(Excerpt from A Life by Design)
I will be the first to admit the idea of designing or charting your life sounded at first a bit smug, arrogant even. My inner critic jumped at the opportunity and pointed out that Life was well known for turning castles into rubble and turning kings into paupers. True. But there are paupers that have risen above poverty, because they were able to see opportunities, grab them and act upon them, to give purpose and direction to their lives. Castles have been rebuilt, sometimes turned into something much better, albeit completely different.
I believe we are responsible for our existence; each of us is a captain to our own lives. Our dreams, passions and longings are markers that help us trace the route of the life we are called to live. With all its surprises, Life is full of patterns we can learn from: nature teaches us to respect the ambivalence of the sea; experience, to not sail in a stormy sea if we can help it; skill guides us through those tempestuous moments so we have a fighting chance; knowledge will inform us where the next safe port is. No captain would launch his ship into the sea without charting a route to follow. He may not able to prevent or foresee a storm, but he would be prepared for it.
If, like a good captain, we work with the winds and currents of Life, and not against them; if we accept the inherent risks of adventure without taking them personally; and if we commit whole-heartedly to our journey, we will reach our desired destination. As many mariners before us, we should be open to the unexpected: a mermaid, a pirate, a treasure, a new civilisation. Along the way to our destination, we may stop on islands to recover, procure resources and continue. Like the Lotus Eaters from the Odyssey, we may stay too long in one of these stops, and forget our mission, and we may need a goo
d shake up or even a kick on the bum to wake up and get going again.
As in any ship, you have to learn to work with different kinds of people to have a more or less smooth sailing. You also need to be sure that you have everything you need, from water to ropes, to ensure a successful voyage. And you can, and should, plan for success. So whereas you cannot control the weather, can’t be assured that the places you visit will always be friendly, or force your shipmates to work as hard as you, as captain, master builder and navigator, you do have a great deal of control, from the materials used to build the ship to the diplomatic tactics to understand and get along with the natives. The more seasoned you get, the more you learn that when you are down, the only way is up. And that is what life designing is all about.
I will finish with a little tale. A famous historian had always harboured a desire to travel through time and meet his historical heroes, particularly the famous mariners of yore. One day, a time-traveller visited him and said that he would take him to meet any person from the past that he wanted. The historian said: “I want to meet the greatest sailor that ever lived.” So both men travelled to a little, inland village, somewhere in Europe during the Middle Ages. There they saw a humble farmer, working in a small field. “How can this be the greatest sailor that ever lived?” asked the historian. “Well, you see,” said the time-traveller, “this man was born with the greatest sailing skills imaginable; he lived all his life with this deep longing for the sea and the ocean and adventure. But he thought that, as he belonged to a poor farming community and lived in a village with just a little river nearby, all those skills were useless and all his desires nothing but nonsense. So he never tried.”
You can get A Life by Design by Karem Barratt in Kindle.
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