4 lessons we can learn from Jim Warny – one of the heroes from the Thai Cave Rescue – This week’s “Coffee with Colm”

I met a hero recently; a real-life hero, an unassuming hero, an unwitting hero, but a hero nonetheless.

An electrician Monday to Friday, a cave diver on the weekends, Belgian national Jim Warny, now living in Co.Clare, was thrust under national and international spotlight last year when he was part of the Tham Luang cave rescue mission in Thailand to help rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped when flood waters rose and pinned them underground in pitch darkness completely incommunicado, 4.5 km from the cave entrance for eighteen days.

It was a superhuman effort by thousands of volunteers, Jim Warny being but one, but it was Jim who led the coach to safety, totally sedated, as were all the children, traversing 4.5km of underground passages, mostly underwater, by pulling him along on a stretcher fitted with oxygen.

Though all 13 were successfully rescued alive, a 37-year-old former Thai Navy Seal perished in the attempt; clearly demonstrating the huge risks involved.

Jim was interviewed on stage at the Pendulum Summit and what struck me was how calm he was; he doesn’t see himself as a hero, just a regular guy, an electrician Monday to Friday, cave-diver at weekends, who, when the call went out looking for experienced cave-divers from around the world, put up his hand and said, “Here I am, send me.”, jumped on a plane and into the history books.

When he was asked about the dangers, he said, there are serious risks involved, mainly because you are on your own most of the time.

He told a newspaper that, like mountaineers, cave divers have to manage risk, be self-sufficient, but accept that in a subterranean environment there is little or no chance of rescue – only, as his late friend Kozlowski told this newspaper, “recovery if you are lucky”. When Kozlowski went missing during an attempted traverse of the Pollonora cave system near Kiltartan in 2011, Warny located his friend’s body at a depth of 52m

He said, “You compartmentalise your thoughts, and you have to go in knowing you can answer every question!”

To find out more and to hear the four lessons I propose, watch the five-minute video, listen to the five-minute podcast, or read on below…

I was intrigued by his advice, “compartmentalise your thoughts”, the ability to focus on the immediate present and the task at hand, to solve one problem at a time, sequentially.

If we were to adopt some of Jim’s philosophies on life, perhaps we could do better in our own lives and careers.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was when he told us there was actually nobody in charge in Thailand, no one-person with total responsibility for the mission, it was simply a collection of professionals who came together to offer their very best to the whole team to make sure those kids got out safely.

I was reminded of Simon Sinek, who taught us all, “It starts with ‘Why?’” Why were they all there? One absolutely overriding mission, to get 12 boys and their coach out safe and alive.

So, everybody played to their own individual strengths, egos were put to one side, the question was what was right for those boys and their coach? How are we going to execute this why? And they did it one step at a time, one slow kilometer at a time.

I felt there are a handful of lessons, besides the thoughts compartmentalization, we could benefit from, using Jim’s story.

Firstly, it starts with ‘Why?’ Whatever it is you or I are about, there must be an overarching purpose, and if we find that, the ‘how’ will be easier.

Secondly, you’re a professional at something, so am I, and if we play to our strengths, rather than competing with each other, we can pull off metaphorically what the pros in Thailand did in actuality, we can make the world a better place.

Next, we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We’ve got to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Jim Warny did that for many years, cave-diving on the weekend, so once the call went up, he was comfortable enough to raise his hand and volunteer. He couldn’t have done that if he hadn’t made himself uncomfortable when he started out twenty years ago. In fact, in an Irish Time interview he commented that it was difficult to focus en route to Thailand, but once he was in the caves, he knew it was within his comfort zone.

The Universe has called you and me to do something, as it did Jim; perhaps we don’t know what just yet, so the only way to find out is to keep stretching, to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to ‘…detect, rather than invent, our missions in life’ as Viktor Frankl the Holocaust survivor told us in his book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.”

And the fourth lesson I think we can learn from Jim and his fellow heroes is perseverance! We need to persevere until when? Until the very end. There was no time-clock on the Thai Cave Rescue, they didn’t knock off at five and watch TV for the night – they stayed at it until it was done. The job was only finished when the last person was extracted safely. So, whatever it is you and I are about, or going through, we need to persevere until when? Persevere until the end – until the job is done.

In summary:

  1. It starts with why -if the dream is big enough you will find the how
  2. Figure out what your calling is
  3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  4. Persevere until the end

We must be open to the possibility that the Universe has a purpose for our lives that we haven’t yet considered.

On Wednesday 9th January 2019, I had the great pleasure of chatting with Jim, one on one, for a few minutes at the Pendulum Summit about what happened, how he got involved and what is next for him.

His life had been transformed through circumstances beyond his control in July 2018 – he now has a story to tell; a mission in life.

He told me he handed in his notice as an electrician the day before we met, on Tuesday 8th January 2019.



Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly.


Watch | Listen | Read | Think.

Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sip of some of my recent “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Mind The Gap (Or what Ruby Wax taught us from the Pendulum Stage) – click here.
  • An Admiral Never Makes Suggestions! (Or how to coach your reports to make better decisions) – click here.
  • How To Be A Dream Doer (Or how to make 2019 work better than 2018) – click here.

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LinkedIn. Perhaps the thing to do right now is simply to hook up professionally on LinkedIn – if that’s of interest, click here.

More… if you’ve enjoyed it and you think someone else would benefit, I’d be delighted if you would pass the link on. If it’s your first time here and would like more of this type of stuff, pop to my homepage and leave me some details and I’ll make sure you get a link like this on a weekly basis.

Most importantly please consider what’s been shared here and apply it into your thinking in this next week and then equally as importantly, come back next week and we’ll share another coffee together and I will ruminate on some other aspect of life and business.

Between now and then grab some good coffee, get some fresh air, get some R&R.

If you spend a lot of time alone, I recommend you go meet some people, conversely if you spend a lot of time with people, I recommend you spend some time alone.

And then when the time is right, and only when the time is right get your head back in the game, get organised for the week ahead, make next week count and I’ll see you here this time next week for another “Coffee with Colm”

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