Life as a Voyage of Discovery, Part I: The Big Dream

Charting Our Course

With curiosity, courage and a venturesome spirit, life becomes a Voyage of Discovery as we chart a course through unknown territory. The challenge of moving into the unknown on a sea-journey may mean dealing with life-threatening storms as well as periods of calm with no apparent forward movement. There may be times of proceeding with great caution to avoid shoals and reefs and other navigational hazards. Occasionally there is the challenge of extricating oneself after making a navigational error and running aground.

As a sailor I could go on and on about this metaphor for life's uncertain course. But my point in this 2-part series is to focus on a couple of activities adapted from the voyaging life which can add immensely to experiencing success and satisfaction in life.

Where Do You Want to Go? Who Do You Want to Be? What Do You Want to Do?

The first, most basic activity is to have a clear idea of where we want to go. That idea may be as specific as "Australia" or as diffuse as "a fulfilling career" or even "success". When one begins a voyage at sea, the helmsman steers towards a selected destination. The navigator consults his charts and notes weather conditions and any hazards along the way. Then, taking wind and tide and current into consideration, a course is set. This course will likely be modified as the voyage continues, to adapt to changing conditions - or even a decision to head for a different destination than the one originally chosen. There will always be mid-course corrections!

Without a clear idea of where we are heading - and without some tools (compass, sextant, GPS, maps and charts) to stay on course - it is likely that our journey will be somewhat aimless. This can lead to frustration, and a sense that one is drifting through life.

What if we do not know "exactly" where we are going? What if part of the exploration is about discovering where we want to go? And even - what if the journey IS the destination? Our seagoing analogy is somewhat inexact because there is not really a chart or map that reveals a clear direction for one's life journey. Thus it is important to have a methodology for staying attuned to our inner compass, which allows for constant adjustments so that the life course (what we actually do with our finite lives) approximates what we really want.

The Power of Dreaming

In the voyage of life we will have a whole series of destinations, which I like to call dreams. Dreams are different from "goals" in that they more directly express our deepest longings, and initially are not at all focused on how to realize them. I believe we too quickly pass over our heart's yearnings and our true desires and are tempted to trim them down into something we already know how to do. It's less scary that way.

What if, for a moment, you allow yourself to just dream? You become a kid again, lying on your back in the soft grass under a bright summer sky filled with towering white clouds - a canvas upon which you can project whatever your mind wants to see. What if you let go of practicalities for right now and let your mind wander - what do you see?

After you let go of the worries and the unfinished business and any self-consciousness about doing such a silly thing as cloud-gazing, what comes up? A loved one whom you miss? A yearning to travel - or garden - or get a puppy? A book yet unwritten, or a love affair in which to delight? A contribution you want to make to the world, your family or your community?

Big Dreams

These are Big Dreams, and should not be diluted with petty practicalities. If Columbus or Edison or James Joyce had focused only on the difficulties and challenges of their life-projects, would we be the beneficiaries of their contributions?

Big Dreams are not to be judged as to "worthiness", or whether they will be found acceptable by those around us. This is your Voyage - and your Dream. It takes a fierce determination to create the space in which a Big Dream can emerge. Sometimes a lot of cloud-staring is required to quiet the doubts and fears that arise to interfere with clear vision.

Without a Big Dream, one's Voyage of Discovery becomes something more like a dreary commute between places we know only too well. But let's be clear - Big Dreams are scary. The old charts that pictured sea-monsters in the uncharted areas of the ocean were only expressing the reality that it is frightening to venture into the unknown.

But one goes on a Voyage of Discovery in as sturdy a ship as possible, fully provisioned and armed with the best available information. As you look back on your life, you can probably see some challenging passages - which you survived, learned from, and which helped make you who you are today.

All the ingenuity and creativity which you have used to get this far has not left you. Your problem-solving skills and your abilities to find and use resources accompany you on your voyage towards your Big Dreams.

In Part II we will continue this analogy of life as a Voyage of Discovery, and focus on a practical tool for navigating through a life of unfolding adventure - the Success Log.

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