My personal journey

My personal journey

Impact’s Joanna O’Reilly shares an honest account of the experiences that have helped her to develop courage and mental toughness.

Since working for Impact, I have never been short of being challenged, both physically and mentally, along my own personal development journey.

I can recall numerous occasions at both Impact UK and Impact Australia, where I have been thrown, quite literally, out of my comfort zone. I have been involved in experiences that I never thought I had the potential to get involved in, let alone achieve! If you would have asked me five years ago, I would have said ‘there is no way I can do that’ to a huge number of things.  However I made the decision to embrace the challenges and uncertainty and be more of a “yes woman”!

I have many examples of this. The first being when I went ghyll scrambling on a sales offsite in the Lake District. This involved climbing over rocks and swimming and jumping into freezing cold water in the middle of January. My hands were purple and excruciatingly painful, yet I felt a sense of overwhelming achievement when I got out of the ghyll. It might not sound like a challenge to some of you more adventurous outdoors types but I would most definitely describe myself as a girlie girl who typically doesn’t like to get her hands dirty!

Then last November, I attended an Impact Australia Whole Hearted Leaders program in the Blue Mountains. Its focus was on understanding and enhancing wholeheartedness, whilst exploring and appreciating areas such as vulnerability, courage and self-compassion. Part of the journey consisted of abseiling down a 30m waterfall called Empress Falls. This was by no means an easy descent, with the strong and constant pressure of the water pushing down on us. There were times that I felt I couldn’t grip on to the rope properly which made me feel slightly apprehensive.  Even the more expert climbers amongst the group were pushed to their limits. I certainly felt extremely vulnerable at times, freezing cold and challenged to my max. At one point I couldn’t physically move to get myself down the waterfall, but somehow I managed to do it and I reached the bottom. I had found some resilience and courage from somewhere. I was extremely grateful to my team who really helped to get me through it and for giving me cups of tea to warm me up!

More recently, the Impact Australia team took part in Tough Mudder. I was very nervous beforehand especially when my manager and colleague kept talking about people getting injured, losing teeth and even breaking bones! However, we managed to complete the full 16km course in one piece. For those of you unfamiliar with Tough Mudder, I would describe it as army style obstacles and lots of mud and water. The most challenging obstacles were the Electric Shock Therapy which involved running through wires with 10,000 volts of electricity and Arctic Enema which consisted of plunging head-first through a tight, dark tube into freezing cold ice-laden deep water before having to duck under a barrier to get out. Yes Tough Mudder was challenging but would I do it again… oh yeah! I am even considering signing up for a half marathon next year.

What these experiences have really shown me is the massive amount of courage that it took me personally along with the resilience to be able to push through. Without a doubt there were times when I felt extremely vulnerable and I would go as far to say, terrified. However, with all these experiences, the camaraderie of my colleagues who believed in me - which in turn helped me to believe in myself - was one of the things that stood out for me the most.

I am very lucky to work with some truly inspirational people who pay attention to what is going on around them. They have a great amount of compassion, always considering the other team members, not just themselves and their own performance when trying to complete the activity or the experience at hand. These amazingly strong and resilient people have so much drive and passion to achieve wonderful things in life, which really inspires me to keep going and stay strong despite whatever life decides to throw at me.

In life there will be challenging times ahead, it isn’t meant to be easy. Yes, it is about being courageous and resilient, but for me it’s more about your support mechanisms - the people in your life, your family, friends and colleagues that will be there to drive, motivate and inspire you to be at your best. Don’t forget to lean on them, to ask them for advice and feedback. It’s then that we can start to grow and become the best versions of ourselves.

More on resilience here.