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The Secret Ingredient for Financial Advisors: Grit

Financial advisors can learn many lessons from the history of Ernest Shackleton.

Allyson Lewis, 09/27/2012

"I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight."

--Navy Seal Ethos/Creed

With the recent anniversary of 9/11, we have all been reminded of the difficulties of the last 11 years. We remember the bravery of our men and women in the military, the loss of life from terrorism on our own soil, the economic turmoil of slowdowns and recessions. We remember the decline of the S&P from a high of 1565 on Oct. 9, 2007, to a low of 666 on March 6, 2009. We remember walking into the office each day wondering what would happen next. And yet, as financial advisors, we were and still are faced with how to help our clients navigate their future by not looking backward, but by deciding what is most prudent to do from this point forward.

As a time strategist, I wonder how many hours of each day are lost to that feeling of being "frozen." When something happens, you find yourself scared, angry, exhausted, or all three. In these difficult times, it is often the lack of knowing what you need to do next that keeps you stuck.

First ask, "Do I have the grit and determination to move beyond the hard times life brings? When I'm faced with obstacles, will I push forward, or will I quit?"

A Man's Life of Grit
When I am invited to go across the country to speak to audiences from companies of all kinds regarding how they can improve their time strategies and dramatically increase their daily productivity, I will often share one of my favorite stories from the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing.

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who wanted to be the first man to walk across the Antarctic by foot. His dream turned into a battle to survive against unimaginable conditions. His remarkable perseverance, dedication, and grit inspired his crew to do whatever it had to do to survive. I have read and listened to this book over and over again--each time learning new lessons of how to develop the beliefs and determination it takes to walk day by day through the most difficult parts of life.

Here are 10 key principles that you may find helpful for mustering grit in your life.

1. Follow Your Passion
Shackleton had a burning desire to explore. He was driven by this passion, and he didn't allow difficulty or setbacks to deter his plans. It took him four years to clarify, create, and fund his dream.

Do you have a burning desire that drives you forward each day?

2. Understand the Odds
Shackleton knew the danger of attempting to sail to the Antarctic, and further he understood the challenges, but he wanted his crew to understand the odds as well. It is said that he ran the following advertisement to enlist his crew:


- Sir Ernest Shackleton

It was said that thousands of men responded to that ad. Why? Because, like you, they wanted to be a part of something exceptional. They wanted to believe that the work they were doing mattered. They wanted to believe they were making a difference in the world.

3. Decide Early That You Will Persist
Shackleton named his ship Endurance because his family's motto was, "By endurance we conquer." How many of us as financial advisors need this to be our motto?

By having grit, will you choose to place a stake in the ground and develop plans for yourself and your clients? We know that the markets and the economy will change and that emotions can make it very difficult to know what to believe, but you must persist.

4. Expect Adversity
By Jan. 10, 1915, the Endurance could see the continent of Antarctica. All 28 members of the crew must have been captivated with excitement. However, on Jan. 18, ice packed around the ship just 85 miles short of the Antarctic shore. Pack ice was expected, but the crew thought that the ice would at some point let them through to continue their journey.

As you read this, do you feel the press of life's circumstances crushing in on you and your practice like the unending pressure of the pack ice against their ship?

5. Prepare for the Worst
Then the situation became worse. After 10 months of being surrounded by the constant pressure of the pack ice, it pierced the hull of the ship. The crew took off the lifeboats and all of the supplies. They built igloos on the ice and, for weeks, listened as the ice groaned and scraped and crushed the boat before the Endurance slowly sank to the bottom of the ocean. They had prepared for the worst.

The last 11 years have been emotionally difficult for advisors and investors alike. The financial stress can grind and strain until you, too, may need to take action. Grit is that ability to dig deep into yourself for strength and fortitude.

6. Keep the Faith
Living in tiny igloos on an ice floe that was estimated to be six feet thick and up to two miles wide, the crew members of the Endurance now floated wherever the ocean current took them. There were no radios, no ability to communicate for help.

Then a miracle happened. The ocean current pushed them within 30 miles of Elephant Island. On April 16, 1916, they set foot on solid ground for the first time in more than a year.

7. Make Small Improvements
On Elephant Island they had plenty of meat. The island was covered with penguins, but Shackleton knew it wasn't a permanent solution because it was unlikely they would ever be found. After spending only eight days on the island, Shackleton decided to set sail with part of his crew in a 22 1/2-foot lifeboat and attempt to sail 800 miles in the open ocean to the nearest inhabited land, South Georgia Island.

The sides of the lifeboat barely rose five inches out of the water. The crew used salvaged wood to extend the sides of the tiny lifeboat to well over a foot high, and they also created a protective covering over the top of the lifeboat.

Shackleton had the wisdom to build up the sides of the lifeboat by just a few inches. What small improvements are you willing to commit to in order to make your life better? Could you drink one extra glass of water per day? Go to bed one hour earlier? Read a book?

8. Do What Must Be Done
On April 24, 1916, Shackleton and five men set sail in the open ocean with only a compass, 50 feet of rope, and a sextant. It has been called one of the greatest navigational feats in history because 17 days later, he and his crew successfully landed on South Georgia Island.

Are you doing what it takes to do the very best for yourself and your clients?

9. Know Who You Are
On May 20, 1916, Shackleton knocked on the door of the whaling station on South Georgia Island. Shackleton knew he was the kind of person who would stop at nothing to accomplish his objective.

Never lose sight of your goals.

10. Never Stop Trying
Now Shackleton and five of his crew were safe, but there were still 22 men stranded on Elephant Island. For three months he tried to go back to rescue his crew. It was not until his fourth attempt that Shackleton made it through the ice and back to Elephant Island. Uncertain what he would find, he discovered all 22 men still alive. Amazingly, every man had survived.

Never stop trying.

Ernest Shackleton was a man with a burning passion to accomplish something that mattered. He had dreams and goals. He was willing to endure circumstances that would have crushed most men. And against unimaginable hardship, he had the belief and the grit to lead his crew through months of extreme difficulties.

As financial advisors, we can learn many lessons from his story.

* Parts of this article were edited from Allyson Lewis' book, The 7 Minute Solution.



Time strategy expert and best-selling author Allyson Lewis has spent the last 29 years developing and teaching concrete, actionable business ideas all over the country. In her latest book, The 7 Minute Solution, she shares strategies to help you Prioritize, Organize and Simplify® your life for greater meaning and productivity. Take advantage of the worksheets, webinars, and more--subscribe to the FREE Member Tools area of our website http://www.The7MinuteLife.com and follow her on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/AllysonLewis.SevenMinutes and Twitter: @allyson7minutes

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