$@#* Happens: Workplace Lessons from the Carnival Cruise Ship

I don’t do boats.

Even looking at them makes me woozy.

My motion-sickness heart went out to the travelers on last week’s Carnival cruise ship  voyage from hell. No air conditioning, little electricity, uninhabitable rooms, few working toilets.

We all experience “Carnival Cruise moments”. Times when we’re stuck in a bad situation and all we can do is watch, wait and deal. Times when our circle of influence is small.

Influence vs. Control

We might be able to influence but we cannot control:

The shake up after a major reorganization

A new boss

The departure of a favorite colleague

Other people’s actions


In difficult situations and transitions, resilience is what separates those who freak out, whine or hide under the desk from those who bounce back, adapt, recover quickly and move forward.

Lessons from the Carnival Cruise Voyage

Yes. $%!* happens. On the Carnival Triumph cruise ship, in school, at work.

  • Make Do (forgive the pun). The passengers could jump overboard or wait it out. Eat the cucumber sandwiches or starve. We don’t always have the resources, technology or support to do our jobs perfectly. In fact, we never will.
  • Find What You Can Control. When the rooms on the ship got too hot and smelly, people dragged their mattresses onto the deck. Similarly, I might not be able to control where I land in the new reorganization but I can build relationships and trust with my new team, try to make my boss look good whenever I can and provide my customers excellent service.
  • Avoid the Moaners.  No doubt there was much to be unhappy about on the Carnival Triumph. But plenty of people tried to make the best of the bungled trip. Negativity and complaining breeds negativity and complaining. Just like toxic work environments breed more toxicity. Extricate yourself from the people and organizational cultures that bring you down.
  • Appreciate the Unsung Heroes. I read many stories of passengers hording food and selling their Imodium stash. But I also read about people comforting children, sharing medicine and the wonderful crew. Sometimes we forget about the person who may not have the next big idea, loudest voice or close the biggest deals. But he’s reliable, pleasant, on time and cleans up other people’s mess graciously. That’s worth a lot.

The next time I find myself in a “Carnival Cruise moment”, I’ll first recognize what is in my control, followed closely by a deep appreciation for the earth under my feet.

Image Credit: Tomas Fano on Flickr

Marta Steele is a Partner and Community Manager at PeopleResults. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele or through email at msteele@www.people-results.com.