Ahead of the Autumn half term, Principal Louise North used her chapel address, delivered to pupils and staff earlier in the week, to talk about resilience and the importance trying new things and taking opportunities, when the safer option may be to do nothing at all. Here is her address in full:

By Louise North

“It was the journey to the start that made me more resilient.”

This is a quote from Pip Hare who, last year, became only the 8th woman to sail around the world singlehanded, in the Vendée Globe race. The concept of the Vendee Globe is simple and easy to understand: you have to sail around the world alone, without stopping and without assistance. Simple and easy to understand maybe, but far from simple or easy to achieve.

Pip spoke at a conference that I attended a few weeks’ ago and she described the race, with all its challenges, brilliantly. Challenges that are unfathomable – almost impossible for most of us to grasp. One of the greatest challenges that she faced was having to fix a broken rudder in the middle of the South Pacific ocean – at Point Nemo to be precise where she described herself as being closer to the International space station than to any continental landmass. Having rehearsed every possible scenario before setting out, Pip managed to successfully change the rudder on her boat. It lost her several days and places in the race but meant that she was able to finish in a time of 95d 11h 37m 30s.

Pip spoke of falling in love with sailing after she left school and in particular with the idea of sailing the Vendée Globe having discovered that more men had walked on the moon than women had completed the Vendée Globe. This was all the inspiration she needed although she didn’t have the financial means to make this ambition happen for a long time – in fact it took her approximately 30 years to make her ambition a reality. It was grit and determination, combined with fortitude and self-belief that got her to the start line. Her boat was the oldest boat in the entire competition and yet she still managed not only to complete the race but also to give the leaders a run for their money. In 2024, she will race again, but this time with a boat that she believes may enable her to go as far as to win the race.

The reading today is all about having the determination and grit to keep going, even in challenging times. What all of us have in common with Pip Hare are challenges. Life throws them at us all the time. What is different for all of us is how we approach them. Do we have the grit and determination, the focus and fortitude, the courage and resilience to persevere when things seem at their worst?

What is it that drives us on and what is it that makes us give up and stop trying?

Each one of us will have a different answer to those questions.

In my life and my career, I have been faced with many challenges, some of them worse than others and some on a par with changing a rudder in the middle of an ocean. But in those difficult and at times desperate moments, I haven’t given up. I think there are three reasons why

  1. I am a very determined person (which stems I think from being the third child of four).
  2. Other people believed in me and were depending on me to keep going.
  3. I was confident of my decisions and believed I was doing the right thing.

Those three reasons have always kept me going and still do today. If I had given up at any point, I would not have been true to myself or to those who believe in me. That has been motivation enough. And what would the alternative have been anyway?

One of the reasons that many of us give up on something is that we would rather give up, than try and fail. It’s the mentality of “If I am not in the race, then I can’t lose”. But isn’t it better to have put yourself out there, to have tried, than to stay safe and not even give something a go? I reckon there is more regret about not having tried than there is regret about having taken part.

It’s not about the outcome. It’s not about winning. it’s about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and embracing the challenge.

And let’s not forget that until challenge and adversity jump up and hit us, we often don’t realise exactly how much we are capable of. I hope that you are like me and will not give up when faced with challenge. Be determined, be courageous and persevere especially when the going gets tough., Whatever your challenge may be. whether you are changing a rudder in the middle of the ocean or psyching yourself up for Inter-house cross country. That is when you have to dig deep, stand firm and look your challenge in the eye.

Thank you.


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