To develop mental endurance takes a mindset of tenacity and perseverance. When listening to the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing, I found myself so enraptured in the story that I had to turn on the heater in my car as I was getting cold, as the book described the frigid temperatures the crew experienced as they worked their way through the ice and severe weather conditions of their journey. The expedition of the Endurance ship to Antarctica in 1915-1916 was led by the renowned explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. The primary goal of this expedition was to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. However, the expedition faced unprecedented challenges when the ship became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in January 1915. Despite attempts to free the vessel, the ice eventually crushed the Endurance, leaving the crew stranded on the desolate ice floes.
The crew's remarkable story of survival and endurance became one of the most iconic tales of exploration. Shackleton's exceptional leadership and resilience were evident as he managed to keep the crew united and focused on survival throughout their harrowing ordeal. Despite the harsh conditions, the crew displayed unwavering determination, ingenuity, and teamwork. After months stranded on the ice, Shackleton led his men on a daring rescue mission, sailing in lifeboats to reach Elephant Island, where they had to exhibit extreme effort to merely survive. Throughout this amazing story of survival, we can draw five principles to develop endurance in our lives: resilience, teamwork, planning, mental toughness and innovation and be very thankful we don’t have to use these trying to survive in the Antarctica for close to two years!
One: Resilience Amid Adversity
Resilience is the capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties. An example of resilience is seen in the story of Helen Keller, who, despite being deaf and blind from an early age, overcame these immense challenges to become an influential author, lecturer, and political activist. With the guidance of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller learned to communicate through sign language and Braille. Her unwavering determination, relentless effort, and refusal to succumb to her disabilities not only inspired countless individuals but also propelled her to become an enduring symbol of resilience, advocating for the rights of people with disabilities worldwide.
On their Antarctica journey, Shackleton and his team adapted to the harsh conditions, salvaging what they could from the ship and converting parts into makeshift shelters and supplies. To acquire these materials, they had to return to a sinking ship, traversing through frigid water, resulting in frostbite and clothing that froze to their bodies.
They repurposed materials creatively, such as using wood from the ship's interior for heating and insulation, showcasing their resourcefulness and ability to improvise under immense pressure. They learned how to hunt and use every part of a seal or whale for oil, food and even shelter. This adaptive mindset and willingness to make the most out of their situation played a pivotal role in their survival and eventual rescue. Even though most of us will never experience such extreme conditions, the willingness to do what it takes to get a job done is a principle we can all apply.
Two: Leadership and Teamwork
The leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton highlights the importance of effective leadership in times of crisis. He was willing to take extreme risks to save his crew. He didn’t just send one of his men for help, he went himself to brave the elements and the unknown conditions ahead, as he knew the men he left would be able to work together and survive the best they could.
He also discerned the personalities that he knew would not work well together for a long period of time under stress and separated them. This took insight as he studied to know his men and made the decisions that would be of the greatest benefit to the survival of the whole team. This type of discernment is extremely valuable in putting teams together and creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and support for each other. This ability, along with the soft skills developed through experience, prove to be extremely valuable for most any organization. See The Summit book for a journey that will inspire you to reach your potential!
Three: Preparedness and Planning
The expedition's meticulous preparation helped them survive. They packed equipment and provisions to withstand the extreme cold and isolation. They also equipped themselves with suitable clothing and gear designed for the freezing temperatures and harsh weather conditions. Much of their clothing had to last much longer as planned and ended up thin and threadbare as they were away over 634 days, much, much longer than expected.
The crew also received extensive training on how to handle the challenges they might face in the Antarctic environment. They practiced skills like skiing, sledging and operating in icy conditions. Additionally, they took a total of 69 sled dogs with them and during their trip consistently took them out for warmup runs, even when camping on bergs of ice, or icebergs. There were so many unexpected changes in the weather and even ice conditions that some of their extreme training took place by necessity. This is a principle that is directly applicable today with an economy and political climate that is unpredictable. It’s a good reminder to prepare for contingencies, and for the unexpected in our endeavors.
Four: Mental Toughness
The crew of the Endurance exhibited immense mental strength and endurance. Most upheld a positive mindset, maintained camaraderie and supported one another emotionally and their lives ended up depending on this type of mindset. When they were camped on an iceberg and it cracked in the middle of the night, it was all hands-on-deck to quickly move their tents, equipment and supplies to safety. Sometimes this took hours in the complete darkness.
I felt one of the most difficult decisions outlined in the book that had to be made was the killing of the sled dogs. There was no way they could continue feeding the dogs as well as themselves when food was already getting scarce. The job for putting the dogs down was usually done by one member, out of sight from the main camp. They basically had to do it to survive and we know that decision wasn’t an easy one. Mental fortitude, staying optimistic, and maintaining a positive mindset in challenging situations are good applications for us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.
Five: Adaptability and Innovation
The crew's ability to adapt and innovate in the face of adversity was crucial to their survival. When their ship first became trapped in the ice and they realized they were going to have to abandon ship, they repurposed materials salvaged from the ship to create shelters, using sails, tents and other resources to construct habitable spaces on the ice. Load after load was stripped from the ship and brought in sleds to their camp on the ice.
Then, their daily routines, including the rationing of food and supplies had to be adapted to the harsh conditions for all to survive. They learned quickly how to take advantage of seal, whale and penguin meat and how to hunt successfully. It was seldom comfortable, but the fact that they were able to successfully persevere and adapt allowed for all of the crew members to miraculously survive and eventually, be rescued. This applies to us to be open to new ideas with creativity in problem-solving, to adapt quickly to changing situations.
How can we apply this? It’s a good reminder to review all five principles we have covered and remind ourselves how important they are in our lives and our businesses. There will be many times we can apply all five. Take a moment now to review how you can incorporate more resilience, teamwork, planning, mental toughness and innovation. Then, be thankful you don’t have to survive an Antarctica expedition for 634 days!
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Stop Circling: Steps to Escape Endless Roundabouts by Deborah Johnson
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Discernment, along with the soft skills developed through experience, prove to be extremely valuable for most any organization.
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