Sailing or Settling through Life

I am preparing notes for a high school commencement address. Two of the contrasting images I am considering are sailing through life and settling for whatever life presents to us.  Sailing reminds me of being on the water, adjusting the sails to capitalize on the strength of the wind and the current. Settling brings to mind a house that is built on ground that is shifting.  Settling also means to compromise and pretend to be satisfied with outcomes that are less than our original expectations.

Sailing requires someone to be in charge of the boat. The operator of the boat is responsible for the craft. They keep it properly maintained and fit for travel.  They have expertise gained from many hours of practice. Their comfort level and sailing ability will turn most of their actions into routine decisions. They are in control; responding to their environment. Mastery of their surroundings is used to make better decisions.

The captain or co-pilot is steering in the direction of their destination. The last lines of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, describe their emotions: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”  Invictus is also a movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It is about South Africa winning the world cup in soccer. When we are sailing in life, there is a confidence that comes from studying the wind and the waves, while learning from its instructions and instructors.

When we are sailing through life, we should constantly gauge our position. We may approach the end of the day and reflect on progress and review our charts for tomorrow. We update our daily log and plan our strategies. Dr. Wayne Dyer speaks of reviewing the last 10 minutes of each day. He suggests that 10 minutes before we go to sleep as a good time to program or suggest to our subconscious mind a menu of options to review during sleep. The concept revolves around the notion that we will get more of what we think about, whether they are positive or negative. We can influence the quality of our lives through influencing our thinking.

In the book Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande believes we can improve any result by developing a well designed checklist. He told of a study in a hospital where infection rates were drastically reduced by the doctors reviewing a checklist before each surgery. A checklist may enable us to sail through life, staying on task, remind us of our promises, noting our position and making the necessary adjustments to reach a destination.

Settling on the other hand, shows that we abandoned our original objective. We are convinced that our current state will have to be sufficient, because it is the best we will produce. It is not, “I am going to quit while I am ahead,” but “I am going to quit instead, before I get hurt, or waste more time.” We may be afraid of losing the small amount of gain that we have accomplished.

When we settle, we do not live up to our original dreams. I can picture a house shifting and sinking into place due to a foundation that is not finished moving. It may eventually set itself into a permanent position. We are like the dog in Aesop’s fable that lacks persistence. He tried to obtain fruit from a tree, but stops prematurely, saying the fruit was probably sour anyway. People who settle convince themselves that the prize was no longer worth pursuing.  Why do people settle for less than they deserve? We can never say for sure, because the reasons vary with each individual and with each situation.

Why people settle?

  • Impatience – They were not willing to pay the price in time or resources. Misjudged investment – The cost in time and resources is more or longer than expected.
  • Lack of Knowledge – They did not know the information needed to accomplish the objective.
  • Insufficient resources – They did not have what was required to achieve the goal.
  • Lack of confidence – They don’t believe they deserve more and so they are satisfied with whatever they receive.

We can usually spot when someone has settled for less by their actions and the content of their conversations. They may exhibit the following symptoms.

Symptoms of Settling

  • Defensive – Very sensitive and do not want to be questioned
  • Rationalizing – Deliver elaborate reasons to justify their actions
  • Arrogance – May appear superior in their decision-making, to hide insecurities about their decision
  • Overzealous – Overly enthusiastic as they try to sell others on why it was the right idea, action or decision

We also must realize that settling may be a wise use of time.  We may have other priorities that move higher on our list of objectives. It may be smart to cut our losses because the time investment may not be worth it.

The quality of our lives is based in part, on the choices we make. We may elect to adopt a sailing mentality, where we are in ship shape, prepared to handle the journey we imagined. Conversely, we may choose to settle and essentially surrender to the forces we face without a fight. When viewing and reviewing life, I hope we take our inspiration from the sailing metaphor. May we face the challenges and opportunities and master the elements in a manner consistent with our purpose and our preparation.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

3 thoughts on “Sailing or Settling through Life

  1. Never settle, embrace what is offered you and make the oportunties presented work for you. You are the navigator for your journey and, it is a journey not a destination. You can change course and deal with what comes along, but you decide how and when to change course, or stay on it.


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