Inspiring YOUR Greatness with Debra Searle

Exclusive Interview with: Debra Searle

Debra Searle is an honest, open, warm and funny businesswoman, TV presenter and proud owner of a mental strength and determination that inspires and motivates all who meet her. Debra′s overwhelming positivity and ′go for it′ attitude are contagious, while her modesty is endearing. She regularly delivers both motivational presentations and after dinner speeches using her story to powerfully but subtly draw out key business and personal lessons.

I list out what my attitudes for the day will be, whether it be optimism, success, fearlessness, etc. It never fails to motivate me to tackle the coming challenge.

SPEAKING.COM: How can people maintain the right attitude in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges?

SEARLE: When I rowed the Atlantic Ocean solo, one of my worst days was when I had inadvertently rowed into a shipping lane, and a gargantuan container ship was heading straight for me! It was so enormous they wouldn’t have even noticed the crunch of my little boat under the hull, and I had no hope of racing out of its way. I was frozen with fear. Fortunately, it passed me by, barely missing me.

Exhausted by emotional turmoil, I rang Hayley, my twin sister, using my satellite phone. After calming me down, she said, “You know, Debs, you’ve just got to choose your attitude.” It was easy for her to say, safe in her office in England! However, she did get me thinking. I couldn’t control giant shipping containers or whether gale force storms hit me or sharks attacked me – but I could control my attitude.

My life has completely changed from that point, and now, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I shake myself and say, “Come on, Debra – Choose Your Attitude!” Then I list out what my attitudes for the day will be, whether it be optimism, success, fearlessness, etc. It never fails to motivate me to tackle the coming challenge. I recommend that everyone try it.

If a challenge in my work life or home life seems insurmountable, I always think, “Debra, you rowed an ocean – you can do this!”

SPEAKING.COM: What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life and how have you used them to help achieve your goals?

SEARLE: The obvious answer here is my solo row of the Atlantic. It was supposed to be a two-man boat race. I had trained with my husband, and we were optimistic that we could win the race. However, just a few days in and despite being a talented and experienced oarsman, he developed a crippling phobia of the ocean and became very ill.

The day he got rescued from the boat and I decided to go on alone was the start of an enormous and very challenging adventure. Although I was technically disqualified from the race because I had taken so long, I did make it to the finish line in Barbados after 111 days at sea. Now, if a challenge in my work life or home life seems insurmountable, I always think, “Debra, you rowed an ocean – you can do this!” This mental trick has spurred me on.

Nowadays I’d say one of my biggest challenges is to be the best parent I can to my two daughters, who are four and six. Time and time again, I have faced opposition in business because I happen to be a woman, and I often get asked, “How do you manage to fit in all of this traveling, and who looks after the children?” I’ve never heard a man asked that!

I’m determined to make the world more fair so that my girls don’t grow up feeling limited by their gender. That’s part of the reason why I started MIX Diversity Developers Ltd, a boutique diversity consultancy and training company. We specialize in unique and innovative corporate programs that challenge our unconscious biases. For example, this year we took a team of 13 ‘ordinary’ businesswomen on an expedition to the Arctic to challenge stereotypes and provoke conversation about our perceptions of gender roles. It was awesome!

SPEAKING.COM: In your books, Rowing it Alone and The Journey: How to Achieve Against the Odds, you describe your experiences of rowing race across the Atlantic. During the race, what skills did you rely on the most?

SEARLE: Of course, my physical ability & strength were crucial. I had spent four years of my life preparing for the race (including building the boat!). As I have briefly touched on, the skills that I relied on the most were mental: resilience and determination.

Although I did have a sat phone, it was only me out there. If something went wrong (like the day that my solar panels broke, meaning that my water-purifier couldn’t operate), I had to be up for the challenge of fixing the problem. “Resilience” is a bit of a buzzword now – everyone in the business world is talking about it – but I really wouldn’t have got to that finish line without it.

That’s why to be mentally and practically effective it is crucial to focus on controlling the controllables.

SPEAKING.COM: Would you please share some mind tricks for success?

