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The Midweek Motivator – Captain Phillips and Threat Management

It’s a very bad thing to become accustomed to good luck and threat-avoidance… hurricanes, terrorism, the outbreak of a pandemic, or a friend’s passing; none of us owns a crystal ball. Through the decades sudden tremors have changed the trajectory of life and civilization. Some scars are slow to heal; lost American warriors left to their own device in Benghazi, an airport shooting, an earthquake in Turkey, or a bombing at a celebratory event. Most disasters are beyond our control; events that strike and rock us. We have no choice but to accept the possibility and yet we do have options about what to do when a crisis strikes.

It’s how we react to a punch that matters most and they’re certainly not all created equal. In the daily threat-stream of life and career, the best we can do is to be on guard. Sometimes that’s not enough. Today when everything on the globe seems a potential threat, it’s reasonable some of us become numb to never-ending stimulus. Sometimes when asked for advice, you’ve heard us respond, “Don’t be afraid; be prepared!” Well, at least it’s a partial antidote.

Short of the most painful unexpected professional setbacks, try to put thunderbolts that occur in our daily working life into perspective. (1) There is no question as to “will they occur?” only “when” and how intense their impact? (2) We can curse the tides and fates, blaming friends and associates with whom we work, even the ones we love. And, some choose to play the “it’s just awful” game, acquiescing to misfortune as a victim. “Well just my luck…it’s the way it goes for me…” An Admiral I knew once put it in perfect context: when rocked by adversity, sometimes people get so much sympathy poured on them their misfortune actually starts to feel routine. “What a tough break, I don’t deserve it.” But sympathy is like junk food…zero nourishment.

When hit by a setback no matter how many ways you sift through it, you have two options. Give-in with resignation (“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be”) or fight back doubling-down on your solution and your intensity.

Consider Captain Richard Phillips, a few years ago the subject of the inspiring Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips”. The Captain and his crew regularly rehearsed crisis scenarios until he convinced his somewhat skeptical crew onboard the 1000 foot Maersk Alabama, piracy drills really did matter! One day, within hours of a series of drilling exercises two ominous radar blips traveling at high speed and dead on-course for his ship meant but one thing; a life-threatening attack. Phillips figured the odds using warp-speed situational analysis…and because of it, saved all but two of his ship’s entire crew. As a bargaining chip in anticipation of his own almost certain death traded for his crew’s safe passage, the Captain agreed to be kidnapped by the Somalis.

We can’t do much about what will happen tomorrow. But there’s a lot we can do about our conduct; mental toughness, and our options when ambushed by life’s landmines.

Alone in captivity, Phillips refused to give up. Though two crewmen were lost, doubtless the death toll might have been far worse. Phillips withstood brutal captivity until a Navy Seal team ambushed the Somalis, liberating the Captain. Being prepared, having a contingency and the courage to act on it can make all the difference. Trite as it sounds, the worst day in our profession beats captivity on the Indian Ocean.