How can you make people become aware of what they feel, think and act? How can you make people realize what’s their perspective of the surrounding world? And how can you make people transform themselves, changing perspectives, acting differently and strengthening their will? These are some of the questions that we seek answer to, in a resilience program, designed as an High Performance Learning Journey. And this is one of the case studies we use. Join the atmosphere and become a witness of our characters. Ready?
The story of Matt and Jessica Johnson begun in 2005 and up to a point it’s a classical one. He worked as a sales manager in the automotive industry while Jessica worked in accounting. Both of them had successful careers, but what had got them together is their vision of a worth living life, which is quite common and maybe we share it too: after graduation we get hired, we meet our soul mate, get married, have children (1,2 or 3) while our careers develop. We are successful professionals, our children live happy lives and grow up fast. Soon they go studying at well known universities becoming mature, successful and independent adults, while we retire somewhere around 60 years old and start sailing around the world in an endless holyday. Does it sound familiar?
This was too Matt and Jessica’s dream, but they decided to make a change on the timeline. They decided to start living the dream in reversed order, since they met each other. For two years they took sailing classes and during summer of 2007 they did the followings:
- They got married
- Sold everything they owned
- Invested all their money in a second-hand yacht (58.930$)
- Moved and lived at Matt’s parents for almost 2 months
- In August 2007 they started sailing the world abord of their yacht, Serendipity
Can you imagine the reactions of their families, friends, work colleagues when they found out about their decision? 2007 was the beginning of the financial crisis and exactly at that moment, they sold everything and went into an adventure. Regardless general disapproval they acted exactly in a business like manner, finding the opportunity in a crisis, being surrounded by danger. What danger? The crash of the banking system, thousand of small business going bankrupt, millions of unemployed people, many of them becoming homeless – I bet you still remember the picture.
Because they didn’t have enough sailing experience they started small, visiting close territories: Cuba first, then Mexico, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, The Virgin British Islands, Antigua and Barbados. In the first 3 years of their trip they visited more than 15 countries on three different continents: North America, South America and even Europe, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. When we read the names of these countries, most of us see them as holyday destinations with white sanded beaches, cocktails and turquoise waters, swim suits and parties under a bright sun. Is that true? They seemed to live a continuous exotic vacation. So where does lie the danger in their story?
Surprisingly, the biggest threat was the isolation: two people living on a small boat in the middle of the Atlantic. They’ve known each other for just 2 years and soon they discovered that during tensed or conflict moments, they couldn’t leave slamming the door behind them. They didn’t have that option. They simply had to stay and talk to each other until they found a satisfactory solution, for both of them. Not all disagreements found solutions so… in the narrow space aboard they had to come up with original ideas about how to sleep in separate … areas. For such moments they realized that are too few living souls aboard and very soon they adopted George, a stray cat, that marvelous adapted living on a small yacht.
More than the obvious danger of sailing in open waters, like storms, broken engine or the risk of shipwreck in a remote, uninhabited place, there was the problem of money. After all we can imagine that they were on a diet of fish and coconuts, but every ship needs fuel and repairs, at least maintenance and that’s why they needed money. Jessica and Matt started video blogging, sharing their experience for others. Soon the blog was upgraded to a site, promoting different products and due to the originality of their story they build a community of around 50.000 followers. Step by step sponsors, donations or various collaborations with publications started to provide financial aid.
You can imagine that their lifestyle changed too. A 11 meters long yacht may look huge, but the cockpit was very stiffed. Due to lack of space they had to stick to the strict necessity. At some point Matt is telling that he had 3 pairs of jeans and 5 T-shirts, while Jessica confesses that she had “almost” no high heels shoes. (I still wonder what “almost no shoes” means for a woman, but let’s move on with their story)
They say that they prefer to cook on the ship, even it’s not very comfortable. Just imagine that the stove is permanently moving, but they avoid going to the restaurants. They say it’s worth making the savings. With an average of 900$ spend per month (harbor taxes, fuel, maintenance and food) traveling in such beautiful places and meeting so many people, is an excellent priority setter. So they set sail to travel the Pacific, wanting to visit Australia, outside the commercial routes.
Here is the end of the happy story of them.
Why is that? On 11th of March 2010 they radio broadcasted for the last time. The transmission is very low quality, being jammed with noise. It is a desperate SOS: they were caught in a storm, the yacht is damaged and they are sinking. You may hear the word “hurt” – but you cannot say it for sure. Their last video posted on their blog said that they were heading for Fiji, without mentioning their current location. There is hope that they shipwrecked close to an island, where they can find the minimum resources for survival. The only problem is that in Fiji there are more than 300 islands, most of them inhabited.
Now, please remember, that this is a case study, based on real facts. These are real, living people with thoughts and feelings very similar to yours. And I believe that you started to like Matt and Jessica or, at least, allowed yourself to be in their shoes for a few seconds. And you loved the idea. And you loved their story. It’s too beautiful, it’s irresistible. So you want to save them now, right?
Immediately after receiving this message, the authorities started a rescue mission involving planes and ships looking for the two of them. Matt and Jessica’s families hired even private rescue missions. Millions of square miles of the ocean was searched from planes and 112 islands were searched, with people looking for them on the ground. After 6 months the authorities called off the rescue missions, considering them gone. Their families are still looking for them.
In every story there is more than a single side of events. That’s why, at this point we start an analysis from 3 different perspectives
- Matt and Jessica’ families – the ones that care about them
- The rescue team – the specialists
- Matt & Jessica – (we will tell you later their role)
With that in mind, please consider answering the following questions:
- What do each of these people feel?
- What are their thoughts?
- What are their actions?
- What is their perspective of the current situation?
Working with people on these case study we found out an amazing fact: while the first answers sound something like “the parents feel that…”, “the rescue team considers …” and they call, run, fly, swim, search… whatever actions you may think of, when it comes to Matt and Jessica there is a real concern in their voices. And when they start to talk about their perspective of current situation there is a change in some cases. People do not talk using the 3rd person like he or she, but they begin their sentences with “I”. People are caught in the story and they start exploring their own feeling and thoughts, instead of Matt and Jessica’s.
This is a key moment. Sometimes people back off, not wanting to stay in that pressure tank. Some other times people come up with a quick fix, placing Matt and Jessica on a remote but marvelous island, a new Eden, where they start as Adam and Eve, not ever wanting to return in our world. No matter how people react they want to find a solution. And they all start to ask themselves: how do I feel in difficult situation? What are my thoughts? What are my actions? What is my perspective? And the most important question: how can I overcome this situation?
And this is the point when, in training, we start to develop resilience.
(checkout his Linkedin Profile)