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How to be a badass: 5 things you can learn from Hugh Glass

If they had to print a photo next to the word badass in the dictionary, 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass is a strong candidate for the mug. After being mauled by a bear and left for dead, Glass combined grit and craftiness to notch one of the most incredible stories of survival the world has ever known.

His story has hit the silver screen in The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

As we follow Glass’s 1820s tale of life and death in the northern frontier, it’s clear that (thankfully) none of us will likely have to clean our wounds with maggots or set our own broken legs. But the spirit that Glass embodies in those extreme moments is something we could all use in our more routine lives.

From overcoming stress at work to fighting depression, to mourning the loss of a loved one, each of the following examples reveals how, in a sense and by following Hugh’s lead, we can relate to his experience throughout our contemporary daily trials — overcoming hardship with a little badassery of our own.

1. When in doubt, get to the boat, then rethink your position.
When Glass found his party beset by attackers, he made a difficult choice. He left his boat behind and ordered his men to carve out a less vulnerable land route through the forest. While it proved to be a living hell of its own — exposing him to bears, mutiny and more — it was also the difference between being picked off on the water and having a fighting chance. In life’s trials, the lesser of two tough options won’t be easy, but if you’re the one making the call — a business or personal decision in which losses come with either choice — you pick the path that best tips the odds toward surviving to fight another day.

2. Loss can keep you moving forward, if you look at it the right way.
Mauled and betrayed, figuratively speaking, is no way to go through life. But sometimes the bear gets you and your team leaves you for dead. In The Revenant, badass emotional fortitude becomes the one way out of Glass’s darkness. He knows he’s lost almost everything, and that helps him define what’s left to fight for. This is a parallel to all the ways we can deal with debilitating events in our own lives. If the extras and the luxuries are gone, we focus on the core of what we can still protect, moving forward and using that as the basis of new, next steps.

3. It’s not always the challenge you’re facing, but the one charging you from behind.
Every moment of personal hardship comes with the potential reality that even if you’re gaining ground in front of you, a bad situation can tackle you from behind. It all comes down to how you respond. When a bear charged Glass from behind, he exemplified badass, in-the-moment thinking: Fight hard enough to avoid the worst outcome, even if the cost proves tremendous. Whether it’s a layoff or an illness (or just the in-laws over for the weekend) if you can get up after the worst of it, you’re not out of the game.

4. In the toughest times, solutions come from what’s at hand.
Hugh Glass had to deal with some severely unpleasant stuff — eating raw bison liver, for example, and using maggots to clean wounds. In our lives, when we lose a job or face an injury that changes the way we work and play, we too endure short-term misery. It might mean taking a shift waiting tables to pay the rent. It could mean physical therapy that tests our resolve. But once we see the hard work of rebuilding as both temporary and critical, we get better and better at surviving whatever experience we have to face. Like Glass’s story, every uncomfortable moment is a powerful step back to a better place.

5. If you know you’ve faced the worst of it, you can let go of fear.
“I ain’t afraid of dying anymore,” Hugh Glass says, in The Revenant. “I done it already.” In other words, when you realize that you’ve already gone through the worst of a hardship, you don’t have to be afraid of anymore: You turn to your resources, you turn to the choices you have left to make, you get it done. It’s the simple yet central theme of Glass’s story, and the core of what defines a badass.

As we face our individual challenges, a key point we can take with us is that the actions of Hugh Glass represent an enduring spirit — one we can bring to our lives. So go forth all you now-and-future badasses, keeping Glass’s saga in mind as you forge your own trails.

Oh, and try to steer clear of the bears.