Facebook post 13th March 2016:
Less than 24 hours to the #icyclassroom
I can’t believe it’s finally happening!
The five-month long wait has finally come to an end with this day as we, a team of 140 explorers from 30 nations meet for the first time in Ushuaia, the southern-most city of the world. A lot of us met in Buenos Aires already, grouped, re-grouped while some of us were serendipitously seated next to an expedition member on the same flight down-south. Like me! I was seated next to a professor at Columbia who after having worked at the world bank teaches Public Policy and Social Enterprise in one of the best schools for PPA, CIPA. What are the odds that on a flight full of people I’d be seated next to someone who is going to Antarctica as a part of the same expedition as me? And we also had the same colored Nike bag! :O
Ushuaia is beautiful beyond belief, surrounded by mountains, the ocean, and glaciers; it is a popular tourist destination for even Argentinians. Day one was mostly about soaking in the overwhelming whirlwind of feelings along with registration, getting our rooms assigned and having our gear checked. As soon as I entered my room my roommate had already finished her gear check and her gear was spread out on the bed. I had to do the same and soon Jason our Expedition Lead checked and approved my gear. Looks like I am all set to take on the coldest, windiest and the driest continent in the world- Antarctica.
Some of us, like myself, were lucky enough to be greeted by the man himself, Sir Robert Swan. His charismatic personality with his warm handshake instantly puts you at ease. He shook my hand and said to me, “It’s wonderful to meet you Aarati. I hear some good things about you from Divya”. And the little Aarati in my head did a little foot tap dance.
Everyone is out with an agenda to soak up as much of this as possible with last minute shopping for extra batteries or putting down a bomb on missed expedition equipment, treks and hiking trails overlooking the Atlantic or getting passports stamped with the gateway-to-Antarctica stamp.
With good food, great conversations and some brilliant people from all across the world, there is no place I’d rather be.
Gear check complete! All set to survive -40 degrees. #IcyClassroom #InternationalAntarcticaExpedition2016 #Antarctica
For those of you wondering if your passport gets stamped when going to Antarctica; there is no official stamp for entering Antarctica as such, but you can choose to get this! 🙂
Technically you will be in no man’s land the whole time!
The gateway to Antarctica
The southernmost city of the world
I’ve probably never jumped out of bed more readily at the sound of the alarm, as I did this morning. A quick bite and a complete injustice to the scrumptious spread of breakfast later, we had our first official expedition team session with all participants in one room. We met our pre-assigned teams which are named after famous explorers. I am in team Kershaw, named after an Ace pilot and a celebrated polar explorer John Kershaw who has been attributed to numerous records in Polar Aviation and also the famous exploration ‘In the footsteps of Scott’.
Robert Swan’s opening speech was incredible. He is even more charismatic in real life than on the TED stage. Apparently he adapts to his audience. How does he do that with such ease and charm? I can’t wait for the Public speaking sessions and training from him later in the expedition! The sessions set great expectations of what lies ahead with an unsaid promise that we will not be disappointed. We were briefed on what the coming 15 days hold for us and introduced to the 2041 team and the team leaders who will be conducting our sessions on Leadership, experts on climate change and Glaciology, Social Media gurus and Storytellers.
Something that really struck me in one of the talks was the concept of the “Zone of Sacrifice.” Our leadership Coach Nigel Pine in his session titled “Personal Leadership insight” through a very simple graph talked about how most people lead their lives just “sustaining” themselves. Sustaining is the optimal spot at the intersection of surviving, stimulating and sacrificing. If you are just sustaining, you are definitely doing a better job than just surviving on the bare minimum, but chances are you are either sacrificing your innate dream (or a deep longing) OR you are not in an environment that simulates you enough every day!
Now this concept for me personally hit the nail on its head because you see, I believe I suffer from something that I like to call “the buddha Syndrome”. Just like Gautam buddha renounced his worldly pleasures to take up monkhood after seeing the suffering in the world, I often feel convicted, grossly undeserving of the entitlement and acutely aware of the privileges I am born with. I often find myself sacrificing all sorts of things for friends, loved ones, family and sometimes even complete strangers; from the larger half of the choco chip cookie to the last available free promotional sample. Think about it: you cannot be in a position to truly help someone or add value by being in the zone of suffering for you can make a larger impact as a person who is Succeeding. Nigel’s point is, in order for you to truly Succeed in life you need to take a step further from sustaining- “if you are a great person in a bad environment- get out of there!- surround yourself with magnificent people” and “Stop beating yourself up- have the courage to walk away- walk away from the Sacrifice Syndrome.”
After the sessions, we all were shuttled in groups to the city center for any last minute shopping for essentials, missing gear and a quick bite. All teams were asked to report to the Obelisk at the city center at dot 1:30 to be taken to the dock to embark the Ocean Endeavour.