SEARLE: My “mind-tricks for success” are the techniques that I developed on the Atlantic to keep myself motivated. I’ve already mentioned one of them: Choosing My Attitude! A similar mind-trick is “Control the Controllables.” Some changes we have a choice about; some things we don’t. Too often we get bogged down with things that are outside our control, and this not only leads to poor performance, but can also lead to unnecessary stress or frustration. In situations like this, it often occurs that the environment controls the individual, rather than the individual impacting the environment.

If we expend our mental energy on things we cannot do much about, we reduce our effectiveness because our focus becomes fixed on things that, in the long run, only make us feel bad. That’s why to be mentally and practically effective it is crucial to focus on controlling the controllables. Whenever you face a pressurized situation, ask yourself, “What are the things that I can control that will help me achieve my task?

SPEAKING.COM: What are some ways people can use visualization to succeed?

SEARLE: Visualization is crucial for sportspeople, and I think it can be applied to every area of life. While rowing the Atlantic, I developed a trick called “Run the Movie.” As I rowed along, I would visualize the moment that I crossed the finish line. I’d fill in all of the details – who would be there, what I would say to my mum, what my brothers would be wearing.

Making that moment real was the only thing that kept me going because I wanted that more than anything else in my life. Now, I always ‘Run the Movie’ before a big pitch for my company, or anything else that is particularly daunting.

SPEAKING.COM: How can teamwork be improved through the use of “free words?”

SEARLE: “Free Words” are one of my favorite tools. Think of it this way. We have an endless supply of words, which we can use to discourage and disturb or to encourage and build up. Without the encouragement of my support team, I couldn’t have kept my oars in motion on the Atlantic. They set up a link through my satellite phone company so that anyone with a PC could text me.

One man in particular, who I didn’t know, changed my journey entirely. He was on dialysis and was limited in the amount he could drink each day; he was constantly thirsty. At the time, I was in a very dark place and was struggling to even drink the amount of water I needed to sustain myself each day, let alone row. The words of this complete stranger changed my attitude towards my own hydration, and perhaps without him, I wouldn’t have made it across the Atlantic.

By choosing to use my free words to uplift others a little more than I used to, I have noticed a dramatic difference in the results I have achieved, both with clients and colleagues.

Taking time out gives me clarity on so many things, including my work/life balance.

SPEAKING.COM: You started your own company at age 24. How did you make this happen? Were there certain skills/techniques you relied upon to achieve success?

SEARLE: I had a very entrepreneurial father who showed me how much can be achieved if I set my mind to it. My first business was actually a huge failure, and I made SO many mistakes. Although at the time it was really tough, I’ve learned from each of those mistakes, and the two businesses I’ve founded since have definitely benefited from those lessons.

My business partner and I take 2 days out quarterly in order to reflect on what we’ve achieved so far, what we’ve been less successful in, and how we can evolve our business for the next set of challenges heading our way. Even though it can be hard to find time for this, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any entrepreneur or business owner. Taking time out gives me clarity on so many things, including my work/life balance.

SPEAKING.COM: In addition to being an adventurer, author and speaker, you’re also a mother of two. What would you say to your children if they wanted to follow in your footsteps as an adventurer?

SEARLE: I am very lucky that my husband shares the same values as me, and we try to incorporate mini-adventures and the great outdoors into the lives of our two daughters as much as possible. Sometimes it’s as simple as packing a picnic for dinner and eating it on the beach, which is just a few miles from our home. At other times, it’s a bike ride or a hike up to a waterfall. I think that adventure can be a part of everyone’s life. We just have to learn how to make room for it.

In answer to your question, although I would love for my girls to be adventurers, I want them to do whatever it is that makes them say, “I was born for this!” whether that be a career in adventure, ballet or engineering!

SPEAKING.COM: What projects are you currently working on?

SEARLE: I’m working hard to help companies in the UK and Europe to be more diverse and inclusive through being more aware of their unconscious bias. MIX Diversity Developers, my consultancy firm, takes quite radical approaches to this, such as the Arctic expedition I have already mentioned. We’re helping businesses start telling a new story about gender, disability, ethnicity and so on. I’m also working on an app, but the details of that are still top secret at the moment!


To bring Debra Searle to your organization to motivate and inspire your team, please contact Michael Frick at:

©, published on June 17, 2018

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