Image by Pera Detlic
When it comes to your life story, deciding where you invest your time and energy during the prime working years of your career is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. It will dictate your level of financial security, the abundance you are able to create for yourself and those you love, and — most vitally — your sense of self.
Of course, as the Titanic shows us, there’s no such thing as a perfect plan. Conditions can change swiftly, and when they do, your definition of success may need to change as well.
When Robert Hichens joined the crew of the Titanic, his goal was to follow orders and please his commanding officers by contributing to a stress-free journey for the passengers. Success, for Hichens, meant advancing his career: to get positive feedback, which might lead to another, even better job at a time when jobs in the shipping industry were scarce.
Margaret Brown’s goal when she boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France, was to reach the bedside of her ailing grandson. In addition, she was part of the group of first-class passengers whose definition of success involved having a marvelous time and to be seen doing so!
After the Titanic hit the iceberg, circumstances abruptly changed, as did everyone’s priorities. With survival uncertain, everyone had to adapt quickly and put aside whatever their story had been. Helping others and living to be rescued was all that mattered.
The Carpathia Arrives
After seven long hours in the cold, dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Titanic survivors on Lifeboat #6 were rescued by another ship, the Carpathia, in the early hours of Monday, April 15. The group had rowed together to keep warm, supported one another through physical exhaustion, and done their best to press through the trauma of watching the Titanic sink before their eyes. Their informal leader, Margaret Brown, had been keeping a watchful eye on Hichens, who was still mumbling under his breath about the dire consequences they faced.
Suddenly, one of the lifeboat passengers noticed a light on the horizon. Elated at the prospect of living to greet another day, a sense of tentative hope spread through the group.
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There was more to this light than daybreak. The eagle eye of Frederick Fleet soon spotted two additional lights on the horizon. The group tried not to get overly excited because they couldn’t be sure if they were looking at other lifeboats or not.
Within moments, Fleet confirmed a joyous discovery. The two lights on the horizon weren’t separating; they were moving as one. This meant that they were looking at their long-awaited rescue ship — the Carpathia had been spotted!
In Logan Marshall’s account, he quotes Margaret Brown’s recollection of this moment, which is one of my favorite passages:
Then, knowing we were safe at last, I looked about me. The most wonderful dawn I have ever seen came upon us.... First the gray, and then the flood of light... . For the first time, we saw where we were. Near us was open water, but on every side ice. Ice ten feet high was everywhere. . . . To the right and left and back and front were icebergs. Some of [the icebergs] were mountain high. The sea of ice was forty miles wide, they told me. We did not wait for the Carpathia to come to us, we rowed toward it.
According to survivor accounts, the view from Lifeboat #6 was awe-inspiring that morning. While their surroundings at daybreak sound terrifying, several of the survivors reported feeling virtually no fear by this point. Once aboard the Carpathia, many of them described a sense of being transformed by the realization of their individual significance in the scope of the universe. Their journey together had done more than preserve their physical lives — it had shifted their perspective about what life meant to them.
Informal Leaders Emerge Under Pressure
As eyewitness accounts testify, what made it possible for the survivors on Lifeboat #6 to beat the odds after Titanic sank was the emergence of an informal leader who fostered a spirit of inner and outer alignment within the group. By this I mean that the intentions, behavior, and values of the individuals, and of the group, became aligned in the service of their common goal — to survive. This attitude shifted the group’s mindset from chaos and collective terror to a unified spirit of trust as they battled the elements together.
Every business that has become a household name and every song we find ourselves humming in the shower is born from a merger of talents. The group energy that amplified the individual strengths of every passenger on Lifeboat #6 works like the law of gravity, and it works for everyone.
This means it will work for you.
Attuning yourself to your body’s deeper wisdom will take you from “what good looks like” to “what good feels like.” Much like a tuning fork, once you capture a felt sense of “what good feels like” as an individual, your presence in a group can start a positive wave of group energy that can raise the resonance of everyone involved.
Margaret Brown illustrated this principle on Lifeboat #6. The attitude that infused her behavior started a positive wave of group energy that contributed to their survival. The individuals on this lifeboat became fully committed to supporting one another as equals and to pulling together in a spirit of mutual respect.
