Solo round-world sailor Pip Hare: ‘To perform under immense pressure, without compromising wellbeing, it’s about knowing why you are doing a job’

James Tomlinson JGT_1948

Pip Hare has been a professional sailor for her entire adult life, achieving her teenage dream of completing the brutal solo round the world race, the Vendée Globe, in 2021; at age 47, she became the 8th woman in history to finish the race, crossing the line in 19th place.

As such, she has a unique insight into one of the most challenging issues currently facing many leaders involved with workplace wellbeing: how do you achieve high performance in difficult circumstances – in her case battling the elements, physical exhaustion and the pressure of expectations – without compromising wellbeing? 

Doing this challenge she was completely on her own, miles from civilisation, which has also given her an extraordinary understanding of loneliness. This is apt, given we are approaching the allegedly  ‘loneliest day of the year’ called ‘blue Monday’, the third Monday of January.

According to Hare, there is a big difference between being alone and feeling lonely. 

“Even when I’m in the middle of the ocean thousands of miles from home, I know they are thinking of me,” she has said, illustrating it’s a sense of human connection that prevents loneliness, as we’ve explored in previous articles (like this one on how ‘Forcing Employees Back to the Office Won’t Magically Fix the Loneliness Crisis’ or this one on ‘How Companies Can Combat Loneliness’).

We caught up with her ahead of her keynote session at The Watercooler Event at London’s Excel on 23 and 24th April. 

What advice do you have about achieving under immense pressure in extreme conditions, without compromising wellbeing?

It’s all about knowing why you’re doing a job. For individual employees, they need to be clear why they go to work every day and what’s important to them. That means companies need to be really sure about what it is they stand for, and their employees need to buy into that. Then it’s much easier for employees to overcome external stresses and anxieties.

You talk alot about the importance of knowing who you are. ‘Authenticity’ has become a buzzword in the business world. What does it mean to you?

Authenticity for me has been about my journey to learn to trust my own decisions and the way I do things. All the way through my career I’ve fought to own my failures as well as my successes.

Tell us more about your attitude to failure and how you think it’s helped you perform.

There have been many times when people have told me something can’t be done, or that I’ve reached my limit. It’s really important as an individual that wants to progress and succeed in life to be able to get things wrong, as well as right, otherwise you’re stopping yourself from experiencing it all. 

Not every experience is going to be positive. Everything is not always going to go exactly right. But I believe I have the right to make mistakes, as well as the right to succeed.

We live in a world increasingly dominated by social media where people – younger generations in particular – see each other’s highlights all the time, so it creates the illusion of things always going right. What are your views on that?

It creates a fear around not always being perfect which is very damaging. It’s damaging for individuals but also culturally, societally and corporately. Some of the most poignant learning moments in life are not the ones where everything went absolutely amazingly.

It’s much harder for young people now because they have no down time. There’s no escape to go and be yourself and find out about yourself because you’re constantly being bombarded by other people’s opinions and ideas, which influences how you think you should be looking, feeling and doing.

What can employers do to genuinely create an environment where mistakes are OK?

For us, it’s about honestly sharing our experiences within our team. Any team member feels supported enough to put their hand up and say ‘I made this mistake’. 

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That’s not saying that there is no consequence to mistakes. We debrief everything. We talk about how we stop this mistake happening again. That’s good practice. And, probably, many companies will have that written down in a policy but, actually, you have to mean it and do it meaningfully, or it turns into a form-filling exercise.

Businesses should be giving their people opportunities to make mistakes to become who they want to become. It’s their duty.

You’re a woman who has got to the top of a predominantly man’s world. What advice do you have for women in business wanting to reach the top, which is often also dominated by men?

I have one of the very few female Operations Directors of a British international sports team. People are constantly telling her that she has a young family and shouldn’t be doing the job. 

We are still so far off the mark in terms of equality. Why shouldn’t women want to be better? Why shouldn’t we aim higher? Why shouldn’t we aim to be as good as the best man, or person? 

There is nothing to say that, just because we are women, we cannot do these jobs. The only thing stopping us is society has decided at what level we should be operating.

What would be your advice to someone who wants to reach their full potential in this modern, tech-driven world?

It’s hard but really engage with who it is you want to be and how you want to feel about yourself because that will propel you forwards. 

So, for me, I read about the Vendée Globe race when I was 17 and wanted to do that, but that seemed impossible at that age. So I focused on asking myself: why do I want to do that? Who do I want to be? 

I wanted to be a good navigator and a good sailor and to push myself to my limits. 

I’ll be 50 in February and if you’d have told my 17 year old self that I would be doing all this at this age, I’d have laughed in your face!

Companies are increasingly acknowledging they have a wider responsibility beyond just to their own employees, but also their families and communities. To what extent do you think companies have this societal responsibility?

The word ‘community’ has increased enormously in our vocabulary over the last decade, and we’re building communities everywhere. As soon as you build a community, there has to be a collective responsibility for that community. And when you think how much time the average person spends in the workplace then, absolutely yes, companies do have a societal responsibility to maintain a positive healthy community. 

Pip Hare will be joining us as a speaker at The Watercooler Event, which is taking place on 23rd & 24th April 2024 at ExCel in London. The Watercooler is where belonging, workplace culture and employee health & wellbeing meet. If you’d like to hear more from Pip, register your place at this groundbreaking in-person exhibition with free-to-attend content here.

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