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Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor
Technology Consulting Manager and member of The Four Oarsmen
August 31, 2018

Career Advice After 29 Days in a Rowboat

It’s been a little over seven months since The Four Oarsmen arrived in the English Harbor in Antigua, after rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean—and having spent 29 days together in a 25-foot ocean rowing boat.

Competing against 28 other teams across the world, we took part in the world’s toughest row, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain to the Caribbean. Little did we know when we crossed the finish line in Antigua the evening of Jan. 12, 2018, we had just set a world record by two days, breaking the previous race record holder by a staggering five days.

Fueled by passion (and a little insanity)
Many asked us why we decided to form The Four Oarsmen and take on the challenge. None of us were professional rowers; most of us had never rowed before in our lives. The extensive amount of training and preparation required to condition our bodies and get into peak fitness to even stand a chance at surviving the crossing were going to consume our lives.

Hell, more people have climbed Mount Everest than have rowed across the Atlantic—it’s a physical endeavor the majority of the world would never dream of taking on. We also knew we would have to sacrifice much to ensure we justified the support of our friends, families and sponsors.

But being fueled by a shared passion can help you achieve anything, even in the face of incredible odds. We saw the challenge as the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and funds for two fantastic causes dedicated to mental health and spinal research. This was the underlying reason that brought us together, and ultimately the source of motivation that kept us going right to the bitter end.

Over the course of 18 months leading up to our launch, we trained rigorously—both physically and mentally. We knew the journey across the Atlantic was going to be the hardest physical test we’d ever encountered, and an incredible mental battle.

Manpower, weather and sheer will
On Dec. 14, 2017, we set off from La Gomera, Spain, oblivious of what we were about to encounter over the next 30 days. Regardless of how much time and detailed preparation we’d poured into our training, nothing could have prepared us for the relentlessness of it all: the elements, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, cravings and the physical toll on our bodies.

After an energetic push to pull ahead of the pack, we adopted a normal regime of rowing for two hours, followed by two hours to clean, eat and rest. This routine was followed for the duration of the journey until we reached dry land. Freezing temperatures at night followed by 104-degree heat during the day made for grueling conditions. On top of this, 40-foot waves and cramped sleeping quarters made catching 40 winks difficult at the best of times. It truly is amazing what the body is capable of.

The Four Oarsmen

When we finally landed in Antigua on Jan. 12, 2018, we were expecting to pull into a quiet, calm harbor, but to our surprise, we were greeted by an energetic welcome party filled with family and friends.

After being secluded for such a long time, the celebration made for a very special moment, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The following days were a bit of a blur, as the whir of interviews didn’t allow us to catch up on much-needed sleep.

Reacclimating to normal life was easier said than done.

All of us suffered from swollen ankles as our bodies adjusted to being upright after having been in a seated rowing position for a month. I personally had nerve damage in both hands that lasted for four months.

Nearly eight months later, I’m able to reflect on how we were able to achieve what we did. Not only did we row the Atlantic and break a world record, but we also managed to raise more than $560,000 for our two charities—and we’re still raising funds, to this day.

Connecting my passion and profession
Through all of this, Accenture played a crucial role. Not only did Accenture’s sponsorship fuel our fundraising momentum (other companies started taking us more seriously when Accenture came onboard, no pun intended), but Accenture’s flexibility to grant me the time off to pursue a life ambition played a large part in my personal success.

The professional skills I’d crafted during my eight years in project management and client delivery came in handy when coordinating the team on our weekly Sunday evening calls. These calls were relentless, covering fundraising targets, equipment checks, safety and training checks and more, all while I was in Houston and the rest of my team was in the U.K. The calls were often stressful, but the time we forced ourselves to put aside each week paid off in buckets. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

When I returned home to Houston, everyone asked me, “What is your biggest takeaway from the journey?”

And thus, I share my “advice from the row”:

  • Lesson 1: Be ambitious. It is only through ambition that you can unlock your true potential. Human beings have an inherent fear of failure and a stubborn unwillingness to take themselves outside of their comfort zone. This results in the quelling of ambition and the reining in of goals to ensure they are easily achievable—failure avoided, comfort maintained. But as T.S. Eliot once said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."

    When we committed to the row back in June 2016, it was a genuine swan-dive into the unknown. We each had our motivations and drivers for wanting to take on a challenge, but truthfully, we were utterly clueless about what something of this nature and magnitude entailed. But through a heavy dose of ambition and dogged self-belief, we were able to achieve and far surpass a goal that we previously considered impossible.

    Ambition is vital in achieving your goals, but ambition alone isn’t going to get you there. That is where lesson 2 comes in.

  • Lesson 2: Be meticulous. In order to optimize performance, break your goal down into all of its parts, analyze those components and assess how you can improve every single one. Known as “the aggregation of marginal gains”, this concept was coined by Sir David Brailsford when he served as the Performance Director to the Great Britain cycling team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. In his words, "If you break down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all back together." The Great Britain cycling team went on to top the cycling medal table at both games, amassing 16 Olympic Gold Medals in the process.

    If it was good enough for the Great Britain cycling team, it was certainly good enough for The Four Oarsmen. We approached the row with the same mindset, breaking it down into its components and meticulously analyzing every one, looking for that 1 percent marginal gain. We broke down our diet, boat wrap, antifouling (a type of paint that prevents barnacles and other sea creatures from latching on to the boat, ultimately decreasing unwanted drag) and rowing methodology.

    The next team to reach Antigua after us was only 12 hours behind. We firmly believe that, without these marginal gains and a meticulous attention to detail, it could have been a very different outcome. So look for those 1 percent wins everywhere you can; they will make a difference.

  • Lesson 3: Work hard. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work. Applying hard work is when we have the opportunity to far outrun those who outstrip us in the talent stakes. As the legendary golfer Gary Player famously said, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” meaning more effort in equals better results out.

    For us, that hard work came in three forms. First, through commitment to the hundreds of mind-numbing hours spent on a rowing machine when others were out having fun. Second, through the sacrifice of putting our social lives on hold for the 18 months leading up to the challenge. And third, through grit in grinding out that two-hour rowing shift in the middle of the ocean, when the elements were against you and your pain was at its worst.

To achieve your goal, dedicate every waking minute to the pursuit of your ambition. Leave everything out on the field. Because, if you don’t, you’ll only regret it.

Are you ready to find your passion, and do work that makes a difference? Join the Accenture team.

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