Roz Savage — How Adventure Had An Impact On My Life
This is the twenty first in a whole series of interviews with all sorts of different people to show what effect adventure can have on your life. The aim is to show how even the smallest amount of adventure can impact your life no matter who you are or where you come from.
If you’d like to take part and have a good story with good pictures, please contact me via www.mattprior.co.uk
Next up is Roz Savage MBE! An Oxford-educated lawyer, she spent the first eleven years of her career working as a management consultant, braving nothing more intrepid than the rush hour in London before an environmental epiphany led to her radical personal transformation into a world-class adventurer. Since 2005 Roz has rowed — solo — across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, making her the world’s foremost female ocean rower and holder of four Guiness World Records.
She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5 million oar strokes, and spent over 500 days alone at sea on a 23-foot rowboat.
In 2010 she was named ‘Adventurer of the Year’ by National Geographic. In 2013 she was appointed an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to the environment and fundraising.
She now works as a motivational speaker, coach, and author, and lives in Windsor with her partner Howard. Quite the bio!
Please could you give us a quick run down on your life before adventure played a part:
I wasn’t outdoorsy at school — I wasn’t even very good at P.E. I was lucky enough to get a place at Oxford, where I first took up rowing, and just about managed to scrape a law degree. Then I followed the crowd of Oxbridge graduates into the City of London, working as a management consultant for 11 years.
How and why did you get involved in all of this?
During my dying days as a management consultant (and I use the phrase advisedly!) I had this real sense that I’d been sold a lie about what would bring me happiness. I had a decent income, a sensible job, and a nice house, but eventually I reached a point where I felt they weren’t paying me enough to feel as miserable as I did.
“Eventually I reached a point where I felt they weren’t paying me enough to feel as miserable as I did.”
What really brought it home to me was when I wrote two versions of my own obituary — the one I wanted (involving adventure, living courageously, a sense of purpose and fulfilment) and the one I was heading for if I carried on as I was (very pleasant and secure, but not being particularly happy, nor making the world a better place). I realised I was heading in completely the wrong direction if I wanted to end up feeling proud of the way I’d lived my life.
How has adventure impacted your life?
The impact has been huge. My first adventure was to spend 3 months in Peru. I was 35 when I did that, so I was definitely a latecomer to the life of adventure. Peru was a massively life-enhancing experience. I was there with the specific intention to write a book about my travels, which is a great way to really embrace whatever happens — even when everything is going south, you can console yourself with the thought that it will be great material for the book.
“I realised I was heading in completely the wrong direction if I wanted to end up feeling proud of the way I’d lived my life.”
And then there were the 7 years that I spent rowing across oceans (Atlantic 2005, Pacific — a failed attempt in 2007, then 3 successful stages in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Indian 2011). It was a terrible year for the weather when I rowed the Atlantic, and it was also my first ocean, so that was a real baptism of fire, but now, 10 years on, I can see that it was exactly what I needed; one of my goals in going out onto the ocean was to find out what I was capable of, and the Atlantic tested me to my absolute limits — or what I had thought would be my limits, but when you actually get there you find out that you’re capable of more than you’d ever realised. So I came back from that brutal experience with a much greater confidence in myself and my abilities. It was transformative.
“The Atlantic tested me to my absolute limits — or what I had thought would be my limits, but when you actually get there you find out that you’re capable of more than you’d ever realised.”
“I came back from that brutal experience with a much greater confidence in myself and my abilities. It was transformative.”
What benefits has adventure brought specifically?
Resilience: I’ve learned how to come back from failure, to pick myself up and try again.
Ability to tackle huge challenges: it’s really a mind game, staying focused on the present moment and doing what needs to be done, without getting freaked out by looking at the thousands of miles that lie ahead. It’s a great discipline to learn, to take it one day, or even just one oarstroke at a time.
Ability to reframe: finding a new perspective on a really tough situation that makes it seem more bearable, e.g. going from “I’m so uncomfortable and miserable” to “I’d wanted to get outside my comfort zone, and this is so desperately uncomfortable — I am definitely succeeding!”
Self-reliance: my ocean voyages are unsupported, so I don’t see another person for months at a time, and have to really know how to take care of myself. And after my satellite phone broke on the Atlantic, I had no comms for the last 24 days, and to know that I could cope with that isolation was tremendously empowering.
Stick-to-it-iveness: rowing across an ocean is fairly binary — either you finish it and step ashore, or you don’t. There’s no option to say to yourself, “90% is good enough, I’ll stop here”. It teaches you a lot about seeing things through.
“I’ve learned how to come back from failure, to pick myself up and try again.”
“It teaches you a lot about seeing things through.”
Courage: you can’t develop courage in isolation — it results from taking action, massive action. Finding courage in one area of your life gives you extra confidence to tackle challenges in other areas of your life.
Motivation: I absolutely believe that we are capable of far more than we tend to imagine — it’s just a matter of getting motivated. If you can find something that motivates you so much that it becomes inconceivable not to at least try, you can achieve huge things.
Knowing what you can and can’t control: for a while on the Atlantic I was driving myself crazy, trying to wish the wind or the waves to behave differently. You can fight reality, but reality always wins. Eventually I realised I had to let the ocean get on and do what oceans do, and I had to do what rowers do, i.e. keep sticking my oars in the water.
Realising there’s no such thing as “those adventurous people”: I used to think you had to be a special kind of person to be an adventurer — and that kind of person usually had a beard. To find out that I was perfectly capable of having my own adventure made me wonder what other self-limiting beliefs I might hold about what kind of person I could be.
“Finding courage in one area of your life gives you extra confidence to tackle challenges in other areas of your life.”
Why would you suggest others should get involved?
We rarely regret the things we do, more often the things we don’t do. So if you have even the slightest yearning for adventure, give it a go! And an adventure doesn’t have to be as extreme as rowing across an ocean. Alistair Humphreys’ microadventures can also give a great sense of achievement…. and may well lead on to bigger adventures. But I also prefer to define “adventure” very broadly — it’s really anything that takes you outside your comfort zone and into the exciting realm where the magic happens.
Do you think anyone could do what you do?
Absolutely. If they’ve got a total commitment to making it happen, then everything else — the money, skills, equipment, time, and resources — can be found from somewhere.
“To find out that I was perfectly capable of having my own adventure made me wonder what other self-limiting beliefs I might hold about what kind of person I could be.”
“We rarely regret the things we do, more often the things we don’t do.”
What would you say are the main excuses for not doing this sort of stuff and how would you suggest people overcome them?
“I don’t have the time/money/fitness/courage to do that” but these can all be overcome if you’re totally committed.
“My family doesn’t want me to do it” — well, I won’t say my mother was thrilled at the idea, but eventually she came around and ended up being the staunchest member of my support team. And going through those ocean rowing years together has brought us so much closer. To quote Dr Seuss, “those that mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”
What’s next for you?
For now I’m focusing on my speaking career, which is going really well and gives me plenty of opportunities to travel and meet new people. I’m also starting to develop an online business and the rights to my life story have just been optioned by a film company.
But I also have the feeling that there is another big, juicy project about to show up in my life — not a physical adventure, but something more aligned with helping people and making the world a better place. I don’t know what it will be, but I will know it when I see it!
A great chat with Roz and a lot to take away from this one. Very inspirational. To get in touch with her or follow her exploits online: www.rozsavage.com
“We rarely regret the things we do, more often the things we don’t do.”
Interested in your own adventure?