When travel plans for your life are altered or interrupted and your new destination changes or is uncertain, what do you do? How do you live with the tension of having a new destination that’s way off in the distance yet knowing that if you just sit and wait for it, you’ll go stir crazy? Here’s one solution to that dilemma.
The story of Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition has been told many times. I first encountered this heroic journey in Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance. It’s a captivating story of survival and courage that lasted 634 days and involved some of the harshest weather conditions on the planet.
This crew of courageous men under the exceptional leadership of Shackleton have become for me an example of what it looks like to maintain hope while dancing with circumstances that would demoralize and make quitters out of most of us.
One lesson we learn from their journey is how important it is to not dwell on your misfortune but redirect your energy toward concrete action. They did this by having a new final destination – “We will be rescued eventually!”- while at the same time creating short-term targets they could aim to reach.
Shackleton described it this way:
…I feel sure that it is the right thing to attempt a march…It will be much better for the men in general to feel that even though progress is slow, they are on their way to land, than it will be simply to sit down and wait for the tardy northwesterly drift to take us out of this cruel waste of ice.
Like Shackleton, when life changing events overtake our lives, we must redefine what a promising future looks like. We must also avoid just sitting and waiting for that future to unfold but find ways to keep ourselves engaged and active in the short term.
Shackleton and his men weren`t very successful on their attempts to “march” but it was successful in that it caused them to keep their eyes off their desperate situation and on tangible action they could put their energy towards and work together to achieve.
The very act of doing something concrete creates a sense of momentum, and a series of small victories will lay the foundation for eventual success [Dennis Perkins in his leadership book Leading at the Edge].
What to do when your ship breaks apart…
… and the ice of harsh circumstances forces you to abandon ship, reset your destination and find new short-term targets to focus on:
- Come to terms with your ship’s demise – and work through the process of “good grief” in order to arrive at a place of acceptance.
- Redefine your future hope (Eg. I will walk again someday; I will find another job; I will find a new friend).
- Find meaningful daily activities to keep you engaged in the short-term (Eg. Start a blog to encourage people; Volunteer at Hospice; Learn to play the guitar).
- Stay focused and practice gratitude for what you have left instead of focusing on what you’ve lost.
How would you describe your future destination? What are those day-to-day activities that are keeping you engaged and free from focusing on your pain or lost hope?
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