The ship is huge! Even though the Ocean Endeavour comes under the category of a “small expedition ship” that can hold 350 guests and staff. And that’s small? I’ve never been on a ship before, least of all on a cruise ship! It is like a luxury hotel inside a ship. Totally felt my Buddha Syndrome kicking in. There was an incredible excitement on the dock as for all 140 of us, this was it! Today was the day! This was the moment! There was this sweet frenzy in the air, cameras, country flags, sponsor logos, selfie sticks… Rob was shuffling around, kind enough to oblige to every group. It’s like he never says no, for anything.
We all got assigned our rooms and roommates, depending on the room type we signed up for. By the time we settled in, my roommate and I shared half our entire life histories and career trajectories, the PA system had an announcement for all of us to get onto the bow of the ship, for we were setting sail!
The excitement in the air was palpable. I remember having goose bumps, which were not caused by the chill in the air but by people howling and hooting in unison with the Ship’s blow horn as we were leaving the dock. I felt like we were a bunch of kids waving at an airplane in the sky as we were waving at people on the dock, jumping about with smiles on all our faces.
After a five-course welcome dinner and conversations, and enough time on the deck marveling at the vast ocean and a zillion stars in the sky, it’s time to brace ourselves for the much talked about Drake. We are all set as we already drake proofed our room.
When we were not sleeping, eating, maintaining personal hygiene or doing Yoga onboard, we were constantly hustling between sessions, shore landings, and leadership training for 12 hours a day. It was pretty hectic. The days were long but extremely productive.
The crux of the ‘Leadership on the Edge’ program is based on the Authentic Leadership Theory, a study showcased by Harvard Business Review. According to this theory, there is no single defining factor or a formula that can make us a perfect leader. Authentic Leadership is the answer. “Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their value consistently, and lead with their heads as well as their hearts” according to HBR. Our mission was to find our individual Leadership Authenticity.
“Our power as leaders comes primarily from our life expiriences.” -Mattias
So, the mission includes digging back into our own life stories. While each one of us were familiar with our own personal life story and knew it as we had lived it, we all worked together in teams and went through everyday sessions to share this story. This made us experience our life through multiple lenses of peer feedback. We first identified our Core Values, defined them further, rephrased them to deepen our relationship with them and shared it with our team to commit to them.
The next step was to share our ‘Crucibles’-our worse moments of our life that redefined us as people, shook the ground below us and changed our life (for better or) for worse. Crucibles play a huge part in shaping our personalities in ways which we can never understand or fathom, when we are going through it. Our crucibles define our success. For us to share our crucibles with our teammates uncensored, in its raw details, put us in such a vulnerable spot but at the same time built immense trust. For everyone, this was quite emotional but for me personally it was emotional plus liberating. I could come to terms with many incidents in life that I had chosen to shut out or drowned in synthetic happiness.
Success is the measure of not how high you get but how fast you recover when you fall.
My familiarity with crucibles helped me reduce my recovery time every time I fell. And I’ve fallen many times in the past 3 years mostly because of my constant willingness to take risks and often risks with high stakes. But through my experiences, I’ve learned to exercise caution. The next step was finding our sweet spot, by assessing our strengths. We shared our best leadership story and our peers helped us access what they picked up on as our strengths. It was a great session right after the crucibles to re-instill self-belief and self-confidence with all those positive words attributed to you. Also, you didn’t leave your teammates thinking you are a total loser with all the failures you had shared with them. Everyone has had their moments of ‘Awesome’!
Finally, we assessed our intrinsic motivations and our extrinsic motivations and combined that with our Leadership strength to find our Sweet Spot. My sweet spot according to my peers was in Consulting. They came up with this by analyzing and combining factors such as how I crave diversity in the projects I like to take up, how I am a total ‘people person’ with my interpersonal skills as my biggest strength and how I like to travel. But funnily enough business consulting was never my thing, is what I always told myself. I find it interesting how there is this apparent difference between how you perceive yourself and how people tell you otherwise. I guess the pursuit is to make them one and the same. But this entire process made me more self-aware and made me reprioritize my motivations. Because for me, my biggest intrinsic motivation was to ‘help someone’ and my biggest extrinsic motivation was ‘approval’. ‘Money’ was number 5 on my extrinsic motivation list and that in retrospect needs to bump-up two spots, as I see myself growing old and feel the need for a shift in priorities. That’s the thing about putting these things on paper, unlike core values, your motivations will shift from time to time depending on where you are at in life.
‘Self awareness’ is the single most recomended capability for leaders to develop.
Each one of the Steps mentioned took us about two days each and about an hour each day to complete, in between all those sessions. So that was about 12 hours of being on our feet from sessions to session. I hope that explains my point about information overload and about how there is always so much happening on the ship!