Three Lessons in Personal Survival (No Matter Where You Are) from Bear Grylls

Even though he is one of the most visible people on the planet, Bear Grylls has the power to surprise you in person.

After a loud and impressive video montage of his achievements – climbing Everest, crossing the arctic in an inflatable boat, or teaching President Obama survival skills in Alaska – the soft-spoken, sincere nature of the man onstage at the 2019 SuccessConnect event in London was all the more apparent.

When Bear Grylls speaks about his successes and failures, what drives him, and what he believes is everybody’s remarkable potential, you know he means it. Here are three strategies for personal survival that he imparted to the crowd.

HR Untold: Bear Grylls’ Surprising Take on the Nature of Strength

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HR Untold: Bear Grylls' Surprising Take on the Nature of Strength

Grit Matters, Not the Outcome

In the world of human resources (HR), we often talk about qualities like grit and a growth mindset because of the results they give us. What Bear Grylls reminded the audience was the ways in which qualities like grit can make us stronger – no matter what happens.

When Grylls spoke about his second attempt to join the British Special Forces (he failed the first time), he described a grueling, nonstop hike in a remote corner of Britain in which he and a few colleagues were marched up and down mountains carrying heavy packs through cold and rain, in light and in darkness.

At the end, there was a promised convoy to take them home and an offer of acceptance if they could tough it out. When the convoy drove off unexpectedly, just steps from him and his fellow recruits at the end of the trail, all but Grylls and one other gave up on the spot. Something inside him, said Grylls, chose to march over one more hill, not quite because he believed the promise of the officer that it would be the final hill, but because he had resolved for himself that he would not give up this time.

In the end, Grylls and his fellow recruit only had to take a few more steps before they were offered membership. It was the willingness to keep going, the grit, that counted, not the test of yet another hill.

Strength Can Come from Unexpected Places

As a public figure, Grylls is defined by physical strength and endurance. On his many shows, viewers have seen him, scorched, starved, fatigued, and nearly frozen while subjected to just about any extreme physical situation imaginable. But it was not a purely physical challenge that transformed him into a celebrity.

While still in the military, a freak accident during a parachuting exercise left his spine broken in three places. He was told he would never walk again. During his convalescence, Grylls said he could not turn to the one quality which had, until then, given him a feeling of mastery over life: the strength of his body.

Instead, he had to look to his friends, family, and faith to guide him through what he still calls the darkest time in his life. These newfound forms of strength not only expanded his mind and fortified his spirit, they also allowed him to fully recover. Within a year of the accident, Grylls climbed Ama Dablam, a forbidding 22,000-foot Himalayan peak. It was after that achievement that he became a public figure.

Success is Never the Whole Story

We all compare ourselves to the successful people we see in the media and in our own lives. When I asked for advice on how to be more adventurous in my own life, Grylls surprisingly spoke about failure. It is the flipside of the coin for those who are willing to attempt great things; by definition, things with outcomes that are uncertain. If you make this a habit, explained Grylls, you are bound to rack up some negative outcomes: “The thing is, people forget about the failures once you have succeeded.” Behind his success is “a whole ton of disastrous expeditions and failed TV projects and books that never have worked. But those are [part of] the story.”

Hearing about the necessity of failure from the youngest person ever to summit Everest was all the encouragement I needed to look at my to-do list, pick the one task or project that I had been avoiding, and make that my next action.

It is true that Grylls’ challenges are in an area that is radically different from what most of us face every day. But anyone can benefit from his ingredients for success: grit, knowing where true strength lies, and never forgetting that failure is never the final word.


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Kirsten Allegri-Williams is as chief marketing officer for SAP SuccessFactors.