Fix the ship not the ocean…

sinking ship

As I sat in a busy bustling coffee shop on my own, I knew I was there to avoid thinking about things too much. My brain is constantly whirring, trying to work things out. So occasionally it’s good to just sit in the midst of it all, cradling a coffee (or the occasional cheeky glass of wine!) and watch other peoples’ lives unfold. As the warming taste of coffee started to kick in, I mused that there’s a sense of freedom to be found in concentrating on other people going about their business. And then it struck me like a slap in the face…I have more interest in helping to fix other people and resolve the external factors than I do in fixing up and looking after myself. When I start to sink, it would seem I’m too busy trying to fix the ocean around me to concentrate on the one thing I can truly affect…the ship.

I figure I’m not alone in this. Have you ever just reached the point when it feels like things are just ‘a bit much’ at the moment? I hit that point last week – I felt tired, low, unsociable and had a constant dull headache. At first, I put it down to ‘having a cold’ or some such excuse, but then I realised that when I laughed about something or turned my focus to anything other than my own life, the tiredness and headache lifted. I decided to be honest and acknowledge that there were at least two big areas of life where I wasn’t feeling happy or successful and for some reason, where I’d usually be able bang out a new plan of action faster than you can say ‘chaaaaange’, I was stuck, unable to come up with a way to make things better. Paralysis had set in and with it, even more feelings of guilt, uselessness and frustration.

So what happened next to make this situation a blog post rather than a tale of downward spiral? I realised that most of my issues were people related – it was the behaviour, words and actions of other people in a range of situations that were making me feel bad. For weeks (months in some ways!) I had been trying to get people to change. To be nicer / more appreciative / kinder (the list goes on). I’d done it because genuinely I felt (and still do an extent) out of principle they shouldn’t be given free reign to behave in a thoughtless, uncaring way. But in being blinded by my own values, I hadn’t realised the number one point that all great self-help books and motivational speakers will tell you – the one thing you will always be able to control and change is yourself. Now I know this is no great epiphany, people have been saying this for years…but the revelation for me was that, particularly where other people are involved, it’s near enough impossible to get them to change. People are like the ocean – wild, unpredictable and can be the both welcoming and destructive all at the same time. The self is like the proverbial ship trying to work with the ocean (people) but sometimes it’s just a rough day…and there needs to be to be a way to work with that. The ship needs to adapt to the ocean, not the other way around.

So, having written about this watery tale of reflection what have I learned? A lot actually, particularly about the sense of calm and clarity you can feel when you take back the control. Specifically:

  1. People are like the wind in your sails and the ocean beneath your feet. People can push you on and keep you on course, but sometimes they can knock the wind from your sails leaving you directionless and lost. But, you can choose to own your experience – choose to make the most of and appreciate the good conditions and fight to get through the rough ones. In some cases you can even choose to steer away from the rough waters into better seas. Put in real terms, love and appreciate the good people in your life and try to navigate through or around those who bring negative energy.
  2. When you feel like you’re sinking, perhaps it’s time to throw some things overboard. The guilt, the negative feelings and sometimes even some of your crew members need to go – to stay on course you cannot carry the weight of everything, much as you might want to.
  3. When the waters are choppy, keep the faith. Not necessarily religious faith (although of course this is fine too!) but keep faith in your course and faith in your destination. We all go through times where we question who we are, where we’re going and the decisions we’ve made / are about to make but don’t let one (or a few) bad days at sea make you turn back from your path.

So, in concluding I suppose to stop using analogy and to talk plainly, I’ve really learnt this past week that although I would never give up trying to change the world (and sometimes the people in it) for the better, the trick is to first fix yourself. Make sure you’re ready for the challenge before you embark upon it and be willing to take some knocks along the way in order to reach the best destinations.

“If the highest aim of the captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” (Thomas Aquinas). 

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