5 lessons we can learn from Pip Hare to help conquer a new year

by Melissa Cafiero

Editor's note: This post was published during world-class sailor Pip Hare's 2020-2021 Vendée Globe competition. The solo, non-stop round-the-world yacht race set sail Sunday, Nov. 8, and Pip achieved her dream in February 2021 when she crossed the finish line.

As I reflect on the last year, I often think about Pip Hare, the British sailor Smartsheet sponsored for the 2020-2021 Vendée Globe. Any time I fret about lockdowns, inconveniences, or a sticky work challenge, I’m reminded of Pip — alone on a boat, miles from civilization, and meeting any obstacle as it arises. Regardless of the situation, she remains unflappable.

Pip Hare leans over the edge of the Medallia sailing boat

And now, I’m looking ahead to this year and setting my goals. In doing so, I’m channeling that #PipHareEnergy. Here are the top five life lessons I’ve learned from Pip that I’m keeping in mind as I tackle this new year:

1. Forget time; concentrate on the jobs that need doing.

While at sea, the passing of time has less relevance for Pip. Instead, she’s focused on how long she sleeps, how long it takes her to change a sail, and when she needs to eat. She says, “I never notice the hours going past in a day; just the jobs being ticked off, the speed of the boat, the rise and fall of the barometer, the change in direction and speed of the wind. It is a world with no frills but full of purpose.”

Much like Pip, we might do better in our remote work situations if we focus less on time and more about what we need to achieve each day, and taking our circumstances into account. Did you sleep well the night before and have the mental clarity for strategic work? Do you have a family member or pet that needs tending to during the day that might impact your availability?

It’s entirely possible you might not do your best work strictly between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or that a work emergency may crop up. When possible — because I know bosses, company cultures, and other factors may affect flexibility — think about what needs to be done and how you can knock it off your to-do list when you can, instead of focusing on time.

2. Focus on your own race.

Pip and her fellow racers are competing in the same Vendée Globe race, but they’re all in different boats. They each have different technologies and capabilities, their varied locations mean they’re each dealing with different weather systems, and each competitor has different experience, methods, unique strengths, and strategies to overcome problems. As Pip notes, “We do not have the same conditions but we all have to make the most of what we have.”

Similarly, each of us deals with different challenges with work — whether it’s remote work struggles, varied levels of experience, and even mental states. We never know what issues someone else is facing, yet we often feel the need to perform better than them. No one wins the comparison game, so try to keep perspective and compete with no one but yourself. Instead, focus on supporting each other and the results you can achieve together, as a team. Even the Vendée Globe competitors jump in to support each other.

3. Don’t think too far ahead.

When Pip entered the Pacific Ocean, she thought ahead a couple milestones, looking forward to reaching Cape Horn. But as she notes, “I need to take one day at a time — the Pacific Ocean has only just begun.”

Between her boat and Cape Horn, she has miles of ocean and weather patterns forming. It’s important for Pip to keep an eye on the milestones, but she knows her focus must be on the moment at hand, taking the journey day-by-day.

Like Pip, it’s okay to periodically check in against larger goals, but don’t fixate on the seemingly unsurmountable or you risk discouraging yourself. Take each day at a time, progressively chipping away at your own pace. Eventually, you’ll get there.

4. It’s always possible to do better.

Pip readily admits she has a competitive streak, so she faces a constant push and pull of striving to go faster while aiming to sail the best race she can. She also knows herself, and knows when to push herself more or when she’s reached a limit and needs to let off and allow herself time to relax or complete smaller tasks. But remembering that it’s always possible to do better keeps Pip motivated to continue onward.

Likewise, each of us has an opportunity to be better today than we were yesterday, even if it’s just a little bit. If you’re a competitive person, you could even set challenges for yourself — to do the same task a little bit faster next time, to improve an entire process so it runs more effectively, or to set a stretch goal.

5. You can plan for everything, and still be surprised by anything.

Before setting sail in the Vendée Globe, Pip prepped for anticipated weather patterns by learning a bit of meteorology. She even encountered a low pressure system that looked exactly like one of the scenarios she laid out with ocean navigator Wouter Verbraak. And while she can prepare for as many “maybes” and “what ifs” as possible, she is always reminded that the race is full of unknowns.

Similar to the unknowns in setting sail around the world, life is full of uncertainties and surprises. No matter how much you plan for the worst, you can still get thrown a curveball. The important thing is to remain flexible and remember that you can do hard things. As Pip advises, “We will get things wrong but we can cope with those moments and those challenges.”

Go forth and pursue your goals

As you trudge forward into a year of unknowns, face challenges of your own, or aim to conquer that big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG), I hope Pip’s words of wisdom inspire you as they’ve certainly inspired me. We can harness her unflappable attitude as we face whatever 2021 throws our way!