The harbor has dangers of its own, but it always feels safer because it is the known. It shelters us from the storms and squalls of life. The harbor has its comforts and the camaraderie of friends. The water is calmer, and our boat is securely tethered by four thick, strong ropes. Therein lies our problem. If we stay in the harbor, we are safely moored, but the ropes become our restraints, and we inherently know that our life was intended for motion, for movement, for transport. No one would build a boat designed to be eternally at harbor. No one should live a life without a sense of purpose or destination. Sooner or later all of us need to untie our safety lines and set sail.
The exact conditions of our destination are unknown, and will likely change as we are enroute. We will be affected by the wind, the weather, the tides, by other traffic on the seaways of life. There is risk in even choosing a destination. If we do not choose a destination, if we do not commit to a course of action, we delude ourselves into thinking we have successfully managed our risk; that in not choosing we have avoided failure. If we leave our destination to chance, we cannot be blamed for ending up somewhere other than where we chose. It was not our fault. It couldn’t be helped. Who would want to get on a yacht where the Skipper had not only not decided on a destination, but who had also abdicated all control over the wheel?
Without a destination, we cannot properly prepare for our voyage. We do not know how long we will be at sea, or what we will need in the way of stores to take along. Once we leave the channel markers of the harbor behind us and head for the horizon, we can have no sense of direction, and can easily end up back where we started after enduring great hardship in the meantime. Without a destination, our compass and our rudder are useless: how can we steer if we don’t know where we want to go? We can only know great frustration and a sense of uselessness.
Life successfully lived requires a Destination, a sense of Purpose, Movement, and Direction. Before we set sail, before we set goals for ourselves, we need to take inventory of ourselves. We need to know ourselves, particularly our strengths, because it is our strengths properly applied, that will get us through. What is important to us, what satisfies us, what are we good at? We need to think back through life and ask ourselves what were the events or occasions when we were happiest, and what were the circumstances that led us to these good feelings? What did we do, and what can be repeated to similar effect? It is not that if we had a successful journey to a certain destination that we want to repeat the exact same journey to the same location; we might or we might not. But we want to isolate the factors that contributed to a successful trip so as to apply them to new voyages of discovery and fulfillment.
This quest to define a purpose for ourselves is an act of creation. It is a spiritual endeavor in the highest sense of the word; it is a search for meaning to our life. What do we want to do so that our life matters, so that we can feel that we have lived it well, made a difference, and leave a legacy of significance? Our crew for this present journey may already be given to us; we may be at a point in our life where our spouse, children, parents, extended family and friends are well in place; but one can never discount the possibility of adding additional crew members along the way in the form of new acquaintances, friends, mentors, and partners.
These people are all centers of influence and of vital importance to the success of our journey, but the journey remains an individual one. Every life lived is an individual one; no one can live another’s life for them. Those on board with us must know where we are going, and share a common destination. The rudder guiding the ship’s movements is our body of core values, and if we are not in agreement on those, we will fight over control of the wheel, over the decisions being made, and who gets to make them. Ultimately these differences could result in mutiny and a disastrous trip for all.
Organizations and institutions often embody their destination in a Mission Statement, and they list their core values for all to see. We may not have anything like that hanging on the wall, but we should know what they are. Only then are we ready to set and pursue meaningful goals for ourselves and our crew.