The secrets of my success: Phil Packer

Phil Packer

'Better to appreciate what you've got than go chasing an illusory happiness,' said Phil Packer

Major Phil Packer knows more than most about overcoming adversity. In 2008, while serving in Basra, he was left paralysed after a rocket attack and told he'd never walk again. Less than a year later he took on a trio of demanding challenges. In rowing the Channel, finishing the London Marathon and climbing El Capitan in California, he raised over £1 million for Help For Heroes. Now retired from the Army, he'll be supporting 26 charities by tackling the London Marathon again next Sunday. He aims to raise £15 million to set up the British Inspiration Trust for young people with disabilities.

Your real heroes might be closer to home than you imagine.

There have been many people I've looked up to, like Sir Steve Redgrave, but my true role model was my mum. Growing up, we both experienced a lot of physical abuse at home, and I relied on my mother's inner strength to get me through it. She's a woman of kindness, sincerity and grace. She's lived a life that has been less about herself and all about putting others first. She's amazing, a complete inspiration.

Never take friendships for granted.

I realise now I have friendships that will last the duration of my life. One of those is with Sergeant Major Kat Gallagher from my company. He didn't leave my side from the moment of my injury in Iraq until I got back home to my family. For me, there are few things more painful and frustrating than losing a friendship. I've certainly made some bad decisions in regard to a number of friendships I've failed to repair after they broke down. I keep asking myself if I could have done more to save them. After all, life is too short to lose a good friend.

The biggest lesson the armed forces taught me was to listen.

Emotional intelligence is one of the hardest skills I've had to learn, but it was essential. At every stage of my career, from soldier to major, I always listened to people. It didn't matter what rank they were or what responsibility they had; I needed to understand them. If I didn't understand them I couldn't respect them. I needed to respect them, because my life might depend on them at any moment.

Fear of failure will always stop you succeeding.

Failure is nothing to fear. No one should be afraid of failure. If you strive for success, there are going to be occasional failures. If you set yourself a target and don't reach it, at least you've experienced something new. Look at Ranulph Fiennes. He has gone on some expeditions and not reached the goal he was aiming at. But he remains undaunted. Failure drives him on.

Money isn't the most valuable thing I've been responsible for.

I've been responsible for human lives, so I'd like to think I know the value of money. It's only important to me in terms of raising enough of it to achieve my aims.

Better to appreciate what you've got than go chasing an illusory happiness.

I once came across a book of poems by Nathaniel Hawthorne in my grandparents' cottage. One line read, 'Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you sit down quietly may alight upon you.' It still rings true to me. Sometimes we strive too hard to pursue happiness. There are times when it's better to sit back and realise what you have. When I do that I realise that, in spite of everything, I actually have a great life.

Don't wait for something terrible to happen to change your life.

My life change was enforced after that rocket attack. I had to do something to fill the void, so I made up my mind to raise money for causes I passionately believed in. It was as though something that was always in me was allowed to be set free. Whatever your difficulties are, there's always a way through. You just need to search for it. The challenges anybody faces are not more superficial than my own. I've just got on with my life in the same way that anyone else is obliged to do when they face a difficult situation. Sometimes it's about getting through a day and overcoming the small obstacles.

Don't let your past weigh you down.

The violence in my background affected me badly. I underperformed at school and, after leaving, I spent a few years feeling hopelessly lost. I felt I had no purpose. A childhood spent being hit and seeing my mum abused left me feeling sad and angry. I can see now that I joined the Army because, in order to deal with my past, I needed to do something that would make people proud of me.

When the going gets tough, keep going.

Scaling El Capitan was my most demanding challenge. I'd been climbing for 22 hours straight and was perched on a tiny shelf in the rock. It was freezing, my team were worried I'd become hypothermic. My expedition leader gave me a choice: head down or keep going. The only thing to do was press on. At times like that, music lifts the spirits. I'll switch on my iPod to listen to my favourite music, usually Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra or Annie Lennox.

Don't scatter your energies.

If you want to achieve anything, be focused on it. At present I have an enormous amount of support, but I need to be careful about being distracted. I get invited to a lot of red-carpet events and I have to decide whether there's a good reason for me being there or whether I've been invited along simply to generate an emotional response. I'm not a celebrity and I don't want to be one. I don't want anything to get in the way of what I'm setting out to achieve. I never got to finish my job in Iraq, so from now on I have to finish everything I do. I don't want to feel that sense of inadequacy ever again.

You leave no time for regret if you're busy planning for a future.

I've no regrets about joining the Army or going to Iraq. When I joined up I was completely aware of the risks when deployed in operational theatre. Over those years I lost a number of people I was close to, people I loved as much as any member of my family. When I suffered my injuries I just happened to be unlucky on that particular day. I quickly realised it was pointless to keep looking back and wondering, 'What if...?' Far better to look to the future and not waste a single day.

To support Phil Packer at the London Marathon go to

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