I took my first adventure – a 3-month trip to Peru – when I was 34 years old, and I was terrified. I can remember how I felt on the flight to Lima – damp of palm and wobbly of courage.
I had never travelled as a back-packer before. I’d never been to South America before. My expertise in Spanish came entirely from a two-week crash course at the local adult education centre. And – most challenging of all – beyond the first 3 weeks I didn’t have a plan. I had a Lonely Planet guide, but no plan about where I was going to go, what I was going to do, or who I was going to meet. I was going to make it up as I went along.
My only guiding principle was that I wanted to write a book about my travels, so I didn’t really mind what happened, as long as it provided interesting material for the book. I had just been reading The Celestine Prophecy, a spiritual novel also set in Peru, coincidentally – except that, according to the Prophecy, of course, there is no such thing as coincidence – and had decided to make my choices according to my instincts, rather than my intellect.
It was to be my first experiment in trusting life to guide me.
As it turned out, life guided me extremely well.
The book almost wrote itself. Not only did many interesting things happen, but they formed themselves nicely into three dramatic narrative peaks centred around three actual mountain peaks, leading me to the title of the book, Three Peaks In Peru*.
A skill that I discovered during that trip was to see myself as both the author and the hero of the story. I was both the observer and the observed. So when things got a little TOO interesting, as they occasionally did, I was able to take one step back from the present reality, and see the situation through the “author” lens, and appreciate what a fine tale this would make.
It also allowed me to make bolder decisions than I would otherwise had done. As my confidence gradually grew, I eagerly embraced novel experiences for the good of my book, and life rewarded my courage by taking good care of me.
This technique served me well a couple of years later, on the Atlantic Ocean. Most things that could go wrong, did, but by (usually) being able to separate myself from the wave of emotions that might otherwise have engulfed me, I was able to keep my cool. I still experienced the emotions, but I didn’t attach to them so much. When I needed to, I could switch from “hero” mode into “author” mode.
The word “author” originates from the Latin, “augere”: to increase, originate, promote. In Middle English, “author” meant “a person who invents or causes something”. And isn’t that what we’re doing with the course of our life?
We create our lives. We cause things, either consciously or unconsciously, to happen to us. And sometimes it will serve us well to take one step back, and look at what we’re creating, and decide whether that is something that will make us proud of the story of our life.
*As yet, regrettably, unpublished.
I had a wonderful time at the National CSR Awards last Thursday. Congrats to all the award winners, and huge thanks to the amazing founder, Karen Sutton. You’re an inspiration! Thanks also to The Crystal, Europe’s most sustainable building, for hosting.
Also wonderful to get on my posh frock and hat to be at Buckingham Palace on Monday for the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. 7,000 people thronged the palace gardens – Gold Award recipients, proud parents, partner organisations, and celebrity presenters. Christine Philips did an incredible job of keeping us all in order – and organised some fabulous weather to boot!
By coincidence (or not!) I was back at The Crystal on Tuesday for the International Coaching Federation Conference. A big hello to the friends, old and new, that I saw there.
Best of luck to my mentees, ocean rowing couple James Caple and Cindy Way, now on standby to depart from Cape Cod to row the North Atlantic. You can follow their adventures online.
Best of luck, too, to all the intrepid crews taking part in the Great Pacific Race, due to start on 4th June in Monterey, California. You can follow the final preparations and race launch on the official Facebook page. Obviously I’m impartial, but I might have a slight soft spot for Fight the Kraken, racing in my old boat, Sedna, now impressively remodelled.