Grit, Resilience and Yachting

Grit has always been one of my favourite English words: it’s punchy and powerful with a dramatic connotation. Worryingly, I could not find a French translation which truly satisfies me… what does that say about us French? No, no; no French bashing! What I concern myself with today is the topic of strength and resilience in the work place.

Yachts are like no other work places and present unique challenges, given the closeness and lack of privacy, which clearly exacerbates any existing and underlying tensions. What could be blown away overnight for office workers can easily turn highly toxic in the confined environment of a yacht… And next thing you know, you find yourself quitting your job impulsively, on a whim. I call it the ‘bridge-burning quit.’ Yacht crew agents witness it all and hear it all – the anger, the deception, the inability to manage emotions… Often, it happens even before the season has truly started. Things are just getting going; the Sous Chef is throwing a wobbler and is quitting on the spot, leaving the Head Chef to worry about filling his place and cooking for the crew. Or worse, he’s leaving in the middle of a guest trip. We’ve all experienced it at one level or the other; mostly with junior crew, but not always.

Acceptable if the employer has a history of dangerous or unethical behaviour, ghosting is, most of the time, a very-ill chosen strategy and often crew come to regret it.The message inferred is that you’re a bad decision maker – unable to keep calm and to evaluate a situation rationally. It is also often a selfish, self-centered act which does not take the interest of the group – in this case, the crew – into account. “Apres moi le deluge” carries that sweet taste of instant gratification but will invariably leave a bitter taste with your fellow crew members and Captain. It’s also not the best as far as reputation building is concerned, but that point is just confirming the obvious.

Reacting impulsively or responding resiliently…a vast question! Angela Duckworth is a Psychologist who studied this quality and wrote a book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.’ She says, “empirical evidence confirms common intuition: a disposition to endure to the end rather than quit early is the hallmark of high achievers. Moreover, grit goes hand in hand with both life satisfaction and emotions like joy and pride. So it seems that in general, not quitting is a pretty good way to live life.”

If grit is so important in yachting, where excellence and attention to details are so highly sought-after traits, how does one recognise it at the interview stage? How can one detect this mix of competence, persistence and grace? Basically, how do you know you’re not hiring a quitter? It is, after all, easier to teach someone new skills than to change their character traits.

The bottom line: grit is very difficult to identify when reading a CV and is even more so with junior crew who have little relevant yachting experience.

Yet, clues can be found here and there, in the hobby section of the CV perhaps. Is this individual a high achiever in sport or another hobby? Has s/he taken responsibilities at a young age or shown some other goal-oriented pursuit? Any sign of patience, courage and endurance? The candidate will probably enjoy talking about a subject s/he enjoys and will open up and reveal his or her personality.

If nothing jumps out, the direct approach works too with junior crew: “you have little experience on yachts. How do I know you are not going to leave the yacht in the middle of the season?” and “what would you do if you realise in the middle of an important guest trip that yachting is not for you?”, “what do you think the goal of the crew is on a yacht?”, “tell me about a successful team work experience you’ve had”, “have you ever worked with a difficult person/crew member and how did you deal with the situation?”, and “how do you manage your stress?”

More than a generation indicator, grit is a process of gradual discovery of one’s ability to forge coping mechanisms to navigate through a crisis. So perhaps, grit does also come with experience…

This article was originally published in the summer edition of On Board Magazine. Read the magazine here.