Our Strange Voyage

Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.  —Winston Churchill

A  war is happening and we are its central characters. I’m not talking about North Korea, the Middle East, Chicago, human trafficking, the environment, Capitol Hill, or opioids. For our country and our world, the prior list may outline the fronts for some of the greatest wars we face. For most of us as individuals, a different war is happening every day and the field of battle is between our ears.

Churchill’s quotation above came to me this week as I was considering the “strange voyage” of business and all of its associated “tides and hurricanes.” Every day, we make decisions based on available facts, assumptions, hopes, and a constantly changing landscape of external forces. Our goal is to “succeed,” moving progressively toward some state of existence in which we feel happy, safe, and fulfilled. Along the way we realize that no matter how much we try to anticipate the tides and hurricanes, we can never be fully prepared for them. The way is riddled with uncertainty and its brutal by-product: fear.

Therein lies our war. We attempt to live within the sunny brightness of contentedness but it is not a static existence. How can we possibly remain content, fulfilled, and safe within a world of doubt and uncertainty? I reference the business world above but let’s face it, Churchill’s words apply equally to the broad sweep of life – simply existing enrolls us in the war between our ears. The ongoing battle between our feelings of hope and happiness and the darker sides of doubt and fear.

Churchill challenges us to “learn our lessons.” What are the lessons of this war? If we know that this strange voyage will not be smooth and easy, how do we manage along the way? Here are some thoughts:

  • Recognize that we cannot win this war…at least not in a conventional sense. The war between your ears does not end. We exist at the edge of belief and doubt – hope and fear. We are not wired for perfection, cannot know everything, and are fragile beings. However, we are also good, hopeful, resilient, loyal, faithful, and capable beings. The first step on the road to managing this voyage is recognizing this edge and the fact that the tension will always exist no matter how hard we try to avoid it.
  • In the war between your ears, success is measured in small victories. Even though we cannot vanquish fear absolutely, we can conquer it one day at a time. Success is calming it long enough to enjoy some time with your family and friends. Success is enjoying the sunset. Success is relishing the gifts of your life. Success is a win of any flavor: job, relationship, art, discovery, learning, charity. The moments are there and each one is a win.
  • Remember that the tides change and the hurricanes will pass. One of the greatest powers of fear is its ability to convince us that the bumps will not pass; that this moment is absolute and final. We have become incredibly effective at holding onto our fears, oftentimes to the point of defining our life by them. I was reminded of this while watching A Series of Unfortunate Events. Meryl Streep plays a character obsessed with the possibility of shattering door knobs, falling refrigerators, burning stoves, and realtors to the point of building her entire existence around avoiding these fearful possibilities. Eventually, they all come to pass in spite of her best efforts…or was it because of her best efforts? Fear whispers that we will not survive the bumps, that we cannot endure them, and that we can only try to avoid them. Fear is a liar and a thief.
  • Fear wants us to believe that we have no options. In the war between our ears, the enemy’s best weapon is speaking in absolutes. Fear tells us there is no way out, we will fall, we will break. What devastates fear? Hope. Possibility. Another path. When we feel that there is only one way, we’ve given-in to doubt and paralyzed our strongest weapon in this war: faith. Faith in ourselves. Faith in this world. Faith in a higher purpose. Faith tells us there is hope and possibility. When we believe in something greater than ourselves, faith becomes stronger than fear. Faith tells us that there are always options.
  • Isolation feeds fear. In Harry Potter’s darkest moment, he feels completely isolated. He tells this to his friend Luna and she responds: if I were the dark lord, that is exactly how I would want you to feel. Retreating into your own head and rolling the same narrative around until you convince yourself that there are no options, that no one will understand, that you will break, is not going to help you to victory. Sharing your doubt and fear with someone who cares takes away fear’s power. I’m not talking about Facebook true confessions – I’m talking about real one-on-one human connection. Some sharing only convinces you that you should be afraid. Looking someone else in the eyes and connecting is comforting and a true defense against fear.
  • It is not supposed to be easy. When did we convince ourselves that everything has to be hunk-y-dory all of the time? Struggles push us to be our best. Fear strengthens us by forcing us to face it and endure. When we expect things to constantly be perfect, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. I’m not suggesting we adopt the pessimists attitude and always expect the worst. On the contrary. Strength rejoices in the challenge. The ultimate victory in this battle is finding a way to rejoice in the struggle; to see the opportunity in the darkness. Can we be grateful for worthy challenges? If not, perhaps we can be grateful for the strength to endure them. Fear tells us that we can’t endure them. No, we don’t want to experience them but we are built to become more in the process. Fear says it is all for the worst but somehow, someway, we emerge a little closer to our best self.

Ultimately, the answer is simple: regardless of fear, push on, keep trying, never give up. No matter what your fear is telling you, there is hope and possibility in the darkest of moments. The tides will change, the hurricanes will pass, and you have everything you need to weather these storms. The war between your ears will go on so keep on fighting the good fight.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.  —Winston Churchill


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