Lost at Sea

The three ships of the first voyage to the New World – the Niña, the Santa Maria and the Pinta.

In my college years I took a class on the history of the U.S. Navy. The professor was a short and stout man who at one point slammed the whiteboard to imitate the feel of being shot at by cannonfire.

For a history major, this was routine.

And even though lecture-based courses have little sign that they drastically improve learning at any age, there is still a small thing I remember.

“The sea is not the place where we live,” he said. “And the ocean has no discernible geographic signposts. Being lost at sea is a very real possibility if you do not know how to navigate.”

While watching a Matt D’Avella video with James Clear on atomic habits, Clear mentioned the difference between working a traditional job and being an entrepreneur.

“The traditional job is like a river,” he said. “There’s a very clear direction and as long as you keep yourself from the edges and navigate safely, you’ll usually do fine.”

“Being an entrepreneur is like navigating on the ocean,” he went on. “You can choose where you want to go each day, but you have to make sure not to row in circles.”

Seems like these metaphors could be used to describe a moment just like this one. And when Christopher Columbus was first sailing towards America, did they have any hope after months that they would actually find land? When we find ourselves in the midst of having to solve the federal government’s crisis of lack of testing by socially distancing ourselves, do we know if it will end?

Of course deep down we know that all crises end. And yet that system-one thinking continues to watch the live feed of confirmed cases, lament the pushing back of school cancellations into April, and then into May, and then indefinitely.

When people face an “unprecedented” moment, they are only talking about three generations out, where the living cohorts report the unknown. Fortunately for those initiated in history, we know that crises of health have occurred many times over, as well as crises of public policy.

It is easy to look out with the naked eye and see nothing but ocean. That is why we have developed thinking tools that allow us to project our sight further forward and further back. So before we navigate the ocean, we should consider the confidence of discovering if there is even a passage to the West Indies, so to speak.

And luckily for us we have at our fingertips the keys to global knowledge in such a high volume as to make each of us an explorer of the mind. “Keep calm and search Wikipedia” the t-shirt should read.

Give yourself the chance to find something new.

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