We were stuck in a cabin the size of a single bed for the foreseeable future, and worst of all, we were being pushed backwards, making no progress towards our destination. Our sweat condensed on the ceiling, and was now dripping back onto us, and we stared endlessly at the notes of encouragement, scribbled in permanent marker on the roof and walls from loved ones. Only days before, we had been told we had the perfect weather window, and our arrival into Barbados would be smooth and uneventful, how wrong that advice had been. James and I were 1500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, a couple of weeks before we had left the Canary Islands in our seven metre ocean rowing boat, with the goal of reaching Barbados, 3000 miles away. We were totally alone, had very little idea what we were doing, and now faced our biggest challenge yet, a hurricane. As we entered the storm, we prepared the boat in the best way we could, lashed down all the vital equipment, and closed the cabin hatch. We were now at the mercy of nature, with no contact with the outside world, totally isolated from normality, and in very real danger.
72 hours later we emerged from Hurricane Alex. We had been battered and bruised, scared and demoralised, but we were safe. The storm had pushed us backwards over 100 miles, yet our spirits were at an all time high. Within that period of forced rest and reflection, something changed within us. For the first time in our lives, we had truly left our comfort zone, and learnt that we were capable of dealing with the situation. Our initial fear and anger soon evolved into a mindset of positivity and opportunity. A cloud of negativity was reframed. Yes, we were going backwards, but we had time to rest, recover, and recalibrate. The two weeks of rowing prior to the storm had been brutal. We were total novices, struggling with every aspect of life at sea, and our mental and physical state reflected this. Our skin was worn away on our hands and backsides, our hands locked shut in a claw-like grip from the savage two hours on, two hours off shift pattern we were using. Now we were recharged, refreshed and seeing the world in a totally new way.
We touched shore in Barbados in February 2016, spending 54 days at sea, overcoming a series of obstacles that would shape the next four years of our lives. Since completing the Atlantic, James and I have been lucky enough to call ourselves professional adventurers. We launched our brand The Tempest Two (we wrote the worst business plan in the world during that hurricane) with a simple goal, to inspire ordinary people like us to realise their true potential. Let me be quite clear, the title of ‘adventurer’ although accurate, can be quite misleading. We are without doubt adventurers in the most unconventional sense. We are not seasoned explorers, skilled outdoorsmen, ex-military or elite in any way. Our greatest strength, is that we are actually very average at most things. Yet, over time and through the completion of numerous challenges, we have developed a mindset and resilience that allows us to achieve things many think is outside of our capabilities. We have found ourselves in some perilous situations, from being lost in the Patagonian wilderness, to emergency vertical camping 2000ft up the face of El Capitan. We have been isolated from the rest of the world, and faced situations we were sure would break us.
As I write this, during what is likely to be the most significant period of adversity we as a generation will face, a global lockdown in which normality has been stripped not just from a few, but from us all, the emotions feel strangely familiar. We have been hit by a hurricane. Unannounced, scary and seemingly unsurmountable. We have each been confined to our own cabins, some alone, some crowded and claustrophobic. We are going backwards at a rate of knots, and the momentum and trajectory of our lives has been halted with a sudden and indefinite force. This wasn’t in the plan. Yet, after every storm, there is sunshine and calm. So here are three learnings from adventure I truly hope will help you navigate the uncertainty:
1.Resilience is a skill, not a trait
I believe resilience is often misconstrued as mental toughness. Although the two are without question linked, they are individual concepts in their own right. If someone is referred to as being ‘tough’ or having ‘grit’, you would assume they can put up with pain and adversity, grin and bear it, persevere through the discomfort. If toughness is an ability to confront hardship, then resilience is a process to reframe it.
Like any skill, resilience can be practiced, learnt and refined. One simple way of doing so, is to apply a positive attitude to a negative situation. This may seem overly simplistic, but it remains an effective approach. In our current state of lockdown, the path of least resistance is to default to negativity. We think of everything we can’t do, the things we are missing out on, the people we can’t see, the money that is being lost. All of these worries are understandable, but rather than make them our focus, sit down over a coffee and think of the positives. Are you seeing more of your kids? How much have you saved this month on travel? When was the last time you had this much time to read, play, relax?
By just noting a few of these positives every morning over your coffee, by feeling the sun on your face, or simply being still and present, you can begin to train your mind in finding the positives, and ultimately reframing a negative into a positive. No matter how dark the situation seems, it more often than not, could be a lot worse.
2.The power of goals
One thing both James and I are firm believers in, is the unquestionable impact that setting and working towards goals has on our mental state. We constantly set goals both big and small, and place hard deadlines against them. For us, this could manifest itself in the next adventure idea, or to learn a new skill relevant to it. Whatever the goal may be, it gives purpose and direction, and drives progress. There does seem to be a real social pressure currently though to ‘become your best self’ and emerge from this pandemic a Spanish speaking, software developing, violin playing adonis. This is bullshit. Don’t mistake setting lofty goals, with unrealistic and unobtainable pipe-dreams. So grab a pen-and-paper, and write down a list of things you want to achieve. Save £1000 for a holiday next year. Give up meat for two weeks. Clear out the garage.
Give yourself a deadline, give yourself variety, and commit them to paper. Even better, share your goals with friends and family to keep yourself accountable.
3.Have each-others backs
A fundamental skill when taking on any adventure, is to put your teammates wellbeing ahead of your own. When times get testing, you will rely on one-another to push through. Now is a time for kindness, generosity and unity. Whether its an elderly relative, the single-parent in the flat above you, or the loud-mouth bloke from the office, reach out and offer your support. We as a generation have an incredible talent for creating a facade to shield how we truly feel. Don’t be fooled by the Tik-Tok dances, banana bread infused instagram posts or perkiness on a Zoom quiz. Take the time to check-in properly, communicate, and share your true feelings. It takes a strong person to disarm themselves and be honest and open in this day and age, challenge yourself to be that person in your family or group of friends.
This chaos, soon enough, will become a minor blip in our lives. A single out of tune note within a symphony. But I firmly believe we will come out of this stronger, as individuals, and as a collective. Businesses will close, people will lose jobs, and loved ones will be lost. However, there is no one, no matter how rich or privileged, that will be untouched by this, and we are truly united for the first time in history.
I hope we can all look back in a few years and feel proud of ourselves and one-another. To smile with admiration in how we galvanised, and unified, and came out of this hurricane kinder, stronger, better people.
And for those drinking beers in the park, you will be remembered also. As a bunch of complete helmets.