Damn alarm. Why is it ringing at 2am?! The sound of waves crashing against the hull and constant creaking suddenly reminds me that I’m sailing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I lethargically flop out of my warm bunk, and wobble to my cabin door, using the handle to balance as I dress myself in preparation for my 4 hour watch up on deck.
With my foul weather gear, boots and beanie on, the bashing waves make me look like a drunk dressed as ‘Michelin man’ as I struggle to get to the hatch. I take one last yawn and wipe my eyes as I am soon to be awoken by the wet and wild conditions that the North Atlantic Ocean is serving up on this particular night.
My watch partner for the night is Tom, our 59 year old captain from Long Island, New York. Good old Tom is an awesome guy, yet loves the sound of his own voice way more than anything else. After a quick briefing on the night’s conditions, I take over at the helm. He sits down and gets out his flask of rum, signifying that he’s ready to go on one of his life story rants. This time it’s about his clam fishing days in his twenties. In the thickest New York accent imaginable,Tom recalls events such as his largest ever catch, and his short but great fling with Tina, the bartender that would give him free beers after a long day out at sea. “Oh good ol’ Tina, I tell you this one time we went…” And off he’d go. With the wind howling at an average of 30knots, his voice slowly started to fade into the distance as I sought mental refuge in the endless horizon.
Luckily this time around, his rant was short lived as we were soon to experience a roaring sea that was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink at us. We dove deep into 15ft waves, and all hands were quickly summoned on deck to ensure that everything was under control. As we raced into the night, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. The sense of adrenaline was phenomenal. It is in moments like these when I truly feel alive - being truly at the mercy of mother nature, right in the thick of it all.
As my shift ended, I crawled back into my warm bunk and briefly browsed through an edition of Outside Magazine. I happened to come across an article about Ocean Rowers, and the immense challenge that these individuals go through. This quickly reminded me of my good friend Theo Jones, who has just completed this year’s Atlantic Rowing Race.
Theo and I met in Barcelona last November. I was working on a boat based out there, whilst he was using the city as a base in preparation for the race which started from the Canary islands, just before Christmas. I came across his 20ft rowing boat in the marina and we quickly got chatting about it all, as I was and still am completely fascinated by this incredible expedition. Once I left Barcelona and set sail off to the Caribbean islands, Theo and I constantly kept in touch. I was intrigued to know more, so I tracked his progress once he set off on the race, and immediately wanted to know more once he finished.
Detailed accounts of the event were sent via email, where he recalled certain experiences during the 46 day, 3000 nautical mile challenge. Experiences such as being caught in huge seas that forced him and his partner Shane to release their parachute anchor for a few days on end. This resolved to them crawling into their tiny, 6ft cabin where they mercifully awaited for the storm to pass before they could get back to rowing. Despite this, he recalled how adversity was coupled with incredible moments of joy that he shared with Shane. Be it the incredible sunsets, rowing under the stars, or their unique celebrations on Christmas, and New Years day, which surely were second to none.
Reflecting on it all, Theo told me how his biggest take away from the experience was this immense sense of pride that he felt. He stated how “too many people in this world dream with their eyes closed. I am immensely proud that Shane and I dreamt with our eyes open and succeeded at the task we set ourselves. There is no greater feeling than achievement when you have given your all and sacrificed a lot.’
As I type this all out, I sit in my bunk - awaiting to head out for another challenging 4 hours of sailing. Its cold, wet and windy, but ultimately, who gives a damn. Where would the reward lie in doing what we love to do, if it were all so easy? Ultimately, one’s dreams may not be to cycling across continents, or row from one to another. Regardless, the point I'm getting at is that it is the most uncomfortable, painstaking moments, that truly make it all worthwhile.
Unfortunately we live in an incredibly shortcut obsessed society, increasingly defined by shrinking attention spans and this demand for instant gratification. The way I see it, privilege has become entitlement. We have developed this birthright to ‘overnight’ weight loss programs and professional success , envious wealth, limitless free time, and in some ways I suspect, even salvation. And this trend can be boiled down to one term. It is the meme that is beyond reproach. It is the meme that is enjoying irresistible staying power all over the internet - it is the HACK.
But what is a hack? What are we talking about here? Well a hack is nothing more than leveraging a good idea - a strategy to expedite proficiency in a particular skill or a discipline, on a fraction of the time required for mastery. The 80:20 rule. 80% of the results, and 20% of the time and the effort. What is amazing is the entire movement that has blossomed around this idea. One could even Google conferences to attend to, aimed at ‘hacking the publishing world to hit the NY Times best seller list’ or ‘how to hack your email list and make millions online while you relax at home’. Ironically, what is hard to come across is subjects such as - “what does it take to create a great book ?” or, ‘what constitutes a worthy product worthy of selling?”.
Ultimately, failure, or success - or at least the prospect of failure or success - is what gives our lives proper context. These tower emotional and spiritual stakes, and fertilise our soul for quantum growth, irrespective of outcome. Nevertheless, growth can only come from earned investment in experience. Thus, factors such as fear and commitment shouldn't be avoided, or short-circuited, these are things to be embraced. Embraced with everything you have , and everything that you are.
As Theo explained to me after his row, and I surely relate to with my recent adventures, namely the bike ride, is that there is nothing sexy about the journey. The journey is painful. It’s not linear, or glossy, and surely will not trend on your social media feed. But if you aspire to your own greatness, and aspire to push the envelope on what you’re capable of, then forget about the hack, instead - invest in mastery. Learn how to toil in obscurity, hold oneself publicly accountable for your goals. Let go of perfection, and allow yourself to fail. And fail. And fail. And fail again. Ultimately, when all is lost, pick yourself up and go that extra mile.
The limits we impose on ourselves - these are mental projections. They are illusions. It is vital that we embrace the very possibility that we are so much more than we allow ourselves to be. There is definitely no guarantee that this path would lead to success the way that society inappropriately defines the term - the financial rewards, fancy house, cars (and all the other ’stuff’). I truly believe that raw and authentic experiences will infuse one’s life with a sense of meaning, and a sense of purpose that no destination via shortcut could ever rival - true happiness.
I am not talking about happiness in the sense of unicorns and rainbows, I am talking about a deep satisfaction. That your life has value - a value that could be served as inspiration. A service to others who feel stuck in their lives. Imprisoned by a thinking mind that is hard wired to prioritise the illusion of security and the illusion of comfort, over the pricelessness of adventure and experience.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. The journey to figuring out the ‘how’ - that is the path to figuring out the big ‘it’. This is the art of living with purpose, and this is what it means to be truly alive. A promise no hack can give you. Not now, not ever.