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Diving into Business

By Christina Gill

Some people might refer to me as career-focused and driven — and I would have to agree. After all, I’ve dedicated the last 13 years to career growth, taking roles with expanding scope and leadership responsibilities, joining Institute for Supply Management® (ISM®) and supporting supply chain development and mentorship programs. 

This past year, though, I took a calculated risk to spend time focusing on personal growth. Desiring a one-year sabbatical, I resigned from my job as a senior supply chain manager for a large oil and gas service company. One of my goals during this time: become a professional scuba diver by completing Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) divemaster training, a month-long rigorous internship.

Initially, I thought this accreditation would help me only to become a better diver. But I soon realized that with such life experiences, parallels can be applied to the world of business. They also can result in career-development discoveries.

Here are the top 10 things I learned:

1) Become a role model. Being a mentee is different than being a mentor. It was drilled into me that I was no longer a recreational diver (the mentee); instead, I was training to be a professional, or mentor. I needed to demonstrate professional, role-model behavior because customers and inexperienced divers would be watching how I set up equipment, entered the water and behaved underwater — and would mimic my actions.

In the workforce, whether you’re in supply management or other role, it’s just as important to exude role-model behavior. Your team and customers are watching you. Always strive to set the best standards and be a good example for mentees — even if no one is watching.

2) You can’t do it solo. “Don’t go alone” is an important rule for safety and enjoyment in any dive activity. Before entering the water, a buddy check ensures your equipment has been properly prepared. In the water, you and your buddy rely on each other for support, staying close to each other to help if something goes wrong. 

Likewise, you can’t succeed in business on your own. In my previous job, we did buddy checks — called peer reviews — on important functions and deliverables. It’s always good to check each other’s work before it goes to a customer or stakeholder. Just as it’s easier to make adjustments before entering the water, it’s better to fix mistakes before deliverables go to the end user. 

3) Put safety first. Many people believe diving is a dangerous sport, with lots of risk. However, diving within limits mitigates those risks and makes diving a safe sport.

In the oil and gas industry, where I worked for more than six years, safety is always first. This mantra should apply to any work environment, whether you’re working on an oil platform or in an office.

4) Communicate clearly. Because it’s impossible to communicate verbally underwater, divers use hand signals. It’s amazing how much you can relay using clear hand signals, including: How much air do you have? Are you OK? Let’s go up. Let’s go down. I have a problem. Check out that cool fish.

Communication is also vital in business, whether you’re relaying a task, sharing information or communicating strategy. To be successful at any stage of your career, it’s imperative to communicate clearly and ensure you’re properly understood.

5) Have fun with your team. During my internship, I spent most days diving, working at the dive resort, training, studying and attending lectures. But I also did things outside the course content — helping create an artificial reef, reading books to local schoolchildren and taking part in a beach- and ocean-cleanup day. These opportunities allowed me to give back to the local community and form stronger relationships with instructors and dive crew.

In business, we spend most of our waking hours with our colleagues, and we work together to achieve a common goal. As a leader or team member, consider creating opportunities and events outside of normal work functions. These opportunities will keep your team members refreshed and motivated, as well as bring them closer — and a close-knit team is more likely to achieve company goals. Also, you’ll probably have fun.

6) Be open to learn from everyone. Millennials — a hot topic in the workforce these days — have been saddled with positive as well as negative stereotypes. I’m in the upper echelon of this generation, perhaps closer to Generation X. Most of my PADI internship was led by someone 11 years my junior, a millennial who had been diving for much longer than I and had the skills and knowledge required to instruct.

In business, it’s important to learn and share knowledge from the bottom up as well as the traditional top-down approach. Everyone has something to offer. Don’t be quick to judge. Don’t seek to learn only from those more senior than yourself. You can learn from anyone, no matter their age or position.

7) Learn from your mistakes. During my internship, I experienced many new and difficult scenarios — above and below the water. I did my best and always welcomed feedback. Learning from your mistakes and making improvements enable you to perform better. 

You’ll never have the same dive twice, just as each day in the office or contract negotiation will be different. Nevertheless, each experience will have its own takeaways — things that could have been done better and should be remembered going forward. Making a mistake is OK; refusing to learn from that mistake is not.  

8) Step out of your comfort zone. One of my most daunting internship tasks was leading a night dive. This entails diving into a black abyss, with only a flashlight to guide your way, while keeping an eye on the other divers. This challenged me, but I handled it — and a night dive is now one of my favorite dives. 

Try something new, even when it makes you uncomfortable. Doing so can help you develop skills — and uncover hidden talents.

9) Be respectful. When diving, you are a stranger in another’s habitat. The underwater world is amazing, but you have to be respectful of the environment and aquatic life.  

In business, you might find yourself in an unknown environment, dealing with different organizations, customers or cultures. Most challenges can be bridged by being respectful of others and working together to achieve a common goal.

10) Take calculated risks. It’s unlikely that you will be rewarded for playing it safe. Instead, big rewards are typically offered to those who take risks. Those risks, however, can be mitigated by weighing all options and making calculated decisions.

Spending a month becoming a more refined, safer and professional diver has been an invaluable experience — and a calculated risk — that has impacted all aspects of my life.

Similarly, each of your experiences can drive growth, build character and create learning opportunities — in your personal life, as well as your career. It’s up to you to find opportunities, take risks and discover your own parallels.

Christina Gill, a 2015 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Star and most recently a senior supply chain manager with Halliburton in Singapore, has a month left on her sabbatical.

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