Debra SearleDebra Searle – What business owners can learn from her

In 2001/02 Debra Searle and her then husband Andrew Veal entered the Atlantic Rowing Challenge a 3000 mile double handed rowing race from Tenerife to Barbados.  There was significant media interest as they were the only male/female and husband/wife crew out of 36 teams taking part!

The media interest intensified when Andrew was forced to retire from the race suffering from uncontrollable anxiety, he couldn’t cope being on open ocean and not being able to see land…..it turns out that all of their training had been on the River Thames and not open sea!!! 

Lesson one – plan your training so it mimics real life!

So Debra, embarked on this crazy journey on her own after Andrew was air lifted out of the boat. Debra carried on and rowed for 111 days on her own and made it to Barbados.  Whilst this is no mean feat and quite remarkable in its own right I wanted to dig a little deeper about how she achieved this accolade.

She had to make choices, forced to find strategies to pick herself up and carry on, she ran a film over and over in her head about carrying on, what would happen during the journey and crossing the line.

Debra believed in herself, even if others didn’t, she would row for 2 hours, have 1 hour rest (which involved sleeping for 20 mins, eating, and fixing the boat). Exhausted, sleep-deprived, and lonely after a couple of months she was struggling and had enough and was at a very low ebb.  She wrote a post on a diary that was being used by family, friends and supporters for her to communicate with.  Her twin sister Hayley called her on the Satellite phone and said “Deb’s we’ve just read your diary and we want you to know we’re not ready for you to give up yet!”

Debra’s sister added if there is anything they could do to make her journey easier they would do it. So Debra learnt to ask for help, which really gave her the strength to carry on rowing until she had reached the finish line.  Her sister was able to fix some of the issues she was facing that were making her consider giving up like for example, being lonely. 

Lesson two – don’t be afraid to ask for help!

They rigged up a link between her diary and the satellite phone system so she got lots of text messages, so the first week she received over 1000 messages spurring her on!!  Some of them were funny, but they all had one thing in common they lifted her spirits.  Her sister told her to row quicker as they couldn’t wait to see her in Barbados over Christmas.  The next day her brother sent her one to say no….row slower the airfares are cheaper in February that made her smile.  She realised the value of free words and the power that words can bring and convey!  They stopped the infection and healed her loneliness.

When she was really down and wanting to give up, she would play a film of crossing the finish line and what would happen, what people would say, what it would look like, the smells, the noises.  She used these movies playing in her head to burst anxiety bubbles, keep motivated and keep moving forward. 

Another strategy she used was to play lots of powerful musical ballads to help lift her mood like “Don’t give up”! and having a passionate belief that she could do it, to believe in herself and choose her attitude on a daily basis.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in the audience and hear Debra speak and I have to say it is an extremely powerful story and seriously motivated me.  It got me thinking about the parallels to business.

In any business you are sometimes faced with extreme challenges that keep you up at night and affect the quality of your sleep, and circumstances that you cannot change, that you wouldn’t choose but you somehow need to navigate through.  Somehow you need to, like Debra did when her husband got off the boat, pick yourself up again and just keep on going.

It is also important to have people around you that help you, support you and people you admire, look up to and value their opinions and support.   Whether it’s a mentor, a coach, a trusted business adviser or a family member, we all need someone to turn to when the going gets tough.

So think about people and strategies that will help you when the going gets tough as nothing worth having is ever easy or plain sailing….whether it’s a book or the ideas that Debra had like playing a movie of the successful outcome, speaking with people or choosing your attitude and listing out all the good things that have /are happening, whatever it is you need to be the best version of yourself, you owe it to yourself to give it the best shot you can at being successful.

No successful business owner has ever had plain sailing all of the time, so what strategies can you use to help you navigate through choppy waters to safety!

If you never seen or heard of Debra Searle, I’d definitely recommend her TED EX talk it’s worth taking some time out to watch.

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