Rites of passage – Leader in the making (Including photos)

What is a right of passage? It is something that one goes through, that changes you in some way. There are many variations, some are extreme, some are more subtle. Some are public and some are deeply private. In this blog I go into detail about my first project management gig. I knew I was checmicaly altered by the experience but hadn’t recogniused it as a right of passage until just recently. I encourage you to analyse your past year to see if you have been through any life changing moments. If you have, honor them. If you are still waiting, what can you do to recognise your abilities to get you there? 

Leading a project for the first time could be intimidating, that is if you are aware that you are the ‘leader. For this particular project I wasn’t aware of my role until we were deeply invested. I had an idea that I was an integral part but really didn’t know anything about project management or what it meant to be a leader. I was just completing objectives as and when they came up.

As the project started to take shape tasks and responsibilities started to build up and it was becoming clear that I needed help. I had a small team of people helping me through the process. One of the other project coordinators said something incredibly powerful to me right at the beginning of the experience. She said that in this kind of situation you have to ‘Delegate or Die’ I understood what she was saying but there was a huge part of me that didn’t want to let go of the reigns. Almost like I didn’t trust anyone else to do the job as well as I did. From an ego perspective, at the start, I wanted to be able to take credit for the work. From a control freak perspective, I wanted to be ‘in charge’ of the minor details. I learned pretty quickly that this perspective was never going to work out.

The project had many moving parts. It had cogs inside cogs with pulleys and levers all over the place. It is an incredible feat that everything came together. Including the weather co-operating. 

What I find deeply interesting about this process is that not much of what I went through was conscious. I knew what I was achieving on a daily basis but it really just felt like a blur. I think this was due to my ability to bring people together and to delegate well. I never felt decision fatigue and this meant that the myriad of paperwork and people management was all in hand. I was expecting to feel overwhelmed or overworked, or even over the whole thing but it just never came. This was surprising to me.

We do not have the official word from Guinness World Records but we are confident, that a world record has been set. The sense of pride that washes over me when I consider this fact is unreal. How can little old me have co-ordianted such an epic set of events?

I’ll tell you how. The team as pictured above. It was so important to have a great team working on this project. As soon as anyone showed a keen interest in leading their section I was there ready to nominate them as team leaders. It helps when your motivation is matched by the people you are able to bring together. What is unfathomably incredible is that every single team member came into it as a volunteer. No one was getting paid and they willingly gifted us their time and energy to achieve the common goal. This was hugely humbling. 

Without this part of my life in 2022, I would not have anywhere near the confidence to reach my goals. I can’t put a price on what this experience has taught me. I never ever saw myself as a leader until we got to the finish line. I’ll never forget the moment hugging my operations coordinator sobbing onto her shoulder as we realised what we had achieved. The relief was written all over his face as he finally set foot on land for the first time in 37 hours. This image by Maggie Jackson captured the moment perfectly.

I am talking about #TheGrandSwim. One of the most epic adventures I have ever been involved in. During the 37 hours we spent on the water, I had the best and worst times of my life. The highs were unprecedented and the lows were crushing. We would be nothing without our swimmer Oly Rush and founder of Project Planet, who plans to take on even bigger swims in his efforts to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

I was able to spend about 14 hours in the water paddling along side Oly, seeing the pain he went through and feeling so guilty for putting him through such torture. But he kept on swimming.

Lessons learned:

  • Delegate or die
  • Organisation is key
  • Communication is more key
  • Build the team
  • Never make an assumption that things are under control
  • Empower your team with responsibility
  • Don’t get decision fatigue
  • Don’t assume you’re immune to sea sickness
  • Sleep
  • Bring more snacks
  • Don’t let the swimmer create his own meal plan
  • Bring a nutritionist
  • Don’t lose the bag containing the swimmer’s headphones
  • Trust your team members
  • Say thank you
  • Charge more for raffle tickets
  • Prepare for the post-event dip with appropriate exercise and food.
  • Keep in touch with the team
  • Congratulate yourself every step of the way
  • Believe in yourself
  • Honor the emotions

Whenever there comes an opportunity to take on a project, even if you aren’t sure if you can complete it, just take it on. The lessons come thick and fast and you’ll soon understand what is necessary to move forward. By the end of the journey, the tests along the way give you the strength and knowledge to achieve your goals. Even if everything comes crashing down you will learn so much in the process. These lessons are gold dust and should be celebrated at every turn. Armed with information, confidence and self belief there is nothing I can’t achieve.

The only thing I truly understand about life. There are two kinds of people; there are people who do, and there are people who don’t. 

Be someone who does!

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