Have you ever been thrown into a really difficult situation with no obvious way out?
In 1789 during the Mutiny on the Bounty, Captain William Bligh is flung off his ship onto a small boat with his loyal crew and is set adrift by the mutineers in the Pacific Ocean. They are left for dead. In the remarkable feat that follows, he leads his crew 4,000 miles to safety through storms, hostile territory and with very little food and water. In a modern-day version on Channel 4, nine men attempt the same journey with similar rations and equipment in a replica 23ft open wooden boat.
I am watching with interest. Will they make it? What spurred on the original crew in 1789 against all the odds?
What makes us survivors? I was working in the Republic of Ireland when the recession hit in 2009. It was much worse than in the UK. There was a woman I met who had a top job in finance. She worked hard and had a successful career, she seemed very resilient. When the recession hit, she was made redundant. Initially she set her sights on new jobs and had a clear goal. She approached everything with confidence. But when she failed a couple of times she quickly lost faith and gave up. Her usual coping mechanisms no longer worked.
The men recreating the Mutiny story go through extremely tough times with little food and water. As we see (no spoiler I hope for those on catch up) one guy just can’t cope with the pressures and despite numerous attempts to communicate with him and give him a chance he ends up bailing out. He was one of the crew with the most experience in sailing.
So, what makes us resilient? Is it something we are born with or something we gain in life? Where do you find your strength from?
In my experience working with people, resilience comes from unusual places, you never quite know where it might appear. I am struck with the situation the original Mutiny crew faced in 1789. The odds were not in their favour. Captain Bligh must have thought for much of the voyage that they were all going to die. I am sure each of them had times of giving up, feeling at their lowest and in despair. But somehow, Captain Bligh sets the right tone for this almost impossible voyage. The people I would describe as resilient have often been through extremely tough situations and given up many times. I wonder if there is something about sinking really low that allows us also to rise up.
In Captain Bligh’s original log book, he talks about these times of despair but also expresses times of celebration when the small crew make the most of what they have. The crew of the modern-day Mutiny have their spirits raised by a passing school of dolphins and when they manage to negotiate particularly difficult passages. How often to do we celebrate the moment? Or do we go straight into anticipating the next hurdle?
Taking hold of the good times and not letting the mind constantly stay in the dark places must have something to do with building resilience. Perhaps we need to take a leaf out of Captain Bligh’s log book and ride the storms whilst also keeping a look out for those magical moments, and grabbing them while we can.