Human Resources

5 Lessons for Job Seekers from Diana Nyad’s Triumphant Swim

The internet exploded yesterday with news of 64-year old Diana Nyad’s successful fifth attempt to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Florida. Emerging shaky, swollen, bruised and a bit disconcerted, her success was visibly hard-won. But the passion that fueled Nyad’s ambitious feat, accomplished at an age 30+ years senior to most comparable athletes, is only part of the story. Faced with public disappointment, unanticipated misfortune, agonizing capitulation and a life marked with traumas big and small, Nyad’s path to success wasn’t always so assured.

And for job seekers watching this story as it unfolded, persevering through adversity is a theme that is especially apt, bringing extra resonance to Nyad’s celebrated accomplishment. Through this lens, job seekers can learn much from the swimmer’s trek, and below are 5 key takeaways to help fuel your own career journey.

Lesson #1: Chart an ambitious course.

Setting ambitious goals and chasing life-long dreams forces one to dig deep, and it’s in the digging deep that one stirs his inner passion. Importantly, leaping for a goal outside one’s initial grasp helps to shake oneself from the chokehold of negative thoughts. As Nyad shared in a 2011 TED talk:

“I couldn’t forgive myself for all the countless hours I spent in negative thought…The remedy for this malaise was to chase an elevated dream. Something that would require utter conviction and unwavering passion, something that would make me be my best self in every aspect of my life, ever minute and every day. Because my dream was so big that I couldn’t get there without that behavior and conviction.”

Lesson #2: Mindset counts more than miles.

Venomous jelly fish stings almost killed Diana, left permanent scars and forced her to abandon her fourth attempt at achieving her dream. Many, when thwarted from their goal enough times, believe it is time to gracefully accept one’s fate. For job seekers who must face rejection letters, opportunities that dissolve, and other disheartening bumps along the road, it may be tempting to accept defeat as one’s fate. But Nyad vowed to “never, ever give up.” She counters that acceptance of defeat is not an option so long as you maintain unwavering faith in yourself and your abilities. In 2011, two years before she accomplished her dream, she spoke of accepting her most recent defeat:

“But the difference in accepting this particular kind of defeat is that, sometimes, if cancer has won, if there is death and we have no choice, then grace and acceptance are necessary. But that ocean is still there. This hope is still alive. And I don’t want to be the crazy woman who does it for years and years…but I CAN swim from Cuba to Florida, and I WILL swim from Cuba to Florida.”

In her passionate perseverance, the message for job seekers is clear: failure happens to everyone, and sometimes it can feel crippling. But success must be relentlessly pursued, and it is measured not only in miles traveled, but also in the strength and courage demonstrated through the struggle.

Lesson #3: Dive (back) in the right way.

In her first tweet upon reaching the shoreline, the 64-year old grandmother proudly proclaimed “you’re never too old to chase your dreams.” Few people would have suspected that only four short years earlier, when Diana decided to return to swimming at the age of 60, she hadn’t swum a stroke in 30 years. Of course, that didn’t stop her from diving back into the sport. To prepare, she began lengthy daily practice, conducted thorough research of routes and climate changes, and consulted with a team of the world’s leading experts in extreme swimming.

Job seekers likewise shouldn’t count themselves out of the game, either because of advanced age, being ‘out of the market’ for too long, or, in the case of millennials, for youthful inexperience.

But diving back in the right way takes hard work. Follow Diana’s example in three parts.

1) Start by creating your own opportunities to continuously exercise and refine your skills: Can you teach? Can you offer your skills as a freelancer? Can you share your knowledge with peers in your community through a blog, a YouTube channel or networking group?

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2) Next, conduct research into the marketplace, your industry and the skill sets your goal position requires: read industry news and media sites, influencer blogs, and social media accounts for companies you’d like to work for. Look for common questions debated in your industry and do your own research to answer those questions.

3) Lastly, consult the expertise of others–beginning with your professional network–to better understand what you need to learn, refine and alter to get to the position of your dreams.

Lesson #4: Get out of your comfort zone.

Hobbling, bruised, dehydrated and disoriented, Nyad hardly seemed the picture of athletic victory that one typically expects. And that is a crucial lesson for job seekers: success may not always look the way that you expected. Diana has said that “nobody gets ahead in life unless you get out of your comfort zone,” yet sometimes doing so can leave you weathered, battered and bruised, your resolve tested.  Stepping out of your comfort zone to pursue a big dream, to change careers, or to make yourself a more viable candidate may come with real risks and bumps in the road, but those challenges don’t mean you’re on the wrong path.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to weather the storm alone. As Diana made sure to mention in her first public statement after her victory, “it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

Lesson #5: Build your team.

True to her statement, the images of Diana swimming may convey a story of solitary struggle, but her dedicated Xtreme Dream team was with her throughout the journey. Made up of medics, shark experts, kayak guides, her faithful coach, and more, the team filled any gaps in Nyad’s own expertise, and effectively worked together to create a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

The job search can often also feel like a lonely, embattled journey, but it doesn’t have to be. Create your own dream team by reaching out to your professional and personal networks to partner with likeminded peers, expanding your contacts with informational interviews and introductions with potential employers, and cultivating networking opportunities to meet influencers. Reach out to those whose knowledge can help you to fill your own expertise gaps.

And don’t be afraid to ask for moral support or to share your progress along the way. Nyad’s team set up a website where it was possible to follow her along in her journey, with live-tracking features to give fans up to the minutes updates on where Nyad was in reaching her goal. By sharing progress with her support network of fans and sponsors, she kept them actively engaged in her journey and reinforced her own commitment to her goal.

For more great takeaways from Diana Nyad’s journey, check out the Huffington Post’s “10 Characteristics of Diana Nyad’s Metal Toughness We Can All Learn From

What lessons did you take away from her inspiring feat? Tweet me @TheRealCherylM

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