Keynote Speaker Shares Resiliency Lessons Learned

Jim Davidson compared his challenges in two high-altitude emergencies with his #VPPPA31 audience's day-to-day work challenges.

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Summiting the world's highest mountains and solving the safety and health challenges of refineries and high-hazard industries have more in common than you might think. Or so Jim Davidson, opening keynote speaker Aug. 24 at the 31st Annual National VPPPA Safety & Health Conference taking place at the Gaylord Texan here, said during his speech.

Davidson described two life-threatening emergency situations he faced with teammates -- one on Mount Rainier in June 1992 and the other on Mount Everest on April 25, 2015, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal., triggering avalanches that swept through base camp on the mountainside, killing 19 people and injuring 70, Davidson said. Luckily, his tent located at a camp higher up the mountain was not hit by two avalanches that stopped only a few dozen yards away.

The 1992 crisis was even more dire. Davidson and a climbing partner were descending from the summit of Rainier when Davidson, in the lead, fell through the snow into a hidden crevasse. His partner tried to keep Davidson from falling to the bottom, 80 feet below, but was dragged into the crevasse himself; the partner's fall was harder, with no one holding onto his rope to slow his fall, and the man was mortally wounded by the impact. After trying unsuccessfully to save him with CPR, Davidson faced the almost impossible task of climbing up the vertical ice wall before the sun set; if he could not, the temperature deep in the glacier would have killed him, too, he explained.

"A partner who's resilient is one of the most important things to have with you, when climbing or doing some of the very dangerous jobs that some of you do," he said, speaking of the climbing partner who died as a result of the fall. "Really, what we're trying to do as a leader is to spark resilience, in others and in yourself," he said later in the speech.

Davidson did make it out of the crevasse alive, of course, and he wrote a best-selling book about the ordeal titled The Ledge. He now is a full-time motivational speaker, sharing lessons learned about resilience from many years of mountain climbing. Among them:

Overcome adversity by:

  • accepting change quickly
  • adapting quickly to challenges
  • persevering through adversity
  • re-engaging after setbacks
  • During a crisis, he advised the audience to determine top priorities, take helpful actions, and remember that confidence is infectious.

    After a crisis, a leader should uphold core values, lead into the next phase of recovery -- something Davidson and other survivors of the Everest avalanches did to help Nepalese guides and others rebuild their damaged homes -- remember that optimism is contagious and, later, uncover lessons learned and meaning. He introduced the concept of post-traumatic growth, saying leaders should strive for it.

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