When I set out across the Atlantic, I had a naïve vision that it would be a wonderful, serene, meditative experience. Influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, I imagined that this would be my watery Walden, an opportunity for insight and enlightenment, a kind of retreat at sea.
How very wrong I was. The weather was appalling, much worse than in a typical Atlantic year, and it rapidly took a toll on my boat and on my body.
Worse still, I had wanted this to be a perfect experience – or, to be more accurate, I had wanted to be the perfect ocean rower. I thought I was so well-prepared, and yet here I was, alone, in pain, struggling and doubtful, and that gap between the vision and the reality created enormous disappointment and frustration.
One day I noticed that I was carrying a huge burden of thwarted hopes, and that the pressure it was creating was completely self-imposed. Immediately I stopped caring about whether I was doing this rowing thing “the right way” or not. I stopped minding that it wasn’t perfect. Yes, I admitted to myself – ocean rowing sucks. And the way I’m doing it may be the right way or the wrong way, but at least it’s my way.
When I look back over my life, I can see times when I held back from doing something in case I didn’t do it “right”, because I wanted to be “perfect”. Now I’m older and hopefully wiser, I don’t really care all that much. I’d rather go ahead and do something, even if I do it badly, and then learn from the experience and try again. Trying to be perfect straight out of the blocks is simply unrealistic.
As an aside, I’m a fan of Carol Dweck and her work on fixed mindset vs growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you might believe you’re a genius, but if you ever run into evidence that undermines that belief, you crumble. If you have a growth mindset, your belief will be something more like, “I believe I have the ability to learn from my mistakes and do better the next time around.” I’m sure you can see which mindset is going to serve you better in the long run. Check out her TED talk to find out more.
I’m going to be speaking at the National CSR Awards in London on 12th May, and will be signing books afterwards. I would love to see you there! You can receive a 50% discount on the usual ticket price by entering “CSR50” at checkout. It promises to be a glittering event, at London’s coolest and most sustainable venue, The Crystal. Please spread the word!