12 years ago a mentor told me that I should ‘punctuate’ every year with something new and challenging, something that I hadn’t done before and something that would take me away from my ‘normal’.
Little did I know that this would be one of the most powerful things that I did each year…. Creating space between the everyday and the habitual so that I could see life and business from a different, fresh perspective. To detach, at least once per year, from the hamster wheel of activity. This ‘punctuation’ became one of the key activities that helped create a multimillion £ business in 4 counties and enabled me to choose to stop full time work to spend more time with family and pursuing more personal and charity goals.
Having completed 6 marathons, climbed several mountains, trekked in the Himalayas, cycled London to Paris, walked on burning coals in Hawaii, swam with Dolphins etc etc, I thought that a new and interesting challenge would be to complete a few legs (over 9,000 miles) of Clippers 2013/14 40,000mile round the world yacht race…..
…..so, as the start of my training for the race, on Friday 26th October I stepped, for the first time, on a racing yacht as a member of crew. People who know me will know that I am always looking for lessons from life’s experiences, that I can adopt to grow personally, or in business, and the following couple of pages are some of the lessons learned and metaphors created from my week:
- Fear (False. Evidence. Appearing. Real). Fear is a natural reaction to circumstances that are new and unknown…. Having never sailed before and heading out into high winds I don’t mind admitting that my stomach was a little knotted…. But as I observed the experienced skipper I could see that he had no concerns as he led from the helm, quite the opposite in fact, he looked calm and was clearly enjoying being back out on the water which was where he is most at home. Several years ago I adopted a saying of “if its been done before and its legal, I am willing to have a go”…. In the VAST majority of circumstances where we feel scared the feelings are totally unfounded, and if you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ you will soon realise that your fears had no base in fact and then , having pushed through your fears, you begin to feel exhilarated and rightly proud for having tried something new.
Day one at sea, I was scared, felt sick and was violently sea sick whilst being thrown around in a force 6/7 at night…. By day two I was fantastically exhilarated at 18knots in a force 9 gale as the boat surfed over bigger waves than I had ever seen. ‘FEEL the fear and do it anyway’, never let uneducated and unfounded fears limit your experience and achievement in life!
- Training in calm waters will not prepare you for an ocean crossing. On our first day at sea, as we smashed through large waves and were washed over by water surging across the bow, our skipper told us that most people who may have sailed 20-30 years would never have experienced waters like these as they would not have left the safe coastal & harbour areas for most of their sailing (unless they were very confident that the weather was calm and fine)….. then again most people would never attempt to cross thousands of miles of ocean. It occurred to me, that this very much reflects life, as most people will spend their life in ‘safe’ and ‘known’ areas rather than attempt the path (or ocean) less travelled…
There’s nothing wrong with this but if you want or expect to be in the top quartiles or percentages of achievement, earnings, and performance you cannot do this in the normal, safe waters where the ‘average’ exist. Additionally, whilst you can learn a lot of base skills and procedures in safe, calm waters, it will never prepare you for executing those same procedures in high winds, waves and tides….. Too often in schools, business and life these days we ‘sterilise’ environments so that they are ‘safe’ and ‘fair’ and ‘equal’… Whilst that’s an admirable aim it is, in my opinion, what has led to our nanny state of flim flam managers and poor performing businesses who live in a dream world full of average performance and unfulfilled individuals…. AVERAGE should never be your goal – In the words of one of my early inspirational bosses “Average is the bottom of the top, the top of the bottom, the cream of the crap!!”
- It’s not always best to lead from the front…. In my younger years I would often wonder why military leaders would lead from the rear and why boats were steered from the stern. It felt more logical and courageous to lead from the front where the action was…. However as I watched the skipper at the helm of our boat it really hit home to me the saying that “you can achieve so much more with your eyes than with your hands”… the moment you are busy on the front line, or at the bow of a boat, you can only really see, impact and influence that area. From his position at the helm the skipper was able to see where we were going, to see every member of the crew, see every sail and how it was trimmed, see waves that could impact us from the front AND sides, etc etc…. and was therefore in a far better position to direct or conduct the crew to work together for the safest and optimal performance of the boat. In fact, should he/she make their way forward of the helm, their overview and control decreases with every step.
- TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More)- this acronym is old and often cringe-worthy, but on a large sailing boat you very quickly realise just how interdependent you all are upon each member of the crew performing their duty at the appropriate time and often with great speed. Each Clipper boat will have a Skipper, a first mate and 18 crew members working in constantly rotating shifts to keep the boat moving (racing) at all times. 18 of the crew are unqualified novices who, like myself, may never have sailed prior to signing up for the round-the-world race. Prior to the crew being put together none of us had previously met and many have quite strong personalities and opinions…. In training, although from good intent, there were several instances where a number of the crew (myself included) were sounding out their opinions on what should be done, by whom and in what order….. It very quickly became clear that there can only be one leader, on any shift, otherwise the boat very quickly loses speed and/or control. When in charge, take charge and when part of a team, play YOUR part and respect the leadership.
