It won’t be long before I drown if thrown into a swimming pool.
Yes. I can’t swim to save my life.
Yet, I have had the privilege of being the captain of one of world’s largest ships; that was 30 years ago when I was in my early 30’s.
Face the Unknown
You may have read the poem “Casabianca” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans about a boy who stood on the burning deck. I too was a boy of 16 straight out of school. Innocent, naïve and had never learnt to swim. But life had its plans. As the train whistled out of the home town, a cosy childhood was left behind. Forever. The next day, I found myself on the deck of a fabled training ship as a cadet. Along with 120 others. We all looked hopelessly lost.
Learn the Basics
Over the next 2 years, between ‘holystoning’ the decks to pristine whiteness and polishing endless rows of shoes to shiny blackness, I learnt a bit about navigation and a lot more about survival. Hanging on to a dangling rope ladder on one arm or sailing on a wooden boat with the rim barely an inch above water taught me not to fear the blue sea but to respect it. I was always aware that an accidental fall into the water may lead to an eternal goodbye to a career or, possibly, life.
The oceans beckoned with their irresistible charm and arms wide open, promising a life of hope and eternal adventure. King Neptune’s vast court of blue water was not for the fickle minded or the feeble hearted. None knew what the sea was going to be like, with each day a voyage into uncharted waters. Planning was not an option. Nor was adaptability to change.
Skills & Teamwork
The ships grew in size and complexity, demanding more skill and rewarding the practitioners as we tried, erred, failed at times but never gave up. ‘All hands on deck’ is an oft said phrase. We struggled through many a difficult day, when not doing so could have led to disaster or death. Bonds were built, lasting years after the shipmate went off down the gangway. A collection of unforgettable experiences, each unique and exhilarating.
Overcome the Odds
The oceans teased & tested, charmed & frustrated those who wanted to ply their trade on ships of steel. Storms, hurricanes, the intense heat of the mid-east to the bitter winter of Newfoundland, buckled steel, holed ship’s hull, unplanned breakdowns, being airlifted near death at dead of night, remarkable recovery and returning to work were all part of the forging process.
My career at sea lasted all of 18 years. A near life time really. Of struggle, unbridled joy, pain, fun, hardship and friendship. In delectable doses. But never ever one overcome with fear.
“You can’t swim?”, the incredulity in the questioner’s voice was palpable. Disbelieving even. I felt the room quietening down to hear the response. “I was trained to sail a ship, not to sink it; I never needed to swim to save my life”, I replied. The applause was deafening.
Conquer your inner fear.
But I live on land, I hear you say.
Allow me to quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;”
Turn your head, mind and body away from fear.
A bright future beckons.
Author: Narayanan Shankar
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Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built, and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’, and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.
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