayhem, there is a lot of different confusion on what should I do? What about my career? Where am I going to go with this?
I think I can speak for myself, my own experience, where it really comes down to what is it you want to do? What is that passion in you? What are your interests? What is your organic enthusiasm for the life that you want to live, whether that’s being an artist, or a climber, or a humanitarian, or a mathematician, an engineer?
I think that it’s so important to step back and say, what do I want to do? And ask that question, why ration that passion? If there’s anything that I want my daughter to take from what I’ve been showing her with travel, with what I do with the give back is, you know, you can do anything. If you really want to do it, you really can.
I don’t have a trust fund. I barely make ends meet. I have been stayed true to my passion. And I know that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And I really think it’s important for everybody to say, I can do anything. And if you’re focused and disciplined and you give it your all, I’ve proven that to myself, and I’m seeing that in my daughter. And it just comes down to why ration passion. And go get it. And go live that life.
DOUGLAS KARR: So do you think your daughter will eventually follow in your footsteps, as well?
MIKE LIBECKI: All I care about is that she follows in the footsteps, if she stays true to her organic enthusiasm and passion. And she’s a musician. She’s a humanitarian. She’s very interested in psychology. And what I see her doing is saying, I’m identifying what I’m interested in, and I’m going to follow the path of truly what I’m passionate about. And that’s the ultimate goal for me as a father, is that she stays true to her passion.
MARK SCHAEFER: Mike Libecki, National Geographic explorer and an ambassador for the Dell Rugged computers– thank you so much for sharing your passion today, your vision, and how you’re spreading joy around the world. It’s certainly been interesting and inspiring for me. And I know it will be inspiring for all of our listeners, as well. So thanks so much for joining us.
And thanks to all of you for listening. We never, ever take you for granted. Thanks for listening to Luminaries. Be sure to check out the page that we have for each one of these episodes. It’ll have additional information about Mike. It’ll have links to some of his adventures. And you won’t want to miss that.
If you get a chance, be sure to spread the word about the show. Leave us a review on iTunes or Spotify, wherever you’re listening to the show. We’d appreciate it very much.
Mark Schaefer, Doug Karr saying so long for now from Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech.
ANNOUNCER: Luminaries, talking to the brightest minds in tech, a podcast series from Dell Technology.