What 76 Days Lost At Sea Can Teach You About Finding Your Why
Finding your why starts with asking, "How might your life be better with less?" We tend to think more is better. An unfortunate mindset we've inherited from a go-go-go society. Laser-focused on the promise that success comes when we're willing to put the rest of our life on the backburner.
We lose sight of how we define success or failed to define our version of success in the first place. Experiencing success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure. It's like being tasked to fill a bucket without a bottom.
You'll run yourself ragged in an attempt to feel like you're making progress. But it'll never come because fulfillment comes from meeting our needs, not our wants.
A crucial ingredient to discovering your needs is finding your why. From the people I coach, two paths lead them to the same crossroads. There are those of us who are full steam ahead, working long hours and focused on the end result –before hitting the wall of dissolution, realizing it was all smoke and mirrors. And there are those of us who seek the answer early on because we've learned there's another way to live your why. Identify your needs and simplify your wants.
If you're reading this, I'm guessing you have no problems meeting your basic needs. You've been lucky enough to be born into a world where we confuse our needs with wants. You want a house, a car, and some fancy skin-tight jeans.
Your status is marked by each of these things. Each of these items say something about you, a further projection of who you are and what tribe you're part of. Think iPhone vs Android, car vs bike, renting vs owning a home. When everyone around you uses these as measures of success, it's easy to mistake them for needs, rather than wants. We're afraid of what our choices portray.
It’s not a negative to want any of those things. Aside from your bedazzled jeggings. I want a house, a yard, a place to call my own. A home to raise a family and grow old. But I view it as a want. I don't need it to be content. Nor do I need to own a home to be successful. At least in how I define success. This thinking only came about in my early thirties. I saw friends who on paper had it all but lived in a mindset of scarcity, afraid they could lose it all at any moment. If you lost your worldly possessions, would you be invisible to the world?
Think of a time when you felt alone in life. Not like waiting for a friend running a couple minutes behind, but like you were the only human in existence. For a brief moment, have you felt the deafening sound of silence in the woods? Or had the eerie feeling of dipping into an unknown world by plunging your head beneath the surface of a lake? What about lost in the middle of an ocean?
Steven Callahan set out on a one-man voyage that resulted in one of the great sea adventures of all time. His book, Adrift, is a riveting first-hand account by the only man known to have survived more than a month alone at sea, fighting for his life in an inflatable raft after his sailboat capsized. Drifting for 1,800 miles gives someone a lifetime of self-reflection we thankfully don't have to experience ourselves. But the lessons he learned teach us the value of what lies at our inner core when we strip life to the bare necessities. You find your why.
Steve spent 76 days in a raft with a diameter no bigger than a broom closet, surrounded by an unforgiving blue expanse. It was both an immediate reminder how close he was to death, and to the very source that sustained his life. It nourished him with food and gave him passage to land.
It's damn near impossible to appreciate what's in front of us. Steve found that appreciation in solitude: "In these moments of peace, deprivation seems a strange sort of gift. I find food in a couple hours of fishing each day, and I seek shelter in a rubber tent. How unnecessarily complicated my past life seems. For the first time, I clearly see a vast difference between human needs and human wants. Before this voyage, I always had what I needed — food, shelter, clothing and companionship — yet I was often dissatisfied when I didn't get everything I wanted, when people didn't meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted, or when I couldn't acquire some material goody. My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness. Even here there is richness all around me."
At day 58, Steve's connection to the aqua blue world pulls him deep into a majestical thinking that attempts to explain what exists at the very core of our needs. The dorado fish that have sustained his life also provide companionship and a connection to the cycle of life. They offer a buffer against starvation. Steve doesn't think that these fish reflect or think as we do; he sees their intelligence taking on a different form. While we ponder truth and meaning, Steve sees how "the fish find them in their immediate connection to life — in body surfing, down huge waves, and chasing flying fish, and fighting for life on the end of my spear. I have often thought that my instincts were the tools that allowed me to survive so that my ‘higher functions’ could continue. Now I am finding that it is more the other way around. It is my ability to reason that keeps command and allows me to survive, and the things I am surviving for are those that I want by instinct; life, companionship, comfort, play. The dorados have all of that here, now. How I wish I could become what I eat."
If I peered into your life, what would I notice you've ignored? What's right in front of your eyes but remains hidden? Perhaps it's the love of a partner whose unwavering support you take for granted. Perhaps it's the ability with a flick of your wrist to have clean drinking water. Perhaps it's the unconditional love that wags his tail from the moment you see him. Perhaps it's the realization that the things that really matter in life have always been right in front of you. That's the key to finding your why.