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Off the Couch | My Secret Weapon

13 September 2018

Teamwork. It’s just one word but it’s such an integral part of absolutely every challenge. Without the right team with me and behind me, no way would I have been able to finish many of the challenges I have undertaken. And I’m certainly not only referring to my swimming challenges, but they allow me to paint a cool picture!

Its thanks to some of my extreme challenges that I’ve had the privilege of being driven to my absolute core, where it’s 100% down to two things – mental grit and the support alongside. A place where I’m useless as an individual – yet I’m the one who has to physically finish the challenge. When I say ‘useless as an individual’, I’m referring to a place where I am either petrified, hypothermic, exhausted, hurting, ready to quit – actually, its usually all of the above put together – and it’s very easy to believe that I simply could not go on. How do I keep going? What helps me not to listen to my body and my mind as they scream at me that enough is enough? Simple: I credit my success in Antarctica and many others to the fact that I had a vital and extremely attentive support team, right alongside me and back on ship too. My life was literally in their hands and it gave me that tiny bit extra of much needed confidence to push a little harder, a little further and nail it.

It’s absolutely simple what they’re there for: eye contact and 100% focus. I put my life in their hands. And it’s no small ask: In Antarctica for instance, I needed my team to be sitting on a rubber duck (in the freezing cold) and keeping eye contact with me every single moment. No frowning or looking concerned, no eating a sandwich, no looking away at the view, no reading WhatsApps, no distraction at all – just me! I think of the team as my human lifeline – it gets that granular and it provides great clarity and lessons.

And then there are the other team members: my swimming friends. There would have been no Antarctica swim if they didn’t open the doors for me/us and fight for permissions, cut through red tape and win against all odds to make the challenge possible in the first place – I played no role in that and was able to just arrive. But without it, I would potentially never have left the shores of Cape Town. Everyone has their own strengths – that’s what makes a team so powerful.

We don’t go on any swim, to outdo each other. We go as a team to achieve something individually – we usually all have the same goal.

There’s a testosterone kind of competitiveness that does naturally kick in amongst us, but for me it builds the camaraderie and the comfort that I’m not alone out there. You draw strength from each other and each other’s bravado. You relate to each other’s fears, you put the fears out there on the table and talk them through and you start to get a different perspective. If you can be vulnerable and people still believe in you, then you’re coming from a position of power. I know without a doubt that we all only wished success and safety to each other through all our travels. Success, as I definite it on extreme challenges, is not achieving the goal set – thats the cherry on top. Success is the deep lessons you learn (about yourself, about others) on the journey and how you process them for growth. Some of my biggest growths as a human being have come from my failures (that’s a subject for my next blog).

In closing, I’d like to highlight that nobody who’s the best at anything has ever done it alone. The top tennis players have the best coaches, elite athletes surround themselves with people who believe in them – they have physios, psychologists, nutritionists…. No one who is at the top of their game got there without the vital support team. The exact same applies in business – the Elon Musks, the Richard Bransons, the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world – they’re not working alone.

I’ll end with the old African proverb that I love so much:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”