When the Ship Sinks
Once, I was in a sinking boat. Literally. It was the dead of winter, we were on our way to go fishing off the coast of British Columbia, and there was a 6-month old baby on board.
We hit a log suspended just below the surface of the ocean, and it ripped a 2-foot gaping hole in the bottom of the boat. We were taking on water fast. I pulled the baby in close to my chest with one arm as his mother pushed him into my lap, shrieking “hold my baby, I can’t swim!” With the other arm, I covered her eyes so she couldn’t see the freezing cold water rushing towards our feet, further fueling her panic. I felt oddly calm and optimistic throughout this. Maybe it was that I knew I had to stay sharp amid the chaos around me to make calculated decisions as the circumstances progressed. Maybe my gut feeling that things were going to be okay kept me stable. Maybe it was that fear for my own wellbeing was replaced with a responsibility to keep the baby safe.
Regardless, I knew in the moment how important it was to remain level-headed, to accept what was outside of my control, and focus only on what was within it.
Luckily, we were just about to pass a marina when we started to sink, so we were able to steer the boat there and bottom out on a boat ramp in the nick of time to keep us above water. It was easily the most dramatic 2 minutes of my life. However, as years have passed and I reflect on this incident now, I’m grateful to have this story to tell, and to know what to expect from myself in moments of crisis.
It’s not the circumstances we find ourselves in that shape our life stories, it’s the way we choose to respond to them.
We can choose to let times of crisis be part of a story that is riddled with hardship and despair, or we can let those times be incredible moments of learning, growth, and achievement. The difference is where we put our attention and energy during hard times. We can focus on the things that are outside of our control, dwelling on past events leading up to the present, letting the “could have, would have, should have” mentality consume us, and villainizing others who may have been involved. This is how we create stories in which we are victims of hardship and crisis. Alternatively, we can choose to focus on the things that we can influence or change, like our own next steps, whether we need to address a mistake, heal, or continue trekking right on through the hard times with determined optimism. This is how we create stories where we are resilient, triumphant characters, with richly fulfilling lives we feel grateful to live.