I love snorkeling (ie breathing through a tube while swimming with your face underwater, for the none-mermaids among you).
My partner and I recently took a trip to the Maldives, only 2-hours by flight coming back from a training in Bangalore. Away from the everyday computer and teaching environment, stranded on an island with some 40 huts and 3 restaurants, having given each other a “no PC – promise”, we suddenly had a lot of time on our hands.
So we did the only three things there were to do:
Eat, sleep, snorkel, repeat.
And when your brain turns off from intense work, the most interesting life lessons come to you as you perform your “new daily routines”.
First, in an enlightening moment at the buffet, I realized that you will stop cursing your parents for having made you work as a waitress in your teenage years, as soon you find yourself gracefully flying from that vast buffet to your dinner table with 3 plates and2 glasses in one hand – while everyone else struggles with 3 items total. Thanks for that one dad! Proves that no experience, no matter how annoying at the time, ever goes to waste =)
But that is for another lesson.
The second, more important insight relates to the other main thing we did apart from eating. Snorkeling.
Every time we went snorkeling, I was swimming over the coral reefs, while my partner always swam about 10 meters further out than I did, over the deep, dark sea.
Now you have to image this: where I swam, there was a huge reef, the water just some centimeters to maybe 2 meters deep. Hundreds of colorful fish, sea stars, shells and corals. The water was warm and bright, the beach was safe and close and the colorful sights of sea life guaranteed. I hung there for hours watching the sparkle and chasing blow fish, happy in my own little safe place.
And then there was the end of the reef, where a steep cliff fell into the depths of the Indian ocean in an immediate decline. The water was colder and darker, you could not see the ground, no more corals and hardly any fish. And that’s where my partner chose to hang out. Every single time we went out snorkeling.
So one night, back at main activity #1 – dinner – I asked him: “why do you keep going so far out where it’s so dark and you can’t see much?”
“Because in the shallow water I will never have a chance to see any of the cool things, sharks, or octopi or turtles”.
Life is an ocean.
Most people are like tourists in the Maldives. They will swim in the clear and warm waters, happy with the fish they are guaranteed to spot there. Hey, why not, they are nice and colorful! .
And then there are those, who are not satisfied with what everyone else is seeing, who are not satisfied with the safe bet, who are not satisfied with the colorful small fish. Those who know that the bigger sights lie outside where the small colorful fish mingle. Those who are risk taking and will choose not to follow the ordinary.
Which are your waters?
Each one of us, in our life has areas where we chose to stay in the shallow waters and enjoy the small, colorful fish, and that’s fine. But we need to know, that the areas where we become and experience the truly outstanding, are in the deep dark oceans, the ‘road less traveled’. The water that is less certain, less safe, less guaranteed to give you results, more exhausting, riskier and lonelier.
For my holidays, I enjoy swimming with the colorful fish in the shallow water, not only because I have a partner who will excitedly point out in his hilarious who-knows-what-this-means hand signals when he does see an octopus or a turtle, but also because I know I have conquered those deeper waters in areas that really matter to me.
When it comes to my career, I will never be happy with the small colorful fish, the safe, happy, easy place where everyone else mingles. I know no one is going to push me to explore the roads less traveled, I know no one is going to pull me out of the warm shallow waters (some people also call it the ‘comfort zone’), and I know it will always be up to me to swim out there and reach the place where miracle happens.
So I want to ask YOU this:
Are you happy with the small colorful fish when it comes to your career? Are you contempt with the little big achievements that colleagues all around you look for and that are relatively safe to get to? Do you want to remain in the warm waters where the ordinary reside?
Or are you setting your bar higher? Are you the type who would go out into the cold water doing things your colleagues wouldn’t ever even dream of? Are you stretching your goals further restlessly working towards the extraordinary? Are you leading with imagination into what is possible or are you following what others show you is possible?
There are two lessons I want you to take with you, mermaid or not:
First, you need to make conscious decisions daily (almost every second of your life, in fact) on whether you are okay to swim with the majority, for the easier fish in the warm water, or if there is something out there that no one else is doing, and you have to muster the courage to swim towards, no matter how far it is from the ordinary’s stretch of imagination. Make sure you notice carefully as to how often you make these decisions: Everyone around you spends their summer on vacation or travelling? Do internships! Everyone does internships nationally? Go international! Everyone learns French? Learn Spanish (too)! Everyone checks Instagram on the bus for 2 hours a day? Read books! Everyone submits their article last minute? Submit early! Everyone plans their LL.M. the year before they want to do? Plan 4 years ahead! Everyone dreams of getting into a US LL.M? Plan to get THE top US LL.M.! Everyone considers LinkedIn to be networking. Email and meet people!
Take more risk, do more work, plan more, stretch your goals more. Make a conscious decision every day, every moment.
And second, get a partner. Get a partner who makes weird hand gestures to show you they have seen a bigger fish for you Get a partner who is as crazy as you and has visions and goals at least as big as yours, a partner who inspires you to stretch your goals, points out the bigger opportunities, and keeps you from feeling lonely on your journey to higher levels than most people around you will dare or care to aspire to, who would push you in the deeper waters and pull you out of your comfort zone This partner can be a successful mentor, a family member, a friend or colleague known for their lofty ambitions, and of course this can be me and the over ambitious community of hard working enthusiasts at our Negotiation Academy, who are here to support you in building the skills and confidence to reach beyond what you currently think is possible, who will make sure you don’t get bored in the cold waters and who will keep pushing you to aim higher for the cooler things others will never see – sharks, octopi, and turtles!
The following article is a revised and expanded version of lectures delivered by the author at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Law and the Faculty of Law, University...By Tom Stipanowich