- Your potential is always a multiple of your current ‘perceived’ ability…. I spend a high proportion of my time now mentoring people or teams, from homeless individuals to boards of directors of multi-million pound organisations. A common trait throughout is that people and organisations constantly under-value and under-estimate their ability or potential….. Not surprising, given that from a young age, research has shown that the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are proven to prohibit or encourage behavior and yet sadly, virtually from birth, we hear “no” and “don’t” at least 15 times as frequently as we hear “yes” or “ok”…… So we are virtually programmed to expect the worst or the negative response in any given situation. It reminds me of the powerful poem:
A child who lives with criticism learns to condemn. A child who lives with hostility learns to fight. A child who lives with fears learns to be anxious. A child who is pitied and viewed as pathetic, learns to feel sorry for himself. A child who lives with jealousy learns to feel guilty.
On the other hand… A child who lives with encouragement learns to be confident. A child who lives with praise learns to be appreciative. A child who lives with acceptance learns to be patient. A child who lives with approval learns self-esteem. A child who lives with recognition, learns to have a goal.”
Every time I have achieved a personal challenge, whether it be a marathon, a mountain or just tried something new, I am constantly amazed at two things: Firstly, the fact that it was often not as hard as I had expected (although I am not saying it was easy either) and secondly, the incredible boost in confidence and personal motivation that grows from every challenge. Experience has shown me again and again that people can achieve SO much more than they think.
- It’s unlikely that your journey will be a direct route. In Sailing tacking and gybing are the manoeuvers used to change direction and/or optimize the wind towards your destination. So in reality a boat that sails from Southampton to Rio doesn’t sail in a straight line or direct path. There are many different circumstances to consider, but even after a route is plotted, the crew will, often in effect zigzag their way along the route and may have covered a lot more distance than the direct route might measure.
Similarly in life, we set our goals and destinations, but in the same way that the winds and tides will necessitate the need to constantly review and maybe even zigzag off course when sailing, circumstance will sometimes require deviation in your life plans and goals. BUT, you can easily tack or gybe your way back towards your original goal/destination – as long as you don’t give up! You may be a day or week late but you can still reach your goal. Failure or delay is an event, NOT a destination. ‘Set your goals in concrete but your plans in sand’ or in other words never give up on the destination but be flexible on the journey.
It’s an obvious statement to say that if you don’t tack or gybe you will not be able to change direction, or you will just blow where the wind takes you….. But so often in life we keep heading in the same direction or keep doing the same things and expecting different results – there is a saying that goes, ‘The height of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect different results’ – If you are not getting where you want to go then something needs to change!
- Trim, trim, trim. Even when you are heading in the right direction and have the wind working for you, you can always gain additional speed towards your goal by watching and trimming the sails. Likewise in life, even if you are heading in the right direction, there are things that you can do to speed up your success or achievement, and you should constantly be on the look out for ways to improve or enhance your performance – especially when competing with others, who may win the bigger prizes, because they worked harder and put more effort into refining their performance (or trimming their sails).
Small adjustments can make a huge difference. In sailing it may just put you a mile or two ahead, which on an ocean crossing could seem like nothing given the extra effort involved, but in reality it may put you into a different tidal stream or help you catch the wind better which could literally catapult you miles ahead and be the difference between winning and losing. Don’t ignore small wins and improvements, the difference between a gold medalist and a club athlete can be a split second, but the difference in rewards are worlds apart!
- Lots of knots is no substitute for a good knot! In sailing there are many different knots that are used to tie or secure the various ropes. Often inexperienced or novice sailors will, before they learn the ‘best’ knot for each function, just multiply a knot that they do know, resulting in a mass of rope that actually doesn’t do the job as well, can be impossible to untie (sometimes ropes need to be tied in such a way to allow quick release) and create more of a problem than a solution.
Learning this during my first week at sea, I realised that many individuals/businesses believe that a greater quantity of substandard products, ingredients or people will somehow compensate for getting the right people or paying a bit more for superior products or equipment. This is such a false economy and in sailing terms could cost lives, or in business could lead to failure and possibly bankruptcy….. Take, or make time to discover and learn which knots (or people/equipment) are the best for the job, and invest the time or money to ensure that you get it right.
- Slowing down or stopping can be far more dangerous than driving forward! With waves splashing over the boat and crashing into the bow, in darkness and high winds it would be easy to think that we would be better to just drop all the sails and stop the boat so that we could rest or just slow down so that it was less ‘scary’….. But in reality we would then be totally at the whim of the sea and the weather, to toss us and roll us as it wants, with no control…. Yes you may change the sails, you may alter your course to avoid the worst of a storm but if you STOP the risks are much higher. Fear will sometimes drive your thinking, but fight base instincts and intuition, and keep on when others would give up.
Once you overcome your fears the wind and tides can actually be used, more often than not, to accelerate your position towards your goal…. And after a while, you will often find, that which scared you when inexperienced, becomes the excitement and conditions that you seek in the future!
- The experience above or on deck can be vastly difference to the experience below. Many people who suffer seasickness find that it is much worse below deck than if they get out into the fresh air and can focus on the horizon or a fixed landmark/point of reference…. I guess that the learning for me here was to recognise that there are always different perspectives and just adjusting your position or perspective, albeit on the same boat, can change the journey and experience considerably.
In reality nobody has to be ambitious, or change where they are in life, but the journey is a lot more enjoyable the more you can control your role and perspective…. I would always rather be at the helm, or on deck, feeling the wind and seeing where we are heading and being part action, than lying in a bunk below, feeling sick and out of control.
We all get sick some times, but you can improve position, and the sickness will pass… then you can enjoy the journey towards your goal or destination.
In the words of my amazing younger brother Leroy:
“Live life, Love life, and life will love you!”