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Shackleton's 12: Lessons for the Darker Hours

“Shackleton’s situation was completely hopeless.

He just didn’t succumb to the pessimists.”

(TheStreet.com)

1. MAKE UP YOUR MIND TO BE CHEERFUL.

“His unfailing cheerfulness means a lot to a band of disappointed explorers like ourselves. He demanded cheerfulness and counted on his crew’s enthusiasm for what they were doing." There would be no swearing.

2. TAKE SPECIAL INTEREST IN PEOPLE @ YOU.

"When Shackleton came across a crewman walking alone, he would get into conversation and talk to that person asking them little things. How are you getting on, how do you like it so far, what side of the work are you enjoying most?"

3. BE THE OPTIMIST!

"He is not content with saying, ‘It will come out all right in the end.’ He merely says that this is but a little setback not altogether unforeseen, and he immediately commences to modify his program to accord with it."

4. MAKE SPECIFIC PLANS BUT BE FLEXIBLE!

"Shackleton was a stickler for structuring the day, including balancing work with play. He knew busyness and planning would keep morale high, inspire confidence, and give his crew something to do." Each person knew what was expected of them.

5. HAVE RITUALS - HIGHLIGHTS TO ANTICIPATE!

He would institute weekly rituals. For example, Saturday nights were for the breaking out of the rum and for the hearty toast “To wives and sweethearts, may they never meet.”

6. MAKE LIFE TOGETHER FUN!

There were mock trials, 25 questions, singing contests, decorations for a special Christmas meal. There was moonlight soccer out on the ice floe, dog racing, the Midwinter’s Festival to look forward to. Crewmates even made a game out of rocking the boat to try to free it from the ice.

7. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE MUSIC & GOOD FOOD!

Meals were varied and regular; “bright beacons in those cold and stormy days.” The banjo? “It’s rather heavy. Do you think we ought to take it?” His answer: “Yes, certainly, it’s vital mental medicine, and we shall need it.”

8. KEEP EVERYONE BUSY!

"Making the stranded crewmen drag the lifeboats over rough, icy terrain was a futile effort, and Shackleton knew it. Still, it provided his men with a sense they were doing something to get out of their predicament." They could control their own destiny!

9. BE FORWARD-THINKING!

Shackleton’s motto: Look Forward. Watching his ship break apart and go down, he signaled to his men: “Ship and stores have gone, so now we’ll go home.”

10. KEEP TO A LARGER PERSPECTIVE!

Maklin (in his diary): “Destitute as we are - and we are certainly very destitute now - I think we are better off than many poor folks at home. We get plenty of meat, and we are snug and warm in our shelter.”

Shackleton: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours, over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.” Here, there was a spiritual dimension.

11. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

Teamwork was “more than an ingredient for success; it was the goal itself.” He avoided public confrontation. He would talk to his men privately if there was a problem.

Shackleton would make his plans and goals clear and give his shipmates a chance for feedback. Tasks were made democratic. Sailors and scientists would do the same menial job.

12. LEAD BY EXAMPLE!

For Shackleton, the well-being of his crew always came first. He ever weighed the advantage of reaching a goal against the cost of achieving it. "He had a reputation, not for bravado, but for caution." Every person knew he had their back. He inspired others with his own self-less gestures.

IN CLOSING

Earnest Shackleton re-named his ship, Endurance after the family motto: “By Endurance We Conquer.” We’re going to get through this.

"He was an average person by many accounts who taught himself to be an exceptional person." “He was a Viking with a mother’s heart.”

In some respects, he represents the person we all would want to be.

One thing is sure; we will pass through this time of quarantine and personal hardship. What is uncertain is how we will do this and in what way we will look back on our efforts.

I AM INDEBTED to Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell for their book Shackleton’s Way from which all of this information was gleaned.

These are the twelve I thought most important. My hope is that the authors, in some small way, would agree with most.

I recommend this book to you to fill in the details. J

John A. Bragstad is the author of two books, Compass Season and The Poetry of Life: Who’s Watching Who? Both are available at Amazon and make a good read.

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