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Against All Odds – The Story of the Endurance

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Adversity can rarely be anticipated with enough detail for it to be circumvented. In its myriad forms, motivations, spontaneity, and mutability, all that can be certain about adversity is that it is sure to flourish at some point in your journey. Facing adversity effectively requires an honest admission that it will come to pass, without needing to know how it will develop or what it will be concerned with.

The voyage of the Endurance

The date is August 6th, 1914. The Endurance sets sail from Plymouth, England on a voyage to Buenos Aires, stopping for a few days before continuing on towards its ultimate goal. The ship’s stated mission was simple: attempt a land crossing of the Antarctic for the first time. It promised to be a dangerous journey. The threat of ice floes, freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, treacherous seas, and disease were potent enough to break the resolve of any seasoned crew. Composed of scientists, surgeons, and sailors, the crew were drawn together by Captain Ernest Shackleton and his adventurous determination. The captain, his crew, and their ship had little idea how desperate their situation would become.

Their progress through the Antarctic was very slow, and halted completely at times by the turbulent seas and ice storms. They took refuge by tethering to an iceberg for several days before a brutal storm jammed the Endurance onto pack ice, grounding it completely. The crew hoped that a change in wind direction might open up a safe passageway and return the ship to water, but no conditions came to their aid. The ice eventually crushed the hull of the ship, forcing its crew to abandon it. It sank on November 21st, 1915, swallowed by the ice.

The crew faced brutal conditions, starvation, frostbite, and strife. Assessing their camp’s needs, they agreed they would not survive the harsh Antarctic winter in their current state. Stocked only with a month’s worth of supplies, Shackleton and a few crew members packed into a 23-foot lifeboat and set out on a treacherous eight hundred-mile trek to a whaling station on South Georgia island. They faced temperatures of minus twenty degree celsius, icy seawater, and exhaustion for seventeen days – overcoming it all. They returned several weeks later to rescue the crew that had stayed behind. After thirteen months lost in the Antarctic, the sailors were headed home.

Overcoming adversity

It’s easy to wonder how Ernest Shackleton and his crew might have reacted had he been blessed with foreknowledge of the Endurance’s plight. They faced incredible odds, and had every opportunity to fail, give up, starve, or descend into strife. There was very little the crew could have done to prepare themselves for such a misadventure, and yet they endured and succeeded beyond any ration measure.

As part of a co-ordinated effort, the crew worked together, sacrificed, did what was necessary, and brought the best of themselves for the betterment of each other, and ultimately, for their survival.

What can we learn from the story of the Endurance? How does necessity change the culture of a team? What role does leadership serve when odds are stacked so heavily against you?

Check back this week for Part 2 of our Endurance series, where we’ll explore leadership in action, and what it takes for teams to truly work together.

 

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