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One More Time, Lessons from the Chilean Miners

What Do You Need to Escape From?


It’s been weeks since the last Chilean miner was rescued. Numerous articles and programs covered the 69-day ordeal, but before this remarkable journey fades into the past, it might be worthwhile to take one more look at the lessons we can learn from this rescue mission.

The facts: buried 2300 feet underground, 90 degrees Fahrenheit, 80 percent humidity, 69 days, 17 days before anyone knew they were alive. Seventeen days on two days worth of food, at the rate of two spoonfuls every two days.

John Luca

Makes one think of the story of Jesus feeding the masses with a few loaves and fishes. Goes to show you what you can do with cooperation, faith, discipline, and a shared vision of the common good. No violence, no madness, no cannibalism, no mutiny, just an inspiring testament to what we can do when we are at our best.

Some lessons for us to consider:

1. Do not let what seems impossible stop you. A mining rescue of this magnitude had never been attempted before.

2. Get help. They asked for help and got it. They went to NASA, for example, for help with building the rescue pod Phoenix.

3. Take action. Don’t let what you don’t know stop you. There were three boring operations going on simultaneously since no one knew which if any would be successful. The drilling teams came from America, Canada, and Chile. Get real. Get the best. Try different methods. A team from a small outfit in Pennsylvania got there first.

4. Keep your eye on the big prize. They left politics, ego, and national silliness out of it. It wasn’t about the mining company. It wasn’t about Chile. It wasn’t about the president of Chile. It was about saving the miners.

5. Collaborate and empower. It was acknowledged that expertise was distributed, so they distributed power to get the job done. Mining experts. Psychologists. Medical specialists. NASA. And most importantly, the miners themselves.

6. Humor is a lifesaver. Who will ever forget that first miner coming out of a hole in the ground after 69 days and handing out “souvenir” rocks?

7. Faith helps. Faith in yourself, in your team, in the people working to rescue you, and in your God. The miners were helped by their spiritual leaders, the shrines they set up, and the 34th Miner, the higher power that many of the miners said kept them going.

8. We can be our best under extreme conditions. Though fear can be overpowering, and can cause nightmares, as it did in a least one trapped miner, help, support, and courage can win the day.

9. You need a purpose. Each miner had a role to fulfill. He had a purpose, a function, and he had meaning. There was the tour guide, Dr. House, the chief, the writer, the spiritual guide and his assistant, the delivery man who handled incoming and outgoing packages, the gas man who monitored gas levels in the mine, and so on.

10. Routine is good. They set up lights with timers and areas of light and dark so they could stick with a “normal” routine. Each miner worked an eight-hour shift, with three shifts per day.

11. Focus on the present moment. The miners kept focused on the tasks at hand, never forgetting the bigger picture, so as not to be overwhelmed by what might or might not happen in the future.

12. Keep a hopeful vision.The miners all worked to keep alive their vision of their lives after they were rescued and returned to their families. They shaved. They bathed. They did their jobs. They wrote. They took videos. Esteban decided to renew his wedding vows. Claudio decided to get married. Ariel watched the birth of his child via video.

13. Leadership is crucial. Leadership saved the day. Without leadership, the miners might never have survived the first 17 days with so little food.

14. Emotions are important. The miners talked. They shared. They laughed. They played. They told stories.

15. Take control of your life. The miners were not passive receivers waiting to be saved. They each played their parts. They saved themselves by working together to live through the first 17 days on so little food. And they each worked every day after that, each contributing. Mario had a crucifix and statuettes sent down.

Edison led Elvis sing-alongs. The doctor made regular rounds.

16. Keep it meaningful and learn. One miner said, “I buried 40 years of my life down there.” He said he saw God and the Devil, but never doubted that God would win. Now it was time for him to make some changes in his life.

You’re not trapped underground, but you may be trapped, nonetheless. What do you need to escape from? What might your amazing rescue mission look like? Learn from these miners and consider doing the impossible. They did.

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