Resilience, Patience, and Prospice
Prospice, you say? Read on.
“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” — Charlie Chaplin
Any time I have a setback, I think about others who have struggled far longer and through more difficult times than I have. I think of them and their resilience.
And I’m reminded that the payoff of resilience can take a while.
We’ve spoken before about the leadership skills of Ernest Shackleton. If you’re not familiar, go and read this now, then come back.
His two-year ordeal in the Antarctic is legendary in leadership circles, but there is a mini-story buried within it that also speaks volumes about resilience — not resilience for its own sake, but for the sake of the team.
We’re going to weave in some previous related topics in this essay, including the importance of communication and heliotropism (or optimism).
Both of these topics include an underlying sense of hope and confidence in a path forward.
The Other Side of Resilience
In the previous story about Shackleton, we focused on his 800-mile journey over treacherous seas in a 22-foot lifeboat. He and five others made this last-ditch attempt to find help. Their determination and degree of success were breathtaking.
But what about the 22 men they left behind?
Back on Elephant Island, where they landed after 6 months adrift on pack ice, the rest of the crew awaited the uncertain return of Shackleton with a rescue craft.
While they didn’t have to endure the hurricane-like gales, and dangerous cliffs and glaciers over a 36-hour march that Shackleton and his small party did, the men back on Elephant Island in some ways had a more difficult mental ordeal.
On April 24, Shackleton left his second in command, Frank Wild, in charge of the group. His instructions were to sail for Deception Island if he didn’t return to rescue them by the end of August.
During that time, Wild kept the men under his care healthy, sane, and hopeful.
Upon Shackleton’s departure, Wild gave a speech outlining his expectations; it was concise and related to the attitude and routines they’d need to undertake in the weeks ahead.
He set an example by being positive himself and being strong for the others, even in the most harrowing of circumstances. By the end of their wait, the crew was down to only four days of food, yet Wild’s optimism was unflagging.
He kept the team busy so they didn’t have time to mope or curse their situation. Whether it was something as significant as having them build a shelter in their first days, or something more trivial like daily readings from a cookbook, Wild kept them occupied and in good spirits.
They held the traditional Sweethearts and Wives toast every Saturday night (“To our sweethearts and wives—may they never meet!”). They wrote songs about each other. Wild even cut the hair of some crew members.
Wild was so successful in getting the men to summon their resilience that Macklin, one of the crew, wrote in his diary:
“Destitute as we are—and we are certainly very destitute now—I think we are better off than many poor folk at home. We get plenty of meat and we are snug and warm in our shelter.”
In sum, Wild’s leadership—reminiscent as it was of Shackleton’s—reminded the crew of one essential truth of resilience: they had leaders who didn’t want to let them down.
When Shackleton arrived back at Elephant Island on August 30, the men were speechless, overcome with joy as they were. His first words to them were “Are you all well?”
Even after the five most harrowing months of his life, Shackleton’s thoughts were of his people. He knew out of the worst would emerge a better situation. For the sake of his people, he was always searching for the better.
“For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave” — Robert Browning, 1861
When Robert Browning wrote “Prospice” in 1861, it was on the heels of the death of his beloved wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Prospice is a Latin word meaning “to look forward.”
In the depths of his despair, Browning still managed to look forward to what was in store for him, even if it was death.
Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!
And isn’t that what resilience allows us to do? To look forward to what’s next. How we tackle our next challenge.
With hope in our hearts.
“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.” — Mark Twain, 1897
The CEO of Nike knows how important how a resilient attitude makes a huge difference in individuals and teams. It’s why Nike and its CEO are focused on mental health. (Yahoo! Finance)
The pandemic has taken a toll, at all levels of the organization. Lonely CEOs need to reconnect with their teams. (Chief Executive)
Resilience isn’t just for humans. Companies can be resilient too. Here are five characteristics of resilient organizations. (Deloitte Insights)
“Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy.” — William Shakespeare, 1595
The surprisingly badass life of Adolph Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, included resilience and persistence. (Today I Found Out)
What is resilience? Nothing less than flexibility, community, and a sense of possibility. Together, they can go a long way. (Seth’s Blog)
It’s new research, but the concept is timeless: The Secret to Building Resilience. (Harvard Business Review)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1842
🎧 In our conversation on Timeless Leadership on the topic of Resilience, Kat Cole shared her handy acronym to remind us that failure is merely progress: FAIL (First Attempt In Learning).
📚 These days it’s hard to count on the world outside. So it’s vital to grow strengths inside like grit, gratitude, and compassion—the key to resilience, and to lasting well-being in a changing world. Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a practical guide is full of concrete suggestions, experiential practices, personal examples, and insights into the brain. It includes effective ways to interact with others and to repair and deepen important relationships.
Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate link
Next week’s topic here in the newsletter and on the podcast: Patience. I hope you’ll stick around.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.