April 21, 2010
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
– Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
I heard this quote yesterday on the show 24 (which btw has not been very good this season). The president summed it up as meaning “do or die”. The quote obviously has that carpe diem aspect to it, but I think it also implies that there is a rhythm to life, aka the “tide”. I was looking into this and it seems that boats back then would be docked at a harbor where the tide would rise and fall. It would be much easier to set sail when the tide was highest since your ship would go along with the current out to sea as the tide left. This applies to life just as does on the water, you need to be aware of when the tide is at its peak so that you can maximize the effectiveness of your efforts. When you realize and capture that point, you are not only more effective but it’s actually easier to make progress.
So how high is the tide in your life now? For most of my generation, I would argue we are hitting that peak – we’re young, educated, not tied down, financially stable, for the most part socially adept, and have the unique fortune of having no one to look out for but ourselves. Carrying on with the boat analogy – imagine a well-built, young fleet of lightweight boats at high tide. For the most part, these boats have been at the dock getting built through the education system and some initial job experience. Most are ready for sea, although some may be getting some additional equipment (grad school, etc). The question is now that the boat is ready and the tide is up, will you set sail?
I’d argue that most people don’t. They stay docked and pile on more weight as the boat get worn down by the friction against the harbor and the barnacles that attach themselves to the bottom. I might even argue that the nicer your boat is, the more you hesitate to depart. As time goes on, the tide leaves, and going out the sea becomes much more difficult. From this point forward in our lives, the longer you wait, the more everything moves against you. Eventually you start sinking, and “all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries”.
On the other hand, those who took the tide at its peak are not guaranteed smooth sailing either. Most probably get capsized a few times, but being young and resilient, they can usually tip themselves back over and find their way. Furthermore, they have the freedom to chart their own course rather than living within the confines of a predefined box aka the harbor aka your cubicle.
Either way is risky. As Helen Keller put it, “security is mostly a superstition”. You either risk danger at sea or you risk rotting at the docks without an adventure to your name.