To thrive, we all need to work in an atmosphere where we feel valued — and emotionally safe. Yet this can be hard to find. In reality, many people report feeling stuck in companies where their energy is siphoned off into playing self-protective roles, and they don’t feel they can realize their full professional potential. When this happens, we need to stop, remember the pitfalls of the Big Ship mindset, and make the Lifeboat shift. Once we operate authentically, our concept of self evolves, and we start realizing our potential no matter what our circumstances.
People who have made the Lifeboat shift cultivate the emotional agility necessary to adapt to changing circumstances. That’s because, by learning to circumnavigate their inner icebergs, they are no longer stuck playing a part that has been scripted for them by others. When external conditions are in flux, and the definition of success morphs, they are better prepared to accept what’s unfolding in the present and trust themselves under pressure.
Making the Lifeboat shift also helps keep us from making snap judgments about people. In most stories, it’s easy to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” but real life is different. All people are capable of wise, caring choices, and of the opposite, and we can’t always predict how we or others will respond in a crisis. The Titanic story makes that abundantly clear: When the stakes are highest, some people shift their mindset and rise to the occasion, and others become overwhelmed and stumble and fall.
Through learning to accept and trust themselves, people operating from the Lifeboat mindset cultivate the discernment necessary to make wise choices about when and why to trust others — particularly under pressure. As a result, the Lifeboat shift helps them internalize a powerful lesson from the Titanic : When fear is replaced by trust, self-help becomes us-help.
When It’s Time to Abandon Ship
Obviously, the Titanic isn’t always a perfect analogy for workplace issues. For instance, once the Titanic sank, everyone in a lifeboat was trapped until another Big Ship rescued them. In their careers, people are rarely trapped in their jobs in such a literal way. They have the option not just to make the Lifeboat shift in their attitudes and relationships, but to quit, row away, and find another company to work for.
The Lifeboat Process shows us that, when it comes to our careers, we rescue ourselves — from the inside out. You know you’ve rescued yourself when you consistently make choices that align with your genuine values and create a positive atmosphere that supports others.
It’s also helpful to bear in mind that unexpected challenges that require change don’t always come in the form of disasters. Sometimes, it is an opportunity or a chance moment of good fortune that you never saw coming.
Chart Your Own Course
As we train ourselves in little ways to remain aware of those around us, react helpfully when we can, and navigate life with a generous spirit, we are preparing ourselves for the big moments — whether we realize it or not.
Are you charting your own course professionally, or are you allowing others to write your script for you? What do you want your story to be? What brings out the best in you?
Sometimes our stories change when a new opportunity emerges. Sometimes a new person enters your life story and, through combining your strengths with theirs, an adventure unfolds.
The more agile you become at navigating the emotional turbulence that rocks your inner world, the more you’ll attract the time and attention of others who have mastered these skills. This leads to the creation of professional alliances with colleagues who are genuinely supportive. Ultimately, they will share their strengths, contacts, and resources with you.
Remember, there is always one person you can trust to help you tap into your strengths and muster the courage you need to lead — and ideally, be the person who can unite others as you decide together what the next positive step can be.
I believe that person is you.
©2020 by Maggie Craddock. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com
Lifeboat: Navigating Unexpected Career Change and Disruption
by Maggie Craddock
Today’s hardworking professionals are navigating sudden waves of financial stress, management shakeups, and downsizing. Using the experiences of Titanic survivors as a powerful metaphor, executive coach Maggie Craddock offers lessons for a transformative approach to our professional lives, one that recognizes that “every man for himself” doesn’t work long-term. Lifeboat is organized as a series of key questions we all need to ask ourselves when facing unexpected career disruption or difficult changes. These questions help readers clarify their authentic priorities, assess the group energy that guides a particular workplace, and identify the type of job that will help them reach their true potential.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.)
About the Author
Maggie Craddock, author of Lifeboat, is a veteran executive coach known for her work with Fortune 500 CEOs and senior management. She has been featured on CNBC, ABC News, and National Public Radio. She is also a certified therapist and also the author of The Authentic Career and Power Genes. More information at WorkplaceRelationships.com.