The best advice my dad ever gave me… (and only now do I understand it)

I had an epiphany the other day, and I have to be honest in saying that it hurt. It stung me, right to the inner core of my being. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life. I believe every single thing that you do leads you on a path to where you are right here and right now. There is one thing, however, I wish I had realised long ago, and that has everything to do with a piece of advice I was given from my father, repeatedly, over the course of my life. I always believed I was living by his wise words. They were my mantra. I repeated them daily, believed in them and all that they meant. I knew how important they were and the gravity of the lesson he was passing down. But…

Like a punch to the gut, I woke up the other day realising something so crucial and simultaneously soul crushing… at the age of 40!

I had repeated these words, that my dad had given to me, over and over again growing up. And what were those words? Their simplicity may surprise you. My dad simply said, over and over again, “be the captain of your own ship.” At times it was said so frequently, all he had to do was say, “captain,” and I knew exactly what he meant.  As a kid, I pictured myself as a pirate. As a teenager, I was annoyed by the notion that I wasn’t in control of my own life and had to be reminded to do so. As an adult, I swung back around to the idea, but less pirate and more respectable military leader of a massive vessel. It was always with me, this statement, this way of living life. So what was soul destroying about that?

Well, when you wake up at the age of 40 and realise that you think you’ve lived your life one way, when actually you’ve done exactly the opposite, it hurts. It’s an ‘a ha’ moment, for sure, and one I am pretty darn sure will change everything, but it doesn’t make it sting any less.

Here’s what I realised, and my God do I wish I could go back and stick a finger in the twenty-something face and say, “wake up, kid.” But, like I said, everything happens for a reason….

My whole life I thought I was the captain of my own ship, sailing confidently through both sunny and stormy weather like a seasoned pro. In fact, I was anything but. I wasn’t the first mate, not even the second mate. I was basically the guy running around the boat, in a frenzied panic, making sure it just keeps afloat and moving forward. I have never been at the wheel, confidently steering my life in the direction I want it to go. 

I spent so much of my life in “just keep it afloat” mode, that I never really paid attention to where I was sailing. Sure, I grabbed the wheel when things got hairy, to avoid the icebergs or pop up islands (yeah, let’s make this a tropical sailing boat, not the Titanic), but that was the only time I really looked forward. I’ve spent most of my life battling things as they hit, never looking forward to see them coming.

Now, again, this has served me in different ways. I’ve learned to battle things that I could have never imagined I’d be confronted with, and my goodness have lessons been learned, very valuable lessons that I now treasure as life changers. But, here’s the rub, if I had seen them coming, I could have prepared and lessened the blow.

If you ever go back and watch interviews at the time at which I started FFG, there is one question that constantly comes up. “Where do you see yourself with FFG in five, ten, fifteen years?” My answer was always, “I have no clue and I’m happy to have experienced what I have already. That’s enough for me. Who knows what’s next?”

Of course, for many that means I’m living my life by another mantra entirely, and one that millions swear by – living in the here and now. Can you see me still trying to save face here? That’s all well and good, living in the here and now, but even those that do exactly that are usually standing at the top of their ship, enjoying the “here and now” while navigating in the opposite direction of storm clouds. They aren’t in the hull, in a state of panic, hoping the boat doesn’t break in a storm, hoping that they’ve built their ship strongly enough to withstand anything.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about myself through all of this. I have literally handed my life to the wind. I’ve said, “world, throw me where you want, and I’ll be damned if I don’t thrive wherever I may end up.”

That is exactly what has happened in my life. And I have had so much happiness as a result of living life that way. I ended up in London because I didn’t have a job after University and a friend was coming over, so I thought “what the hell?” I thought I’d stay for the allotted six months and come home. I ended up finding the dream job and stayed. Stayed in the job for ten years. Started FFG for some fun and it turned into something. A chance presented itself to make it a full time gig. I took it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I floated from this to that, from that to this. And I took what I was given from the universe and ran with it, until I had exhausted every ounce of the situation or until another wind blew me in a different direction.

You may find yourself confused here. Why am I saying all of this if things have seemingly worked out ok? Yes, I feel so incredibly lucky that things have worked out the way they have, but hindsight offers an incredible opportunity, and one I so desperately want to share with anyone young enough to take it on board and make a change in their own life by reading this. And when I say “young enough,” I’m including myself in that, as a 40 year old woman. Heck, you could be 75 and still see an opportunity here. I truly believe it’s never too late to change course, change direction in not just the way you live your life but how you grab it!

Here’s where I would have done things differently. I would have stood confidently at the wheel from day one. Instead of worrying about whether or not my ship would stay afloat, I would be confident in the idea that I was given a well made ship, that would see the course through. I would sail in the direction of my dreams, confidently, and with purpose.  And sure, along the way, other things might be discovered, that you could have never predicted, including delightful things like new opportunities. But, you’d have a clear view of them coming and would grab or pass at them accordingly. That is the power of being the captain of your own ship. No one else is making decisions. Just you. The buck stops there. You can’t blame anyone else for anything. You can’t say you didn’t see it coming. You can’t hide below deck in a storm or in sunny weather. You’re taking in the good, the bad and the ugly and you’re learning, taking notes and adjusting your course accordingly.

I am a person that listens to podcasts constantly, mainly business podcasts, and mostly from women entrepreneurs. And here’s what I’ve spotted in women that have reached the peak of success in their careers, with the companies they have founded. All of them will admit mistakes, they’ll freely admit wrong turns. They’ll say they learned from them, they’ll even state they didn’t see it coming. But each and every single women I listen to is a woman that is the captain of her own ship. They have sailed confidently in a direction of where they would like to go. They’ve seen an opportunity and they’ve set their ship in that direction, end of. All of them admit to twists and turns, but all of them held the wheel of their life in their hands. They made their own luck, simply by stepping up to the wheel. End of. They may not say it directly, but none of them were cowering below deck in the story of their lives. Or, if they were, they made the decision to not be. It’s a decision that has to be made if you want to achieve something greater, something bigger, like they all have.

So to any woman reading this, may I please encourage you to take back the wheel. Navigate in the direction of your dreams, without fear or doubt. Be the captain of your own ship. Be confident in the crew you have around you – the support network that wants to see you succeed. Navigate yourself in the direction of paradise! Sure, stormy waters will always be lurking, but once you sail through a few storms, you’ll be a pro, and with each one you’ll be less scared of the next!

At the age of 40, I’m finally realising just how important this advice was and just how life changing it can be if you take it on board. If you feel like you are aimlessly floating, with no direction, sit down and find one. Write on blank paper, until a plan reveals itself. Make vision boards of what you want the land ahead to look like. Talk to friends, family, yourself, about what you dream of doing and chase it with reckless abandon. There is no plan too silly, no idea too big and absolutely no dream too frivolous. No vision or dream is out of your grasp. I know that to be true for each and every one of us and I have seen so many people reach out for their dream and have seen so few fall on their faces completely. And the ones that have fallen have immediately picked themselves up and found that they were destined for something bigger and better!

Don’t hide below deck. Don’t spend your life reinforcing the hull or wondering if the masts will hold in stormy weather. Believe you are built to weather any storm. Calm the worry and step up to the wheel.

BE THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR OWN SHIP!

 

 

 

 

 


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