In case you’re thinking, “Oh, she’s one of those adventure types, so what can she possibly have to say about happiness and meaning that will have anything to do with me?”, HOLD ON A MOMENT! Just give me a few seconds to try and convince you that I am actually a NORMAL person who can be happy/sad, or that life is meaningful/meaningless, just like anybody else.
First, I’m not naturally sporty, outdoorsy, or adventurous. At school I was actually the bookworm (aka swot) who was hopeless at sports. Short, uncoordinated, couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, couldn’t play hockey. I only took up rowing when I went to university because I wanted to be able to eat more without getting fat.
And I’m not naturally good at being happy. At heart, I tend to be a cup-half-empty kind of person, always over-critical of myself and sometimes of others. But there’s nothing quite like spending 520 days alone with yourself to help you overcome your personal demons. So I’ve taught myself to be more positive in my outlook, because I needed to in order to avoid throwing myself overboard.
As to the meaning of life – well, I still have my doubts. What I do believe is that finding meaning in YOUR life is vital in order to be happy – and successful. Whether that meaning comes from being wealthy, philanthropic, a good parent, a good spouse, a good friend, or anything else – that is up to you. The point is to have thought about it, and come to some kind of a clear conclusion as to what your personal priorities are. If you haven’t already seen it at least 5 times, watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk: Start With Why.
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that happiness and meaning are not just nice to have – they are crucial to success in life and in business. So how to create more of both? Here are my top tips, evolved during my transition from office worker to ocean rower, and refined during far too much time spent alone at sea.
An Ocean Rower’s Top Tips for Happiness and Meaning
1. Take time out to think about your “why”. Ask yourself: what would make me proud of my life? What unique contribution can I make to the world? And how can I weave that into the fabric of my working life?
2. Create your own definition of success. It’s easy to be lazy about this, to adopt a definition from parents, teachers, peers, spouse, boss, corporate culture or even advertisers. But it’s your life – live it according to your own criteria.
3. Keep expanding your comfort zone. Your comfort zone never stays static – it is always growing or contracting. By default, it tries to contract, so you have to take deliberate action if you want to expand it. How do you do that? Get uncomfortable. Do something that challenges you in a slightly nervous-making way. The discomfort zone is where the exciting stuff happens.
4. No matter how daunting the challenge, you can achieve almost anything if you take it one oarstroke at a time. Keep a clear vision of your goal, but don’t allow yourself to think of all the things that could go wrong between where you are now and where you want to be. That kills motivation. Just keep doing what you need to do today to get a little bit closer. Winds might blow you sideways or even backwards, but keep the faith in your goal, and you will get there eventually.
5. When the going gets tough, remember that the bigger the challenge, the greater the sense of achievement. As Captain Webb (first man to swim the English Channel) had engraved on his headstone, “Nothing great is ever easy”. So keep going, knowing that the blood, sweat and tears will all be worth it in the end. The Atlantic crossing – my first – was 103 days of hell, enduring injury, equipment failures, and battles with psychological demons. But the feeling of relief, joy, even euphoria, when I finally set foot on dry land in Antigua made it all more than worthwhile. It was like finishing a marathon, getting out of jail, and winning an Oscar all rolled into one.
Now THAT is happiness!