Navigating Life

“Through a lens of navigation, then, we can see that "keeping" isn't about having a perfect, linear or flawless journey; keeping is about having a focus point that you want to keep moving toward.” 
― Benjamin L. Corey


A few years ago I went on an off-shore sailing trip, so I am familiar with wind patterns as shown in the weather map above. I have sailed for many years and open water sailing was on my bucket list. I joined the skipper and the two of us sailed from Vancouver, British Columbia up to Haida Gwaii, to the Gwaii Haanas National Park. This is a special place, as the park has a number of original Haida villages,that we visited, learning the history from local watchman. Additional highlights included fabulous kayaking and numerous sightings of whales, dolphins and sea birds. From there we sailed down the coast of Vancouver Island and the coast of the USA stopping in San Francisco and after 5 months I left the boat in Monterey, California, joined again in the Seas of Cortez for a further month. As I reflect on that voyage I recognize that the entire trip was a series of Adaptive Actions Cycles. The complexity of the weather, wind direction, speed, currents, crew fatigue, sea sickness, experience and boat conditions that were always changing meant we were continuously making the next wise action to keep headed toward our destinations safely. Our itinerary was adapted daily, hourly and moment-by-moment to respond to the many influencing factors. As I reflect on this, I see that my off-shore sailing experience is an analogy for navigating my life in many ways. The elements and conditions may be different, but the inability to control the variables in the complex situations I often find myself in and having to adapt to changing conditions are the same. I find the more I build the capacity to adapt the more resilient I become.

So What?

In advance of the sailing trip we did a tremendous amount of research and preparation to set the conditions for us to have a fun and successful trip and to minimize as many risks as possible. This included ensuring the boat was in great working order and ocean worthy; studying charts, gathering the knowledge and skills we anticipated needing; the necessary equipment and supplies and discussing how we would work together as a team during the trip. Despite best laid plans, situations happen.

During the trip we regularly moved between the extremes of the interdependent pair Predictability and Out of Control. The patterns that emerged, such as changes in the weather, crew members getting sick, or something breaking down on the boat, required us to adapt to maintain a point on the continuum that was as optimal as possible. We focused on what was in our control or influence by adjusting course, modifying crew schedules or implementing back-up plans for breakdowns. One personal example stands out for me. It was my first time single handing in open water at night. The skipper had gone down to sleep for 3 hours. There was no moon light; it was pitch black. Initially I was quite anxious but managed myself with some self-talk and by focusing on the instruments and the sound and feel of the wind. Part way into the journey there was a loud bang, it sounded like I had hit something, which of course I could not see. After checking to see if we were taking on water, we (the skipper was wide awake by this time) decided it was a rogue wave, and we carried on. Another thing we did regularly was that we looked for larger-scale patterns that may not be serving us. Those we could adjust, i.e., the length of shift on watch (reduce these to get more sleep); the crew’s interactions and input into decisions (drawing on all resources); modifying our timing to allow for more down time ashore. Often, we were dealing with finite vs infinite games. We were adapting to many immediate, passing situations that, depending on how we responded, would impact the long-term success of the trip. We were mindful of the importance of relationships, health and safety, and that ultimately these were the priorities.

Over the course of the trip, we became a well-oiled machine. Fortunately, we were not faced with any extreme challenges. Adapting and modifying our plans became an expected part of every day, and our comfort with not being in control increased. We became more resilient. I grew as a person and a sailor. I learned from what went well, and when it didn’t, my confidence in my judgement increased. I gained a greater appreciation for Mother Nature, living simply and really depending on another person. Truly realizing that “I am not in control” and that I need to trust my knowledge and judgement to inform my “next right action" is a huge life lesson.

Now What?

A number of things from my off-shore journey serve me in navigating my day-to-day life:

  • When defining a goal/direction, anticipate the need to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Prepare for what I can know
  • Consider the big picture (infinite game) when I respond to the sticky issue before me
  • Focus on things within my control/influence
  • Draw on my supports and resources and lessons learned

How will you navigate the challenges/Sticky issues in your life?

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