A Life Adrift
This week I am “Turning 40”; a turning point in my life. turning point, that pivotal moment in life when a decision is made and your life is irrevocably changed. For 40 years I have been adrift at the sea of my life. Adrift, I was subject to the elements, and would grasp onto anything for survival, anything that might help give my life direction. I bounced around from job to job, battered by the waves of unsatisfaction. I was swept up in the currents of relationships, only to be spit back out to the vastness of the sea.
And in that moment, just before you believe you can’t survive another day lost at sea a turning point appears on the horizon; a rescue boat.
According to Steve Callahan, there are 5 Realities of Being Lost at Sea. “After eight days at sea, a whale rammed into and sunk his boat. Steve managed to escape to a life raft with supplies and drifted across the Atlantic for 76 goddamned days before he was finally rescued.”
#5. It’s About Managing a Parade of Overlapping Disasters
“It’s never just one disaster at a time, is the point — you have a lot of plates to keep spinning if you want to remain alive.”
The whale of my life that rammed into and sank my boat sending me out to sea, fighting for survival came while I was losing my girlfriend and our baby. There I am adrift, slapping at the sea fighting the deadweight trying to pull me under, and the closest thing in the world to me at that moment, the only thing I felt would save me from my ultimate demise was the very whale that hit my boat. My life raft was my girlfriend.
The life raft exploded to life and we both jumped in exhausted. Without a plan we drifted. We quickly learned to manage the day to day business of survival, but leaks turned into holes and we were taking on water faster than we could bail it. I was 28 years old experiencing my first divorce and my boss called to inform me of the company downsizing. I was tossed out to sea, emotionally and physically drained.
#4. You Get in Touch With Nature … in Very Weird Ways
“I formed a relationship with those fish. — This little mini-ecosystem that formed around my raft island led civilization to find me again, and wound up saving my life.”
In 40 years of being at sea, truly a fish out of water I learned to create relationships with all types of fish, in very weird ways.
There I am sitting at lunch, watching the Kentucky Derby with new friends I just met the night before at the bar. When I asked the married couple of more than 20 years, with all the arrogance of youth “what the hell is wrong with you guys?” The world stopped for several hours as we had one of those rare moments in which we quickly moved from strangers to friends. War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby, but I was the winner of the relationship that formed that day that wound up saving my life.
Months after the Kentucky Derby lunch as I am tossed back to sea by the unpredictable wave of my first divorce, I am tossed a lifeline by my new friends. I drifted through the next year unconscious to life. They saved me from drowning or drifting off as we spent many a sleepless night bowling, taking trips together, growing into a weird family. The worst part of this story is that after all they had done to help me survive I abandoned the relationship. I took for granted their friendship for years until I literally came knocking at the door having been hit by another rogue wave, divorce number 2.
#3. You Go a Little Bit Nuts
“survival is not a noble or admirable thing that only the most awesome humans pull off– it’s something we are hardwired to do.”
Surviving failure has been a constant companion on the open sea. My life adrift is proof that survival is dependent upon being a little bit nuts and very creative. My life adrift is a patchwork of jobs and relationships.
I think her exact words were, “I don’t think that I can depend on you to provide.” Six years, 3 jobs, more failed entrepreneurial efforts and again I was tossed out to sea.
“I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”…Cast Away
#2. The Sea Is Different (and Much More Horrifying) Than Movies Show
“When you’re actually on that raft in the middle of the ocean, the water is clear and filled with fish and barnacles; it’s this massively deep, dynamic, living body that’s under you.”
Life can be a very big place and I learned quickly that I didn’t know how to navigate its vastness, the fast moving currents, life threatening waves, and lets not forget about the constant threat of sharks (predators of life).
While adrift, bouncing around from job and relationship with no clear direction I was vulnerable to sharks. “A shark’s primary sense is a keen sense of smell. It can detect one drop of blood in a million drops of water and can smell blood a quarter mile away.” Beaten, battered and bleeding sharks constantly surrounded my life raft, willing to prey on my time in exchange for money, to feed their needs.
My desperation created a feeding frenzy. My assignment was to set up fence displays at 750 Home Depot stores East of the Mississippi. I left home the day before Thanksgiving, in a Giant Box Truck that carried over 10,000 lbs. of fence displays. Each week I would empty and reload by hand a new shipment of displays onto the truck, I called it “My 10,000 Pound Workout”. I drove 30,000 miles, visited every state East of the Mississippi, rarely spent more than 1 night in the same hotel. If your city has a Home Depot, I’ve probably been there. I am grateful for the experience. In fact, it was that job that lead me to the turning point and it was that experience that demonstrated to me that I was colossally wasting my time and talents. So I did what any good survival book tells you to do when being attacked by a Shark, I punched it in the nose; I quit.
#1. You Learn to Appreciate Life … and Blind Luck
“I had a patching kit, but the instruction included the words “material must be dry prior to application,” which is not terribly helpful on a boat that is constantly trying to sink.”
The instructions to the patch kit of life seem to be as useful as a patch kit on a life raft at sea when the “material must be dry prior to application.” Patch kits haven’t been terribly helpful on my constantly sinking life raft. In my 40 years adrift I have learned to appreciate the holes in my life raft, the things that created the holes, and that with a lot of blind luck I have been able to creatively survive.
Two years ago while adrift, I asked a Beautiful Question, that caused the Turning Point to appear on the horizon, “what can I do to create a better connection with my family?”. I realized that I loved my family but that I just didn’t have a connection to them, we had drifted apart. Inspite of all my failure previous to that moment, I mustard up all my creativity to figure out some way in which I could connect on a deeper level with my family.
The answer, came in the following email…
Questions with which to know you better
To whom it may concern and those of you I don’t know very well,
I don’t believe it will come as a shock to any of you that I don’t consider us the poster family for closeness. This is not a complaint as much as it is an observation. We can continue to go the way we have always gone and I am sure it will be just FINE. As a restaurant manager I considered a guest leaving who informed me that their experience was fine, it meant that they had a less than memorable experience.
I informed each of you at the ranch that I like to play a game with complete strangers in which I ask them to tell me their lives in 30 seconds. As all of you know I have had the opportunity of having to meet and bring new people into my life. In this process I often describe my family members, their spouse and children… I must admit I am probably providing less than accurate information on all of you. So if interested I would like to play a game, a game that doesn’t particularly have an end. I would like to play a very slow, yet more detailed version of “tell me your life in 30 seconds“.
There are no rules exactly, however my idea is to ask one question a week and each of us can respond to the group. With everyone having busy lives I think that a question a week is plenty and if we answer 52 questions a year we might just get to know each other, more than the strangers we are now.
Question 1: Inspired by David Letterman – What are the Top 10 Highlights of your life?
“I was very, very fortunate to make it through. When I talk to other survivors, I hear the same thing — It’s a wake-up call. Many survivors suddenly have their priorities straight. In the midst of the chaos at sea, there can be moments of wonder and beauty, too.”
52 Questions later I did it, I survived, I found some direction, a straightening of priorities and I connected with my family on a level I would have never thought possible.
In “Turning 40” I appreciate that I still have the opportunity to experience the chaos and adventure of my life adrift at sea, the moments of wonder and beauty that come from holes in your life raft, failed attempts with a patch kit and the creativity of survival. I am grateful for the turning points and life lines that have been thrown my way by family and friends, as I have ventured the open sea.