May / 2021

#009: Surviving 977 Days Of Captivity Among Somali Pirates With Michael Scott Moore

“Curiosity killed the cat.” Join your host, Fran Racioppi, and listen to the awe-inspiring and gripping story of journalist and novelist Michael Scott Moore, who was captured and held hostage for 977 days by Somali pirates. Michael recounts his memories of the initial shock of being captured, the harsh conditions, forging bonds and connections with the other hostages, the failed escape attempts, and much more. Learn how Michael used the nine characteristics of elite performance to survive even the harshest of ordeals, how captivity provided much-needed introspection, and how his perspective on life and its challenges has changed.

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We think about the nine characteristics of elite talent in terms of performance in a moment or throughout a period of time in our lives or careers. As elite performers, we exhibit portions of these traits as different times, but never all at once. For 977 days of his life, Michael Scott Moore embodied all of them every single day. It wasn’t about performance. It was about survival, life or death.

The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast

Michael had no choice when he was captured by Somali pirates in 2012. Told in incredible detail in his bestselling book, The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast, Michael’s story is a powerful one that teaches us to view life’s challenges from a different perspective.

He may not have been thinking of it consciously at the time, but each of the nine characteristics of elite performance figured prominently in Michael’s experience in telling and powerful ways. In this conversation with Fran Racioppi, Michael quantifies his experience in these terms for the first time.

Drive. Michael’s “drive” to survive struck even his captors. After two and a half years many would have resigned themselves to failure and hopelessness, but Michael did not. His constant failed attempts to escape his captors showed how willing he was to fight to get his life back.

Resiliency. To say that the conditions Michael endured were harsh is an understatement. It was literally the definition of adversity. Michael survived the years of captivity by stimulating his mind and showing his resilient spirit, which even the hardiest pirates could not break.

Adaptability. Michael had to adjust his behavior not only once, but twice during his captivity. He had to find a way to structure his time despite the uncertainty of each day, which he did wonderfully by creating small goals one day at a time. After the captivity, Michael had to adapt to “normal” society, which he had been detached from for so long that his return actually made his head hurt from thinking about topics he had long forgotten.

Humility. 977 days was plenty of time for Michael to reflect on his past and humbly accept his mistakes, while making him more vulnerable, aware, and conscious of what really matters in life.

Integrity. Michael found it in his heart to forgive his captors, but he never forgets. He was able to get over his feelings of anger and resentment, but he did not buckle in his own sense of good and bad. A Stockholm syndrome skeptic, Michael remained steadfast in his commitment to hold his captors accountable for their actions.

Team Ability. Everything is about relationships, even on a pirate ship. Michael saw his situation as captors and captives alike being forced to play on a team that none of them chose to be on. Building relationships with fellow captives, and even his captors, helped Michael endure even the hardest of days, while also fostering his commitment to cultivating those relationships back home.

Effective Intelligence. Michael’s experience provided a new lens through which to view the world. It changed his perspective on life and gave him a deeper center of gravity. For better or for worse, he is less single-minded and more focused.

Emotional Strength. Being held captive without knowing what would happen next is tantamount to dying a slow death. Depression, anxiety, and even suicide ideation hounded Michael every day, but Michael coped by stepping aside from those emotions and giving himself room to think, analyze and find solutions to his captivity.

Curiosity. It was what put Michael into chaos, but it was also one thing that kept him going during captivity.

About Michael Scott Moore

TJP 9 | Surviving CaptivityMichael Scott Moore is a journalist and a novelist, author of a comic novel about L.A., Too Much of Nothing, as well as a travel book about surfing, Sweetness, and Blood, which was named the best book of 2010 by The Economist. He’s won Fulbright, Logan, and Pulitzer Center grants for his nonfiction; Yaddo and MacDowell Colony fellowships for his fiction.

He grew up in California but worked for several years as an editor and writer at Spiegel Online International in Berlin. Mr. Moore was kidnapped in early 2012 on a reporting trip to Somalia and held hostage by pirates for 32 months. The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about that ordeal, is out now from HarperCollins.

He’s been a European Affairs columnist for Miller-McCune Magazine (later Pacific Standard) and a theater critic for SF Weekly in San Francisco. He’s covered the European migration crisis for Businessweek, and politics, travel, and literature for The Atlantic, Der Spiegel, the Paris Review, The New York Times, LitHub, GQ, Newlines Magazine, The New Republic, The L.A. Times, The Daily Beast, The L.A. Review of Books, and many others.

He maintains a website at www.radiofreemike.net.

About the author

Fran Racioppi
View Bio | More From the Author

Francis Racioppi, CPP, CBCP, most recently led Genius Fund as the Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to Genius, Fran served as the Director of Global Security for Snapchat where he was recruited to professionalize and scale the security organization across the globe and among all business units. Fran holds an MBA from New York University and graduated with honors from Boston University with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Political Science. Fran served 13 years in the United States Army as a Green Beret, deploying three times to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. A lifelong sailor, Fran volunteers teaching Veterans to sail as the Race Director for Sailahead a Veterans service organization dedicated to reducing the Veteran suicide rate. Fran has also served as the Treasurer of the United War Veterans Council, an NYC-based non-profit focused on the wellness and healing of transitioning veterans, as well as the host of the annual NYC Veterans Day Parade.

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