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By Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.

Somali pirates have recently released captives held for months as monsoon weather hampers their kidnapping activities. But the world fears their pirate activities will resume when the rough weather subsides in the fall. In the interim, what can we learn from the successful rescue of Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, a commercial ship bringing much-needed food and supplies to Africa? Capt. Phillips acted heroically when his ship was attacked by Somali pirates five days earlier, surrendering himself as a hostage while protecting the crew from a similar fate. President Obama noted that Captain Phillips’ demonstration of courage was “a model for all Americans.” We all join in admiring his unique combination of integrity, professional training and bravery.  

Back on the USS Bainbridge, with Commander Frank Castellano, Capt. Phillips was quick to give credit to his rescuers, saying, “I’m just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home.” The admirable behavior of many throughout this ordeal made the daring rescue possible: Capt. Phillips himself, Navy Seals, Cmdr. Castellano, officers and crew of the Alabama, as well as other Navy personnel and ships coming to aid in the rescue efforts. We wonder, what gives someone the strength to act as selflessly as Capt. Phillips did? His merchant marine training and position as a leader certainly played a large role, yet his actions also seem to reflect a deep personal commitment to his fellow man.  

How can you begin to incorporate these successful techniques for handling difficult challenges in your life? Use these 6 tips as you draw upon your own resources and support to accomplish goals when you‘re in stressful situations.

1.*Respect your job and take it seriously.*  Capt. Phillips is an alumnus of the Merchant Marine Academy where, undoubtedly, he was trained about what to do in numerous emergency situations. He had a plan to protect his ship and crew and immediately instituted it when the pirates attacked. Train hard for your job and treat it with the significance it deserves. If you are a parent, your work at home is just as important as your career. Pay attention to what is going on in your family and have contingency plans for how to keep members safe.  

2.*Don’t give up, even when all seems hopeless.*  Captain Phillips was in a frightening situation when the pirates attacked. Yet he didn’t surrender his ship and crew, rather he put his own life at stake. Hot, hungry, tired and alone with his captors on the lifeboat for five days, Capt. Phillips didn’t admit defeat. Instead, when he could, he jumped off the boat and attempted to swim to safety. When you‘re faced with tremendous difficulties, hang in there. Draw upon your personal character strengths - like persistence, hope, leadership, integrity, creativity, bravery, spirituality - to carry you through the ordeal.    

3.*Think outside the box* . Capt. Phillips appeared to be going along with the pirates’ commands but he stayed alert and constantly thought about what he could do, first, to save his crew and cargo and then himself. He paid attention to his captors’ behavior and tried to escape, surprising them by jumping into the ocean. When that attempt failed, he remained attentive to rescue efforts so that he could play his part. You too can be creative when you are faced with a seemingly impossible situation. Often you can improvise when a solution doesn’t readily appear. Use your skills to develop resiliency. Your first plan may not work but keep revising until you have plans that you can implement.

4.*Use all your resources.*  The rescue of Capt. Phillips required the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Navy command, their ships and personnel, the Seals, merchant ships, the FBI, even President Obama. While you likely do not have these resources at your fingertips, you do have friends, extended family and community services to help you through challenges. Learn to cooperate with others and use teamwork as you strategize and move toward accomplishing your goals.    

5.*Align yourself with a higher purpose.*  For Capt. Phillips, it was more important to protect his crew and their humanitarian cargo than himself. His altruistic perspective informed and directed his actions. You can build a meaningful life for yourself and your family as you form a strong connection to community, country, the world and a spiritual power.    

6.*Say thank you.*  Capt. Phillips’ first public statement when he reached the USS Bainbridge was to thank his rescuers for giving him back his freedom. He tried to direct the spotlight away from himself and towards them, labeling them the “real heroes.” When you have been helped and nurtured by others, expressing your gratitude makes both you and them feel good. These two little words create a win-win situation for everyone.

We salute you, Captain Phillips, and welcome you home. Now, lets all use the tools we have to get busy creating our own rescue plans, whatever the focus. Even without the media coverage, we will surely be heroes in the eyes of those who care about us.    

© 2009, Her Mentor Center

Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. & Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are co-founders of [Link Removed] a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomer’s family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website.


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