How many of you would feel comfortable with being asked to shut your eyes, spun around a few times, and then submit to trusting your partner to guide you to a new destination? Or even asked to take a step forward without knowing what is ahead? Do you lean into the unknown? Or are you hesitant to put trust in someone else? Would you completely refuse? Learning to step out of our comfort zone, putting complete trust in others and embracing uncertainty were central leadership lessons I learnt while in Antarctica with Homeward Bound.
I am a creature of habit. I always have been. My friends and family are able to predict what I’ll order at a restaurant, because I typically go to the same place and order the same thing. This is ‘my comfort zone’. Sometimes I’ve ventured out, and my meal hasn’t lived up to my expectations and I’ve been left disappointed. Then the next time, I’m back in my comfort zone with my normal order. Sound familiar?
Then, imagine me, a ‘comfort-zone specialist’ having to face the daily ‘A factor’ – the Antarctic Factor. Everything is changing all the time! Even the weather changes within the hour. Plans never seem to go to plan, and schedules are constantly being altered. Not to annoy us, but to keep us safe in the Antarctic environment. And these daily Antarctic uncertainties we faced are occurring as a result of the effects of climate change which we saw first-hand, felt, and heard about.
I spent the majority of the first half of our expedition completely out of my comfort zone. I was with 90 (fabulous) people I had only just met, in a place I’d never been (let alone a very unfamiliar climate), learning new things about myself that had honestly never crossed my mind. But, I completely trusted the process, the HB faculty, our Expedition leader and staff and the ship crew. I was surprisingly ok with all the uncertainty because I learnt that when our plans did change, we were always presented with a satisfactory (and in this example always pleasant) alternative. And, it was exciting! If our landings couldn’t happen due to too much sea ice preventing the zodiacs safety dropping us off and picking us up, we had the opportunity to go on zodiac tours as a substitute. I started to realise I was just practising for change in the world. As the days went on and I had more and more experience with change, I eased into a state where if we heard our daily program or schedule had to change, I usually caught myself with a huge smile, because I was enjoying the excitement of the unknown. Imagine that for a creature of habit! Who would have thought?
But change isn’t something we are always able see, feel, or hear in real time. Climate change is not always immediately visible to us. During our 3-week voyage, we didn’t see the ocean warming, we didn’t hear glaciers melting and retreating and it was hard to feel the immense strain the plants and animals of Antarctica are under with changing conditions and decreasing food. Mother Nature is using her own language to send a powerful message, spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions - beckoning us to help rethink the way we care for our planet.
It is time we acknowledge and embrace change is happening and use our collective voices for the environment. It is up to leaders to lead by example, lean into uncertainty and change, and embrace the opportunity and experiences that make us richer. I am ready for change. I am ready for us to change the way we care for our planet.
Through Homeward Bound, I’ve learnt that there is nothing to fear about change. The real fear is knowing you didn’t do what you could. When you fail to make a difference when it was completely within your capabilities to do so. Leadership is a journey and it is about turning intention into action and encouraging change. It starts with understanding yourself and being authentic in your actions and intentions and stepping into the unknown. The hardest part of change is starting, and taking that first step outside of our comfort zones.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. #StrongerTogether
- Steph OX