When I set out across the Atlantic, I had set myself a target of rowing for 16 hours a day, every day. When tendonitis set in within the first week, causing a grinding pain in my shoulders whenever I rowed, I used this as a reason (or excuse?) to cut short my hours – but then gave myself a hard time for not living up to my expectations.

For heaven’s sake. Rowing ONLY twelve hours a day. What a slacker, hey?!

Roz on the Atlantic in 2005

And there was another problem too. I’d promised everybody I was going to do the Atlantic, and have fun in the process. I didn’t want to be one of these whinging adventurers who decides to do something and then spends every minute complaining about how uncomfortable, unpleasant, and generally unenjoyable it is. I was convinced that with a sufficiently positive mental attitude I could enjoy just about everything.

But even I was hard pushed to find the joy in the moment when I was in pain, the weather was appalling, all my equipment was breaking, and progress was frustratingly slow. And to make it worse, I regarded my lack of joy as a failure in itself. I’d said I was going to have a good time, so to be miserable was failing to live up to my self-imposed objective.

My shoulders and backside hurt, all of my oars had broken, it was officially the worst year for Atlantic weather since records began, and I was stuck out there for 103 days. And I don’t think it’s fun? Well, DUH!!!

So let’s talk about realistic goal-setting. I have a terrible tendency to be over-ambitious, and like perfectionism, this can be counter-productive. Now I’ve learned the value of a quick win. Much better to set a small and eminently achievable goal to start off with. Then achieve it and give myself a pat on the back. “Well done, Roz, great start! Now for something a little more challenging” – and to build it up that way. Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing is more conducive to quitting altogether than setting the bar too high and setting myself up for failure from the get-go.

I’ve also had to learn how to stay on track for my own objectives. Through a complicated set of circumstances I ended up doing the Atlantic as a competitor in a race, rather than as an independent expedition. I didn’t like this. Even though the other crews were comprised of 2 or 4 people, so were bound to be faster than me, a little vestige of competitive instinct meant that I hated being left behind.

Then one day I found in my cabin some laminated sheets that I had prepared before the start of the race, with various quotes of inspiration and wisdom. This line, from Desiderata (copied in full at the end of this blog), leaped out at me:

If you compare yourself to others you may become vain and bitter,

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

It reminded me that I was out there to find out what I was capable of, not what the other crews could do. My goal had never been to be first or fastest, but simply to get to know myself better through pitting myself against this enormous challenge. And I was achieving that, no matter what position I finished in the race.

To sum up:

– Be realistic. Over-ambition leads to failure and self-recrimination.

– Nothing succeeds like success. Create interim milestones and mini-successes to have more occasions for celebration.

– Be clear about your objectives in any undertaking. Stay true to yourself and measure your success only against your own criteria.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly,

and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant;

they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;

they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself to others you may become vain and bitter,

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your career however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,

for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals,

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself, especially do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years gracefully,

surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture the strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be;

and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,

keep peace with your soul.

With all its shams, drudgery and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

(Max Ehrmann)

18 Comments

  • Great stuff Roz, I’d love to come hear your talks some day…or maybe read your next book 🙂

    The idea of success through slow and steady progress is quickly becoming lost in this world…or so it seems.

    Focus is the key…and staying ‘true to yourself’ often requires tuning out everything (and everyone) else. YOU are the only person living your life.

    • I agree, Susie … DEFINITELY a best seller in the making! Also … Roz’s “book reviews” — the audio books she listened to whilst crossing the Pacific — would be a great chapter as well.

    • We all row our boats every day, everything breaks down, we complain, it gets better, then we are happy again. You just row, row and row some more. We get old doing it. No escape from body decline everyday as we get old. Roz is a human fish, I just hope she still has a personal message to all of us and not just for the environment. Maybe a spiritual message, after all she’s a preacher’s daughter.

  • Absolutely. I find myself feeling as though I have not lived up to my own personal goals from time to time but of late have embraced the more loving side of living. We must allow ourselves to fail as well as to acheive and love ourselves as well as others in the process. This is both empathetic and rational and can be applied to how we treat each other and our planet. Best of luck with your next adventure and congratulations on all of your achievements, even the small ones.

  • Roz! I hope you’re enjoying Istanbul. I got the prize for the Pacific fundraiser drawing yesterday! It’s awesome, and I’m going to hang it in my office where it can inspire me if I’m over-indulging in the whinging and remind me to set small goals. I’ll post a photo to your Facebook page when I’ve got it hung.

    All is well at our urban farm. Had a chick/raccoon conflict, but the chick is recovering pretty well. It was a rough couple days. Deb was out of town.

    Safe travels to you!

    Joan

    • Hi Joan, I decided to try out this new feature and ask you to remind us what you got for your good luck … as I recall it was a framed photo with some other goodies included …

  • I’m really glad that this post is proving helpful to people. Maybe I should read my own advice more often, too!

    So now I need to write the next few blogs, but the folks in Istanbul (World Ocean Rowing Championships) are keeping me super-busy. It’s all great, getting the VIP treatment, but my schedule is just packed, so any further words of wisdom may have to wait a little.

    Joan- glad the prize arrived safely. and sorry to hear about the chick drama. Was that Geraldine? She’s having a rough old time, but kudos to her for surviving the raccoon attack – surely against the odds. Go girl! 🙂

  • Regarding Reader’s Digest Make It Matter Award.

    Roz, this award fits you perfectly. Here’s what I wrote to Reader’s Digest, and please others do the same!:

    Roz Savage is so much more than an ocean rower. She inspires everyone to do good things with their lives. She gives SO much to both the world community of environmental causes and to local communities where she gives talks. She is intelligent, humble, open-hearted and incredibly giving. Please consider Roz Savage for this award.

    Just so you know, I am not family or even a personal friend of hers. I only know her through a talk she gave in Sacramento in September 2010, reading her blogs and her book. She really is quite amazing and I think a very good candidate for this award.

    Sincerely,

    Bruce Gervais

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