5 Life Lessons Learned From the Sea | The BridgeMaker

5 Life Lessons Learned from the Sea

By on Sep 01, 2012

My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Being at sea is like living in a different world. It is beautiful, dangerous, fascinating, awe inspiring and endless.

People who have spent many years at sea have a different perspective on life. Because it changes you. Whatever you do is always going to have a profound impact on your character, but because the sea is so powerful it leaves a powerful imprint.

I have not spent a life at sea, just a few short years. But in that time I have learned some life lessons that only the sea can teach you.

1. You Cannot Always See Your Destination

When you are steering a course on the open ocean your senses cannot tell you where you are or where you are going. The horizon stretches far away in every direction. You have to rely on other means of knowing whether you are on track. GPS or astro navigation is all you have to guide you.

But you have to trust in these tools. And trust that if you follow your course you will eventually reach your destination.

So often in life it is easy to get disheartened when attempting goals because you sometimes cannot see any progress being made. You cannot see yourself getting any closer to your destination. But with a little bit of faith in the journey and you will always reach your goal.

2. Nature Still Rules

Our culture is fascinated with controlling things. As technology improves we seek to wield more and more control over the natural world. At sea you realize that nature still rules.

Even in a large steel ship we are no more significant to the sea than a lone albatross, a dolphin or even an insect. It doesn’t treat us with any dignity or respect because we are human. It will try and break us and it will take our lives.

Life is precious and fragile. You can die in an instant anywhere you are but this reality is heightened at sea.

A close call at sea will give you a sharp reminder of your mortality. We live in such a modern bubble that we often forget that we are always very close to death. We should live with joy and passion because we never really know which day will be our last.

3. Sometimes the Conditions Are Favorable, Sometimes Adverse

Once I was sailing up the coast with 60 knot winds and a very heavy following sea. This was rough weather but we sailed quite comfortable. We didn’t have to fight the sea, because of the fact it was astern of us it was of assistance. In rough weather it is easier to go with the flow.

Only a few days later we were pounding straight into the teeth of 35 knot winds and a moderate sea and it was incredibly lumpy. While the weather was not quite as terrible as the days previously it affected us a lot more because we were trying to go directly in the face of it.

In all things in life there will be times where things happen easily and other times where you really have to fight and suffer to get where you want to go. Sometimes it is circumstance; sometimes it is the manner of your approach.

Accept that sometimes the conditions will favor you and sometimes they won’t. But know that they will always change. If you stick to your course be prepared to be battered around from time to time but stay true and you will eventually reach your destination.

4. Leadership Is Everything

While being at sea may seem like a calm and serene endeavor things can happen very fast and get dangerous very quickly. Every person needs a high degree of self-leadership in order to ensure that they are competent and ready to perform any task when required.

When a dangerous situation unfolds at sea people must react and the person in charge must take charge effectively. There is nothing to help you apart from the people and equipment on that vessel. People need to show faith in the leadership and the leaders need to show strong command.

A lack of leadership is not life or death in most situations as it can be at sea. But strong leadership, both of oneself and of others, is a powerful tool that can be used to achieve goals. Always develop your leadership abilities because it will stand you in good stead whatever you do.

5. You Cannot Be A Lone Wolf

At sea you must rely on your ship mates for everything. You have to work with them, eat with them, live with them and socialize with them. You cannot isolate yourself and try and survive on your own.

People in regular society often try and be a lone ranger because they cannot trust others. Some people are so fiercely self-reliant that they cannot open up and let others help them.

Human relationships are so important to our welfare. Make sure you set aside time to nurture the relationships you have with those close to you. If you let your relationships slide you may just find that one day they no longer exist.

Brad Alexander writes about personal development for young men, helping people navigate the difficult transition in the modern day from boyhood to manhood. You can find him at BadassYoungMen.com.

  • Thanks for the fine analogies Brad, they have blended in perfectly.
    be good to yourself

  • Thanks Bobbi and Galen. In terms of uncharted waters that’s something I’ve never experienced but I have amazing respect for people such as Cook, Columbus and de Gama and their men. Their courage and determination must have been on levels we rarely see today.

  • Oh Brad, I loved this post! Growing up in Washington State and spending LOTS of time on the water, I can totally relate to what you are saying here. I especially love #3 since I really believe that accepting the way the sea or wind is going at the time is essential to leading a peaceful life. Thanks so much for this!

  • Galen Pearl

    As a person who has spent very little time on the sea, I found this post intriguing and exciting. I can see the truth of your lessons just by imagining myself out on the water. Entering “uncharted waters” takes on new levels of meaning when you realize that that means not seeing any landmarks or features to guide you. Also, I never thought about the team aspect before and leadership. Great post.