I just finished watching the documentary Losing Sight of Shore, and I am once again awestruck about human perseverance and accomplishment. The documentary follows the extraordinary journey of six brave women known as the Coxless Crew that rowed 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia. Unsupported, and rowing grueling long 3 legs of four crew, these women endured extreme mental and physical challenges for nine months living at sea. In doing so they showed the limitlessness of human capacity and endurance. By anyone’s measure, these incredible superwomen added a new definition to the word success.
Putting My Oars in the Water
In my own life that level of accomplishment will, in all likelihood, elude me, as it will with most people. And no one really expects that level of accomplishment from most of us anyways. Yet many people hold onto seemingly lofty expectations unrealistically put upon them by media and other sources of professional and personal guidance. This is especially true of women in calls to rise up and smash glass ceilings. While it is true women and men alike should see themselves as limitless, it must be understood that making history, winning a championship, or presidency, is not for everyone.
As a consultant, I am cognizant of the business of consultancy. I can be honest and say that as much as being a leadership consultant is about being a catalyst to others’ success, of which most of us are indeed passionate, it is also about making money. And in this, I’m afraid too much of the focus is on raising women and men to C-suite positions or the like.
Again, this is especially true as it comes to women. We exert so much effort into getting more women to reach higher and higher professional positions, often with being a board member or other such lofty position as the finish line. There is not a thing wrong with that goal. But consultants need to avoid the trap of targeting that work alone in the interest of going where the money is. And all of us need to avoid the trap of thinking that kind of success is the only measure of professional success.
Define Your Own Goals
Losing Sight of Shore makes the statement “everyone has their Pacific to cross.” This is true. Your Pacific is your own unique challenge and your own unique goal. There are many people who would prefer to do their job well and simply make a positive impact in the doing, rather than rising through the ranks. Instead of rowing, or climbing the corporate ladder, they want to participate, or influence, or build relationships or simply secure an income to benefit themselves and their families. Living, not fighting. You must define your own success, and not allow others to define it for you. You alone must give great consideration to and determination of what it will take to see yourself as a successful person. And we consultants have to do a better job of working toward your definition of success and not anyone else’s.
Build a Habit
A big takeaway from the film for me was that in addition to the physical and mental anguish endured, there was a whole lot of routine. The Coxless Crew women rotated between sleep and rowing two hours on and two hours off day in day out. Stoke by stroke in a seemingly endless sea. Such is the case for most of us also in seeking our goals. This too is too often lost on us, there will be many more days of necessary doing, than of achieving.
I have completed a few marathons in my adult life. I always tell people it’s not the marathon that is hard but the endless prep of one plodding footfall in front of the other over and over mile after miles. Days and days of this to ready for one event of a couple of hours duration. And it is similar as an author also, write and edit, write and edit, write and edit to the point where one more look at that one sentence makes you want to scream. For you it might be doing that same presentation yet again, preparing that same report, or resolving yet another technical problem.
Stroke, stroke, stroke.
The Journey Is the Worthier Part
At the end of it all, one of the female rowing crew members said “I thought this trip was going to be about the goal, but only now do I realize it was about the journey.” And that may be the biggest point of all. There is plenty of evidence that backs the claim that setting goals is the way to ensure progress. However, our lifespan is a compilation of goals reached. But those goals are just markers. Heralds of progress, yes, and likely yielding some reward, but your goals reached are not life itself. Goals are fixed points, living is dynamic. I might think the remarkable women on that boat would say something similar. Your life is lived every day in incremental activity. There are so many more days that you not reaching a goal then those in which you do.
Incremental Improvements Matter
In the end, what I think you can best do for yourself, and maybe what we consultants might do a better job of assisting with, is in improving daily performance incrementally. And just, or more, importantly improving the person living each day. In the midst of whatever Pacific is yours, if you can put oar to water, as good or better than the last stroke, and at the same time look up and see the sun and clouds in their natural splendor, and allow these things to fill you and make you a better human, success will be a natural outcome. It will be a good life, a successful life, continuous rather than simply a fixed target.