You Can’t Sail If You Never Leave the Harbor
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. –Grace Hopper
She knew something was wrong.
Culture creates prisons, and she was trapped inside one.
Teachers told her she wasn’t good enough. Professors told her the same, and she dropped out.
Her father begged her to reconsider.
But she wasn’t having any of it.
Her father had a choice. He could try to guilt her into college and be content with her taking the “safe” path. Many people went in that direction, and some of them were happy. Or, he could make the heart-wrenching choice of encouraging his daughter to find her own path.
If he simply gave her “freedom” or an easy path, it would be like giving her an inheritance. The easy way carried serious tradeoffs. The easy path carried diseases of comfort. He saw what those tradeoffs did to all the people around him.
People became automatons seeking greater levels of comfort with reduced amounts of personal risk. They became angry at any minor disturbance or lapse in comfort. They were ready to lash out at the systems of cooperation or their peers the moment they felt anyone was getting more than their “fair share.” The thought of his daughter becoming one of those comfort-craving zombies made him shudder.
He visualized her path in the short term, and didn’t want to see her struggle. But then he considered the long term, and thinking of her sacrificing her full potential was unbearable.
Freedom had to be earned, in order to be appropriately valued.
Individuality could only be forged in the furnaces of adversity.
He heard the passion in his daughter’s voice, the yearning for freedom.
So he presented her with a simple offer.
“You can skip college.”
The girl’s eyebrows raised. And her father knew what she wanted most… the family sailboat.
“And I’ll give you the boat.”
Her eyes lit up and a smile from ear to ear crept over her face.
“But…” sighed her father.
She was frozen in anticipation.
“You have to sail it around the world.”
She moved her lips to protest but he held up a finger.
“No protests and no negotiation. You want freedom, and that’s wonderful. But you’ll have to face a challenge in order to earn it. The ocean and the real world are the best teachers I know.”
The 26-foot boat glistened in the sun. In a mixture of fear, elation, and confusion, she spoke before she could think.
“I’ll do it.”
Her father’s heart sank but he knew he made the right choice.
At 18 years old, with no formal training, no GPS, and no crew, Tania Aebi took that 26-foot boat and sailed around the world. She became the first solo female sailor to circumnavigate the world. She took a sextant for celestial navigation, a radio direction finder, and a few other simple supplies and embarked on a year and a half adventure.
She faced storms, almost had her boat crushed, and came face to face with the ultimate enemy: herself and her mindset.
She returned. Unscathed.
Biologists have a term called neoteny. They use it to describe species they’re studying who retain juvenile features well into adulthood.
Many of our cultural institutions have become training grounds for neoteny.
More twenty and thirtysomethings live at home than ever before.
Americans in the top 1% of global wealth whine about how they don’t have enough. Meanwhile, they have pocket supercomputers more powerful than the ones NASA used to get to the moon. Instead of using them to become learning machines, hike across the country, or connect with like minds to build new things, they use them to play games.
Tania Aebi isn’t a household name. She’s not “rich” but she’s free.
Your name doesn’t have to become “known.” You don’t have to do what the crowd does. All of us can become free, unique individuals through adversity. There are safe paths always waiting for us. There are those who profess to “love” us by helping keep us in comfort. Their fear of the unknown can keep us from the adventures that make life worth living.
The challenge is to find and earn love from those willing to endure the pain of watching us struggle.
The struggle doesn’t have to lead to a million or a billion dollars. Most of the world lives on a few dollars per day. When Elon Musk was taking jobs from the Canadian unemployment office, he taught himself to live on $2 a day (hotdogs and oranges) to remove his fear of poverty. Culture has an endless buffet of fears and hamster wheels for you to run on. Escape them and kill your fears with direct real-world experience.
Take massive action, and then cut off any possibilities of regret. Face adversities and take full agency for your choices. Leave the safe harbor, but if you find yourself riding tumultuous waves or shipwrecked, don’t breathe a word of complaint. There are always gifts and lessons for those who take radical agency of their own lives.
Culture wants to keep you infantile. Those who are addicted to comfort have an allergic reaction when they spend time around those who can ensure uncomfort. Do you want to be addicted to comfort, or addicted to achievement?
While certain comfort-addicted neo-maniacs in the world worship “the coming machine singularity,” you can become a real singularity through facing and overcoming adversity.
You can become a unique individual if you find someone who loves you enough to allow you to endure challenges. It won’t be easy, and it will mean intense isolation from most people. But do you want to be like most people?
“It happens rarely, but whenever I do read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch television, on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering, “How? How can this happen? How can people be so gullible?”
[I’m renewed with] gratitude to my father for having given me the chance to dodge full immersion in the homogenizing machine, and makes me more determined than ever to pass this gift of becoming an individual on to my own children.”
— TANIA AEBI, world record holder, first circumnavigation of the world by a solo female sailor
Don’t be afraid to leave the harbor.
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