05 Jun 2005|Darrel Rhea

As I fly high over Utah this Sunday morning, I’m experiencing one of those rare moments of solitude that pop up while traveling. Beautiful skies, clouds, landscape, and some great music on the headphones. How lucky I am to be flying 500 miles an hour in an aluminum tube, miles high and watching the sun play on Earth’s cloud formations.

It is so easy to keep my head down and plow through my day, and close myself off to the beauty that surrounds me. And it is so hard to stop, tune-in and sense what is happening around me, and then re-evaluate if what I am doing matches up with my environment. I go on to the next thing, not necessarily the next right thing.

While that might sound like a “stop and smell the roses” theme, it is really something much more important. The ability to see one’s situation in an open way, calibrate one’s perceptions/preconceptions and take action is a core trait of a survivor. I don’t just mean a survivor of an emergency situation, but a survivor of life. People who are successful and thrive in life have the ability to get off autopilot and really notice the reality of their situation, and then take responsibility for acting appropriately.

Lawrence Gonzales’s inspiring book, Deep Survival is a great read. Not just because it analyzes adventure sport disasters in an entertaining way. (But as a former rock climber, kayaker, rafter, paraglider, surfer, sailor, wilderness hiker – it feels like it was written about my own fallibility and stupidity.) This book is about the psychology and physiology of human response to extreme situations. The lessons offered up are relevant to living our daily life with effectiveness and passion – and most importantly, to surviving life’s challenges – whether a divorce, a career challenge, or an airplane crash. By analyzing who walks out of the jungle alive and who gives up and dies, we see exactly what it takes to overcome adversity.

Turns out survivors can see and appreciate beauty in the middle of a predicament. And importantly, they can use humor to deal with the stress of crisis. They are cool, intensely engaged but in control of their emotions. They assess their situation, make plans, take action, and celebrate progress. They survive for others, and despite their life-threatening situation, they often focus on rescuing others. They don’t blame, they keep a positive mental attitude. They focus on doing “the next right thing.”

Are you getting buried by stress in your job, or are you being cool-headed? Are you able to see the beauty in the midst of battle? Are you able to see the humor in your situation and share that with others? Are you noticing what is changing around you (your client, your project, your team)? Are you adapting, taking actions? Are you going to be a bug on life’s windshield, or are you going to beat the odds and walk out of the jungle when others don’t?

Cheskin has survived for 60 years as an organization because we adopted these behaviors. Our job is to survive — and thrive — as individuals, as a team, and as an organization. Survival is not an event; it is an on-going transformation. And TRANSFORMATION is what we are all about.

So keep your cool and sense of humor. Look out the window and see the beauty. Keep aware, watch out for each other, and do the next right thing.

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