Porthole Wisdom VII: Gratitude for a Purpose.
Lessons on life, love and leadership from my time at sea.
It can be so easy to fall into the rut of repetition and apathy — particularly when it comes to work life. As I stare down my last few days working onboard the Adonia, I’ve begun to notice in myself the tendency to focus on all the good things waiting for me when I return home. You know, the whole “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. And as I think about those things, it becomes more and more difficult to recognize the good that surrounds me. The little things that I take for granted on a daily basis but that put me squarely in the “blessed” column.
I was fortunate enough to be reminded of this as I walked down the long, artificially lit, hallway from my cabin deck three to my office on deck four. As I passed one of the fourteen rooms in my hall, I saw in my periphery our deck cabin steward — Denmark. (Ironically, he is from the Philippines) Den, as we call him, was already hard at work changing sheets, making our beds, swapping out towels, vacuuming, dusting our shelves, cleaning our bathrooms, and bringing our pressed laundry to the room. Now before I go any further, let me quash any suggestions that what I’m saying is coming from a place of superiority or entitlement — it’s quite the opposite actually. You see, as I begrudgingly shuffled off to my sun-lit office, in the middle of the Caribbean, leading a team of dynamic change-makers, for a purpose-filled company, I saw Denmark hard at work in a role that made me simultaneously grateful for all he does as well as the privilege I have do purpose filled work.
It isn’t the first time this realization has cropped up while working at sea. One sunny afternoon sitting at a cafe in Havana with a couple of my British mates, we started chatting about how you’d never see any of our fellow Indian or Filipino ship-mates out exploring a destination like we were. When I asked why, one of them said matter-of-factly, “They’re here to save money, not spend it”. As they quickly transitioned to chatting about the quality of Cuban beer, I couldn’t help but ponder how incredibly lucky I’ve been to choose a job based on how it aligns with my sense of purpose, while the vast majority of my colleagues spend 9 months away from their family simply to get by. I suppose that alone provides sufficient meaning to those like my friend Den, but part of me worries that the benefit of fulfillment is a rare byproduct of their daily grind. Truth be told, this can probably be said of a majority of the working world — regardless of nationality.
In an American pop-culture that’s a-buzz with helping people find their meaning in work, and employers trying to attract purpose-driven millennials with unlimited PTO, beanbags, and altruistic business practices, it made me think about how fortunate I am to be in a position where I can discriminate one job opportunity from the other based upon how it helps me reach my quota of personal fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll be at the front of the crowd when it comes to encouraging people to pursue the career that aligns with their life’s purpose. In the words of Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This quote has inspired me to make decisions that have enriched my life beyond measure.
That said, I’m also reminded of the words of Mother Theresa, “the miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.”
Maybe it’s not always about the output of our work. Maybe we ought to take a page out of Denmark’s playbook and simply be grateful for what the work allows us to do. And if for some reason beyond our own doing, we’re fortunate enough to do work that fills us up and satiates our thirst for purpose, well…that’s all the more to be grateful for. Incredibly grateful!