Inspirational Woman: Roz Savage MBE | Ocean rower, environmental advocate, writer & speaker

Roz Savage KeynoteRoz Savage MBE is an English ocean rower, environmental advocate, writer and speaker.

She holds four Guinness World Records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row solo across three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian.

She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken five million oarstrokes and spent cumulatively over 500 days of her life at sea in a 23-foot rowboat.

She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2013 for services to environmental awareness and fundraising.

She is also an author and an international speaker on leadership, courage, resilience and sustainability.

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Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Roz Savage, and I’m the first – and so far only – woman to row solo across three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. But my background was very different – I got a law degree from Oxford, and worked as a London-based management consultant for 11 years. I had a growing sense that I wasn’t on the right path, and what really brought that home to me was one evening when I wrote two versions of my own obituary – the one I wanted, and the one I was heading for if I carried on as I was. They were very different. That led to me quitting my job, having an environmental awakening, and feeling called to go row across oceans, using my voyages to raise awareness of environmental issues, and to inspire others to live more adventurously.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

You could call that obituary exercise the most important piece of career planning I ever did, and the reason I believe it worked so well is that, for probably the first time in my life, I was operating from intuition rather than from intellect. I try to do this with most major decisions now: I let the heart set the strategy, and the head deal with the execution.  I highly recommend the obituary exercise, for two main reasons: a) it reminded me I didn’t have forever, and b) most careers advice starts from where you are now, which can be very limiting. It’s a lot more powerful to start from where you want to end up, and work backwards from there.

Tell us more about your rows across the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans? How did it come about? How did you cope physically and mentally? What lessons and skills did you learn from it?

I’d had an environmental awakening as a result of spending time in Peru in 2003, and hearing about the retreat of the Andean glaciers. I desperately wanted to do something to raise environmental awareness. I became aware of this obscure sport of ocean rowing, and the fact I’d rowed at Oxford was enough to give me the confidence – rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t really matter – that this was something I was qualified to do. I can remember the exact moment the idea came to me – I was just driving along in my car, when this crazy idea popped into my head, fully formed. It was like a call to adventure, and although at first I resisted, because the idea seemed so terrifyingly ambitious, eventually I realised I would always regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Did you face any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Far too many challenges to recount here! Here’s a sampling: all four of my oars broken before I reached halfway across the Atlantic, tendinitis in my shoulders, saltwater sores on my bottom, heat rash, a broken comms system (no communication for 24 days), broken stereo, broken camping stove, airlift by the US Coast Guard, broken finger, broken watermaker, broken electrical system, capsizes, being blown backwards, pirates….. shall I go on?! And you just have to get really resourceful when you’re in the middle of an ocean and there is absolutely nobody around to help you. I think there’s a lot to be said for having enough naïve optimism to get yourself into something, and too much stubborn pride to get yourself back out of it. You just have to find a way.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I’m deliberately going to choose something that is within the control of women, because there’s no point externalising our challenges, or pointing the finger of blame, towards something outside our control. I’m going to say that women are uniquely well suited to facing the future challenges of our increasingly complex world. We are good at collaboration, co-operation, and perseverance. We are solutions-focused, actually wanting to get things done, rather than just appearing to get things done. And we have to be proud of these (predominantly) feminine strengths. We may still be operating in structures that primarily recognise and reward (predominantly) masculine virtues like confidence, ambition, and swift decision-making, but organisations need both masculine and feminine to be in balance if they are to succeed in the long run. So we need to be proud of our feminine strengths, and also make sure that we applaud and support them in other women.

What advice would you give to someone looking to have a complete career change?

For me, the biggest obstacle to change, for a long time, was money. And too often, we still live in a world where there is a trade-off between income and job satisfaction. Two points I’d like to make there: first, I found that when I quit my job, I needed a lot less money because I didn’t need to live within commuting distance, I didn’t need to buy corporate-style clothing, and I didn’t need to spend a fortune on cheering myself up with retail therapy, alcohol, or expensive vacations. Second, we tend to be happier when we’re doing what fulfils us, and a happy brain is more creative, persevering, and resourceful, so we’re better equipped to find ways to make our new career work. (This is one of the things we are going to try and address with The Sisters, creating a pool of resources to support women who have a vision for a project that will make the world a better place.)

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

At the moment there are a couple of younger women that I speak with every couple of weeks, one in the US and one in India. And in turn I’m very fortunate to have some wonderful friends who are equal in age or older than me, who have been very generous with their wisdom and guidance. In particular I think of my friend Ellen in California, who I’ve known for about 12 years. There’s a saying that there are people who see you as you were, people who see you as you are, and people who see you as you can be, and that you should surround yourself with as many of the third kind as you can. Ellen is definitely the third kind of a person. I hope that one day I will be the person Ellen believes me to be.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Although it has been wonderful to complete the three oceans, get the MBE, speak at high profile events, and so on, what makes me most proud is the inner work I’ve done over the last 18 years. Both on the ocean and off, I’m quite self-reflective, always trying to figure out how to be happy, healthy, and in alignment with my purpose. So I make time to meditate, journal, and read books that give me more insight into life, truth and being. Ultimately, the way we live our lives is our statement to the world about who we believe ourselves to be, so I’m doing my best to make mine a positive statement.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Without doubt, launching The Sisters is my current obsession and full time job. I want to live long enough to see a world in which masculine and feminine are working in partnership and mutual respect. I’ve never seen that world, and I’m curious to see what it looks like. So I’m doing my part to bring it into reality.

Just for fun – what is your favourite song?

Dancing Queen! It always lifts my spirits.

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