Big Picture

Why great leaders harness life experience to achieve exceptional outcomes

It can be tempting to distil our key life events into that one thought, that one decision, that one moment that made the difference. As we glow in the achievement of a celebrated outcome, we might single out one transformational action. It is rarely as simple as that.

Our great moments are built on the foundation of all our moments, including our difficult ones.

As we navigate life, we are constantly adapting and learning. This experience generates memories that are extremely powerful. They form the embers of our identity, the inextinguishable knowledge of our capability and resilience. They generate sparks of hope when we need it. 

They accumulate. The more embers we generate and stoke, the greater the potential experience we can tap into during the moments we need it. There isn’t a dividing line between our work and non-work embers – they enrich each other.

I link my memories via mantras to enhance their gravity.

Life is amazing – this simple phrase reminds me of 3 fundamental things. Firstly, it bolsters gratitude for those things I treasure most in my life – my family, friends and opportunities. Secondly, it reminds me life is unpredictable. I prepare for that prospect knowing I can adapt and thrive when confronted by challenging circumstances. Thirdly, it reminds me of the incredible things that people I know, and people I have read or heard about, have achieved when faced with extreme adversity. I feel I can tap into their experience and willpower, as well as my own capabilities.

Treasure the perfect things about your life, but also appreciate people achieve exceptional things from imperfect positions every day.

Mind the Gap – Life and work are often about creating and sustaining momentum. I visualise my desired outcome then concentrate on identifying a plausible pathway between where I am and what I want to achieve – even when it is a stretch target. When I need to stoke belief, I relive my past achievements – personal and professional – reflecting on those moments where doubt was at its greatest. I coach myself to make forward gaps look more achievable. When I reminisce, I endeavour to capture the full extent of what was achieved and admire how I was able to persevere in the moments that felt impossible.

Visualise gaps, not gulfs. Finding simplicity amongst complexity narrows perception gaps and enhances belief.

Never Die Wondering – I was leading significant negotiations in China when a friend quipped “Never Die Wondering” regarding our assorted counterparties’ enthusiasm to make optimistic requests and push the boundaries of existing contracts. The phrase became my mental cue to challenge my own constraints and have the courage to ask questions. This mantra became even more valuable as I sought to tackle a devastating spinal cord injury in March 2019 – if every spinal cord injury is unique every recovery can be unique. I endeavoured to be unconstrained.

Fostering the curiosity and courage to ask always broadens the horizon of possibility.

Value Every Step – My spinal cord injury nearly deprived me of the ability to walk. I focussed on intense rehabilitation for 10 months as I fought to regain my sense of identity. My first attempt to resume part-time work exhausted me and fell well short of the satisfaction I sought. I was feeling deflated. I reminded myself that I had successfully navigated challenging work and life periods before. I focussed on the points where I almost lost belief, how those difficult moments passed and better moments arrived. Value every step helps me to appreciate how valuable tackling the current predicament will be as a future memory. I appreciate it will provide another powerful ember of my capability.

Adversity, shortfall, and success all contribute to the fabric of who we are and what we can achieve.

My experiences are accumulated from, and assist me in, both life and work. I constantly build more memories, more embers of “who I am”. This knowledge provides the reserves of resilience helping me to persevere during the difficult moments. My experience fuels the incentive to strive – I treasure the growth facilitated by struggle as well as the joy of success.

We are the summation of these embers of our identity. When we rake them up and admire them, they glow far more powerfully. Tapping into our experience is an integral part of getting the best from ourselves and will provide the dependable spark for our future successes. We may choose to celebrate a few glorious moments that “made the difference”, but every moment has the potential to contribute to our strength.


Written by Mark Berridge.

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Mark Berridge
Mark Berridge’s high-flying transnational corporate career came crashing down in seconds when a devastating road cycling incident turned his world upside down. A severe spinal cord injury triggered a complex physical recovery and caused Mark to renegotiate his identity. He speaks and writes about the influences and attitudes that helped him tackle these impossible moments. His inspiring book, A Fraction Stronger (Major Street Publishing $32.99) is drawn from this lived experience, shaped in a way that helps readers become a fraction stronger too.


Mark Berridge is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.