Do you trust your compass? Finding your way in life, business, and traffic is a challenge. The easiest way to get somewhere without getting lost is to switch on the GPS. But too many people never know the joy of leaving sight of land with a compass and a paper chart. Only then can you experience the thrill when the trees appear on the horizon—right where they’re supposed to—like magic. And isn’t that where great stories come from?
I am sailing from Miami to the Bahamas. I am 25 years old and my boat is 26 feet long. I am confident of my navigation skills, but I want someone with me to be confident for. Leadership doesn’t feel quite so “leadery” if you’re the captain and the crew; we all feel braver when someone shares our popcorn at life’s horror movies. My friend Ray—a lean, balding New Englander—becomes the unwitting accomplice to my seafaring aspirations. The son of the creator of Archie Comics, Ray is quick with a bad pun and a pirate joke. Aarrgh!
At sundown, we raise our sails and head east.
Our plan is to make landfall in the morning—so we can see the reefs and shallows of the Bahama Banks.
Archie and Jughead go to sea.
Betty and Veronica are nowhere to be found.
We are two young men steeped in the romance of the sea—two teabags in a cup of saltwater—completely unmindful of the fact that nobody ever had a real adventure where everything went right.
Have you ever been seasick? It starts with a few little warning burps, and transitions to a strange state where you’re not quite present—like you’re sitting in your head watching a movie through your own eyes. Not long after that, dinner comes up … and morale goes down. Seasickness is a horrible impediment to captainship.
“Ray, I’m feeling a little bit queasy.” I hand him the tiller and retire to my bunk with a bucket and a sour, empty stomach.
The boat bounces as she rides through the water.
The ocean rushes faster past the hull.
Flashes light up the ports, followed by rumbles of distant thunder.
Raindrops drum on the deck.
And through this, Ray remains steadfast at the helm, watching the compass and minding the horizon.
You know when lightning is too close—when you hear the electric crackle an instant before the flash and the boom—especially when you’re sitting under a 35-foot aluminum pole—and you are the tallest object for miles.
This is the point in my story where the faith Ray had placed in the boat and the compass and the paper chart—and me—wavers. He summons me to the cockpit.
“Dave, this is crazy. Let’s turn around.”
I sit down next to my defeated friend who has stood so many of my watches.
I put my arm around him and speak slowly.
“We’re a lot closer to the Bahamas than we are to Florida.
“There’s no reason to assume we’re off course.
“The wind’s in our favor.
“The seas are calming.
“Let’s carry on. We should pick up the light at Grand Bahama Island in a few hours.”
And that’s what happened. The beacon appeared, the sky turned from black to plum to peach, and we dropped anchor on the other side.
Ray and I learned some lessons that night: Sometimes leadership means stepping in to keep the ship on course—even when that’s someone else’s job. Sometimes leadership means being there at those moments when everything feels hopeless—no matter how hopeless you feel, yourself.
And we both learned to trust our compass. Moments of connection with the clock that ticks in the heart of the universe are too easily missed when you’re watching a screen instead of the horizon.Trust your compass. Steer a true course, calculate your position, and even when there’s nothing around but darkness, you won’t need a GPS to tell you where you are.
Do you trust your compass? Can you find your way when your battery dies? Why not open yourself to the possibility that you might get lost? You could find yourself right where you’re supposed to be—in the wrong place at the right time. In life, in business, or at sea, isn’t that where opportunities and adventures come from?
I’ve been out of sight of land many times since that day—but I still sail without a GPS. And I always feel a thrill when the trees appear on the horizon—right where they’re supposed to—like magic. And that’s where great stories come from.