In last week’s news, a thrilling report on the achievement of motivational speaker and endurance swimmer Diana Nyad. At the ripe age of 64 and in her fifth attempt last Monday, she fulfilled her life-long dream (and a world record) of swimming the open sea from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.
Feeling inspired? No surprise! Whether they reveal their talents in science, politics, the arts, or sports, heroes serve to lift our own thoughts from the doldrums of “can’t” to the heights of “can,” to give us courage in the face of adversity, and to allow our own dreams to take flight with theirs.
In Nyad’s 71-hour ocean crawl, there’s plenty to say to all of us about what we need to succeed. Here’s what got her through:
The Right Mindset
How many times have we undone ourselves by letting the frustration of the entire task get in the way of taking each step? Nyad was well aware of the mental obstacles that could be her undoing. She was determined. In an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Nyad said, “My whole mantra this year was ‘find a way.’”
Much has been said about the power of positive thinking in endurance sports just as in the workplace. Of course, as I wrote about last week, all that good feeling is best rooted in a “realistic optimism.” Hence, what’s next needed are:
Rough currents, bad weather, high temperatures, a perilous distance, and plenty of other natural variables were potential external obstacles to this attempt at Nyad’s “Xtreme Dream.” The potentially fatal poisonous and extremely painful sting of the box jellyfish, in particular, posed the greatest threat and had derailed at least one of her previous tries. She had this to say to NBC about how she got over it:
You know, it's all of those factors out there. You can't control them but you have to have some intelligent answer to them. You have to have solutions."
Well, Nyad was well-equipped for this 110-mile swim. A researcher from the University of Hawaii invented the “sting-stopper” cream that was applied to Nyad’s skin. A Pasadena, California prosthetics firm designed her custom anti-jellyfish silicone mask. A dentist supplemented it with an acrylic mouthpiece. A special suit, made of spandex and nylon, brought it all together.
Use the right tools for the job and, yes, you can build your way to success. At least, if you also have …
A Talented Support Team
In interviews for print and broadcast media, Nyad was quick to point out that this success was something she couldn’t have achieved on her own. She’s acknowledged some 35 people in her crew.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not so unlike what we folks have in localization: navigators who know the environment and map the best routes, subject matter experts who can guide us past specific dangers, technology developers who analyze past conditions to deliver tools that improve our chances for success, data collectors who provide a verifiable record that also serve as our way of defining future best practices.
Hey, if you haven’t thanked your own team lately, take a cue from Nyad: now’s a good time to do so.
Your Eyes On the Prize
Remember, though, that this wasn’t Nyad’s first attempt but her fifth. There were some 35 years and a number of defeats in between. Here’s what Nyad had to say in her YouTube greeting to fans about seeing it through:
Four times before, I've been on this side, the Florida side, the day after the big attempt. Forty-two hours, forty-one hours, thirty-nine hours, fifty-one hours -- all four of those times I didn't make it to this other shore.
I was always proud of myself. I was proud of the team. So much came out of the journey. But this time we made it.
I don't want to be shallow and say it's all about the destination, the journey is nothing -- it's not true. The journey was thrilling, but the destination has brought tremendous internal satisfaction.
I'm so proud of my team and, I will admit to you, I'm very proud of myself as well.
Thanks for following. Thanks for all your encouragement through the years when we didn't make it. And thanks for writing in how much you relate to the phrase "never ever give up" for your own lives.
Here’s wishing you a week with your own strong swim through work’s rough seas.
Were you also inspired by Nyad’s successful swim? Share your thoughts in the comments!