If there is no wind, row.
Pushing forward, at any and all costs is good for the soul.
“If there is no wind, row” is a Latin proverb, and it’s also a small plaque my mom has in her garage. I’ve thought a lot about what it means and I’ve come to a very simple conclusion.
You have to be your own wind. No one will make decisions for you. No one will create opportunities for you. If you stay the status quo and you’re happy, stay. Don’t change for change sake. But if you want more, if you crave more, you have no choice but to muster the courage, gusto and sheer will to make it happen.
Recently, I’ve put more on my plate than I was planning on. I said yes to a new project and am also balancing spending more time outside of NYC while still going to the city once a week. It’s a lot. I’m doing it because the end result is being able to spend more time in the mountains, more time outside and more time focusing on what is next for me.
Focusing on what I want to do — not just for the next few months or year but for the next 5–10 years is a hard task to put on myself. It stresses me out. But it also invigorates me. I’m currently happy with my consulting clients and my freelance writing but part of leaving a full-time job last year was to really focus on this next stage of my career.
One of the great surprises is that I come back to this ever-present feeling that I swear has not gone away since I was 17. “What am I going to do with my life?” I keep thinking to myself, how am I back here? I will make a decision and take that road for a period of time and then come back to this question.
Sometimes it makes me feel alive, like I haven’t lost my spark. Sometimes it makes me feel like a loser. Can’t I just be one thing and that’s it? Couldn’t I just be a lawyer or something that fits within a box and call it a day?
But that’s not me. It just isn’t. And just because I’m making really good money right now on my own with a lot of freedom, the idea around this period of time was to focus on building something I could own.
Here is what I’ve realized about decisions. Most of the decisions we make are day-to-day. They aren’t BIG. So we think to ourselves that we are in fact making decisions every day. We are moving forward.
I’m not saying that’s not true, but I’m saying it’s a false sense of momentum.
When we are faced with making decisions and moving forward — when by all accounts everything is just fine and dandy the way it is — it’s scary and it’s really easy to say, “next month, next year, next time.”
I have been rowing hard this past month and this past year — hell my whole life. And I’ll continue to row. Because it’s part of who I am. I can sit in the middle of that lake and enjoy the beauty around me, the peace and stillness of quiet all around — but when push comes to shove — I’m strong enough to row myself anywhere I want to go. And chances are, searching deep enough, you are too.
Change is hard, it’s much easier to stay where we are. Stay in what’s good but not great. Most people won’t make a big decision until the moment they have to. Some will put it off and never make the change, never push to disrupt their own life for something different even if they crave it more than anything in the whole world.
This calls to mind the book, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Yes it’s a really well-written book (with the Oprah stamp) and it’s a great story about one woman’s journey on the Pacific Coast Trail but I think what really gets to the reader and what makes it a best-seller is that it’s a woman who created her own momentum. No one told her to change her life, in fact she was going downhill fast and it would be easy for her to have given up and not pushed forward, not done something outlandish to wake herself up.
You are your own decision maker. You can ask other people for their help, their advice, their counsel. But at the end of the day you are your own captain. You are your own life raft. You are your own boat. And if there is no wind, row.
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This essay originally appeared on my newsletter at The Causemopolitan.