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Turning Big Ideas into Reality -- 5 Lessons Learned So Far

Pursuing this sailing trip has been one of the biggest and most difficult endeavors I have ever taken on in my life. Aside from the practical problems of starting with no sailing knowledge whatsoever and living nowhere near the ocean, not surprisingly, the main challenges have come from within. While it has only been a few months since I first started planning to sail around the world, the immensity of the project has either been motivating or discouraging, depending on the time of day. Here are a few lessons I have learned so far that have kept me on track:

1. Do not focus on the end goal unless you need motivation

Motivation is by far the most difficult aspect of this trip so far for me. It is so easy to tell myself that this is just a passing fancy, that I can't really expect to leave my life behind and do this, that I should just give up and try something else.

On the darkest days when it seems like all this planning has been a waste of time, thinking about sails overhead, the wind at my back, and the sun on my face keeps the magic alive and makes me believe again that I can do this. On the other hand, I've found that visualizing too much about what it would be like sailing to exotic destinations makes me impatient and even a little bitter about my current situation, which generally exacerbates my negativity. The same way looking at the summit of a mountain can increase the excitement and make the climb a little more bearable, it can also make the climb feel never-ending. I imagine the balance is different for everyone, but for me I have learned that it is best to restrict thinking about the end goal unless and until I need a boost of mental energy.

2. Divide your big idea into intermediate goals; then divide each of those into smaller sub-goals

I've read many books that assert your mind is a goal setting and achieving machine, and the more goals you set and achieve, the more likely you are to stay motivated to complete the task in its entirety. Sounds cliche, but I've learned first hand that it works. The "big idea" tends to be very abstract and lacking definition. It's not until you start considering what will be necessary to achieve that goal that you can start to see the path forward.

Dividing the big idea into broadly defined intermediate goals or steps provides the first bit of clarity to the project, which continues to come into focus as more intermediate goals are added and as each intermediate goal is subdivided into smaller and smaller sub goals. When the big idea is totally broken down into a number of small, easily-achieved tasks, grouped by category, you now have a detailed and intricate roadmap rather than the poorly drawn scribbles on a napkin you had when the thought first came to you. The next thing to do is to start working to scratch tasks off the list.

3. Be humble; learn from others with more experience

It's generally hard to admit to yourself you know nothing about a particular subject, but in my case it has been easy: the only thing I knew about a sailboat was what one looked like. Basically everyone who was able to speak intelligently to me about sailing far exceeded my reservoir of knowledge and consequently each person I spoke with has given me nuggets of gold I didn't have before. One person in particular gratuitously gave me a list of a whole range of books that were tailored to better plan this exact type of sailing trip! Not only has this helped give me direction, but I've been speaking with people that have real first hand experience, something I desperately need. If I had not swallowed the red pill and opened my mind to accepting advice in the first place (which, admittedly, I subconsciously refuse to do sometimes), I may very well have missed some of the important information that was offered to me.

4. Take risks

Life is meant to be lived, and... well... YOLO. There are very few circumstances in which I will not take a risk to achieve a goal. Unless following the big idea will likely result in serious bodily injury or death, there is no question that I'll take the risk to achieve that dream. Sometimes even injury or death is not a sufficient deterrent (#skydivinglessons). The reason for this is essentially a tautology: if taking the risk is a requirement, it must be done.

I'm not saying that I do not identify the risks or weigh them, but I would much rather attempt something and risk failing miserably than not attempt it at all because of some nightmare, uncertain-to-occur future outcome. Even if there is a 90% chance of failure, there is still a 10% chance of success, which is more than enough to give your idea the possibility of seeing the light of day. The name of the game is increasing the chance of success.

Sure, this sailing trip may result in financial ruin or one of any number of a list of horribles, but it will be fun as hell along the way, and I will learn a lot. I believe in myself enough to know that, barring bodily injury or death, I'll be able to bounce back eventually from whatever the school of hard knocks throws at me.

5. Dedicate at least two hours a day to cultivating the idea

Definitely a difficult principle to adhere to, but very effective. An easy way to force yourself to do it is simply to reflect on how much time you spend watching Netflix in a day (or scrolling through social media accounts). In this day and age it's probably an ungodly amount. Hopefully you feel like crap about it. Truth be told, the majority of the activities I used to "relax" after work have tended to be things that essentially turned my mind off. That ended up being about 4 or 5 hours a day that were completely and utterly wasted.

It wasn't until I spent two straight hours working on setting up this blog that I remembered how much work I could get done with diligent and uninterrupted effort. In an ideal world, if I were able to do this every single day, I am certain there is no limit to what I could achieve with this trip given enough time. I'm not perfect, however, and I've really been only able to do this about 4 days out of the week on average. I think for the current time frame, that is more than sufficient, but if push comes to shove, making it an every day thing would not be much of an additional burden. Plus, this schedule does not interrupt the work life in any way, which is great!

So, those were a few of the major lessons I have learned from planning this sailing trip so far. While the vision has become less glamorous and more grounded, it has in no way lessened the excitement or the potential for fun and personal growth. I hope that this article was meaningful in some way to anyone thinking about taking the plunge on a big idea of their own!


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