Thoughts - 245 Days at Sea

Since retiring two years ago in June, 2011, eight of our last 24 months have been spent circumnavigating the world, with a third voyage planned in January, 2015. During those eight months, our time was split almost equally between land-tours and sailing, affording a lot of time for star-gazing, thinking, reflecting, and in general, laying life in perspective. As such, I intend to leave this website for my wife & best friend, Cheryl, our five amazing children, and five precious grandchildren. You see, our kids really don’t know me…intimately, that is. I worked extremely long, hard hours throughout their formative years. I frequently traveled each week, and when I was in town, I typically spent 12-14 hours a day in the office or the field visiting my stores. Evening hours were often consumed with email, to include weekends & holidays. I regret that today. I DON’T regret working as hard as I did – I regret not working smarter, and striking a healthier, more beneficial balance between family & career. True, I attended my share of baseball & basketball games. I went trick-or-treating in the rain – more than once. And those band concerts – oh my…the sounds that came from those 2nd-grader's instruments! I did the best I could in trying to balance my activity – but I sure thank God they had a loving mother like Cheryl who could & DID compensate for my limitations & shortcomings. Currently, all the grandkids live 2,200 miles across the country; the oldest is seven, the youngest less than a year. We just learned a few days ago that #7 is due in November, 2013. They may never have the opportunity to know me. Things happen, and certainly will. When they ask, "what was grandpa like?" - I’m hopeful they’ll be directed here to my written words someday.


I’m up between 3:00–4:00am every day. That’s just how my body-clock works. It’s no different when we’re sailing. In fact, I tend to wake even earlier. I love the peace & quiet of early mornings. When home, I drink coffee, read the morning (electronic) paper, and check any overnight email. Just when the sun appears, I typically hand-water our flowers & shrubs – front yard & back. On the ship, coffee was still the first order of business but then after that and for several hours, I had the ship to myself. The only other sign of human activity were the cooks in the Lido restaurant, busily preparing morning breakfast, scheduled to serve at 6:00. I could either sit out on our balcony or wander up to deck #8 and star-gaze off the back of the ship – it was awe-inspiring. There’s something about the vast serenity of the ocean & salt air that ignites my imagination & provokes thought. I took many notes. I’d like to share with you a few thoughts that came to me in the wee hours of  those many mornings - most are about life in general – but all of them will give you more understanding in terms of who your father & grandfather was.


First, everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing. Vastly different as the world’s cultures are, even if you DON’T speak to Italian millionaires, homeless Brazilians, Dutch fishermen and Filipino computer programmers in their own languages, you will still see that we are all incredibly alike where it matters. Everyone just wants validation, love, security, enjoyment and hopes for a better future. The way they verbalize this and work towards it is where things branch off, but we all have the same basic desires. You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.


Second, deferring your happiness to the future is a terrible idea. Too many people presume that when they have that one thing they can work towards for years…then “everything will be alright”.


This is delusional.


When you get it, there’ll be something else missing in your life. I fundamentally believe that long-term pure happiness from one particular situation or achievement is a pipe-dream, but we can learn to be content with what we have, live in the now, all the while enjoying the progress and changes we are making. If your whole life is working up toward one really big major goal that you hold on to for years, you will then have a major anticlimax after the dust settles. Work toward it, but stop deferring your happiness.


Get there slower and enjoy the ride.


“Someday my ship will come in” is, in plain English…bullshit. Sorry kids, but you know I wear my heart on my sleeves. You will NEVER win the lottery. Be practical about it. People seem to have a strange concept of how luck works and how the universe/some deity/karma/their lucky shoe or how “they deserve it” will mean that things will eventually fall into place for them. You are “due” to win the lottery or will get swept away by prince charming any day now. “You deserve it” (as if others don’t). This is a misunderstanding of how the world actually works. Perhaps I’m wrong and praying or hoping that it will all work out, or generally being a nice person is what really “does the trick”, but why not actually get off your fanny and do something tangible too while you’re at it? My philosophy: Do what’s right – do the very best you can at whatever you do – treat others with dignity & respect. Pure & simple.


I personally don’t believe in magic or fairies or astrology or sky wizards or large-scale invisible inexplicable forces at work on petty daily activities of humans. I’m very skeptical about such things, and believe they are all impossible & ridiculous – and the knowledge of this has enriched my life. As a practical person, I see the world as a very logical place with physical and social rules, and truly understanding this has helped me live successfully.


The universe owes you nothing; you owe it to yourself to be the master of where your life ends up. There’s no such thing as destiny. Destiny is used as a cop-out and standard excuse by most people for why they don’t do something with their lives. The thing is, it doesn’t exist. Your limitations are not set by who you know, where you were born, what genes you have, how much money you have, how old you are right now, what you did before or other things that you can claim are your stamp of failure for life. If you are determined enough, there’s a boatload of opportunities in life that are totally achievable with minimal cash, regardless of who you are.


Another thought - seek out people with different beliefs and views of the world to yours and get to know their side of the story. As you can probably tell, I have some beliefs about the world that don’t necessarily jive with a lot of people’s. However, a lot of people get their meaning in life from believing in things I don’t. If everyone thought like me, the world would be a very boring place. So when I meet someone with a very different belief system to mine, it’s better to get along than to try to “convert” them. This is as true for how the world works as it is for various language learning methods, fashion, movie tastes, you name it. When someone is sure about something and has believed it for many many years, then you can’t convince them with a few cleverly picked words. Everyone is closed minded about something, including me. They have to discover it themselves over time or just continue believing what they do. Don’t take responsibility for convincing the world you are right. It’s important to acknowledge that maybe you are actually the person who is wrong. The world is much more fun with people of varying interests and beliefs. Despite my skepticism, in our travels I’ve met and have spoken with doctors, lawyers, engineers, astrologists, palm readers, politicians, very religious folks, conservatives, and people who hate technology. And my life and overall experiences are enriched so much because of it. Spending time exclusively with people who agree with you on everything would never challenge you and allow you to learn so much more.


Living a good life is the best way possible to convince people. So…enough said here. Just live by example and soon you’ll have people on your side when they see your results and how passionate you are. No need to “convince” them. Just show them that you are there, tell them how you got there should you be asked, and they will start to realize that maybe you aren’t that crazy after all!


Third, nobody has it all figured out. Almost everyone has problems and puts on a brave face – don’t presume they have it easy. You see of each person what they let you see. You have no idea what they are going through or what they had to put up with to be in a situation that you might consider “easy”. This is universal – millionaires, students, the cool kid, the party animal, the introvert and everyone in between has more to their story than the superficial restricted one you see. Never dismiss them as having it easy if you don’t know the entire story.


Next thought, there’s no shame in saying “I don’t know”. There’s a stigma in some cultures to admit ignorance about a particular topic. Don’t dance around the issue – just say I don’t know. Honesty is so much better – short & long term.


Number five - more money will NEVER solve your problems – period. As long as you are not living in the street or going hungry, then you do not “need” more money. When you spend enough time with people who are actually living on next to nothing, but having a full life, then you will truly understand this. Trust me – I’ve seen it everywhere, particulary Africa. Everything that is wonderful about life doesn’t cost a penny, and the rest is a lot cheaper than you think it is.


Six - possessions own you. Look at the real reason you want to buy more expensive crap and realize that it all comes down to validation from others in one way or another. You don’t really need any of it unless it’s directly related to essentials in how you work, care for your family, or survive. The need to buy new crap dictates your life – it fixes you in one location with that house and furniture, and it governs how much money you need to earn. And it almost never actually enriches your life in any way. The less you own the better. Our home in Charlotte was 6,600 square feet, and on a lake no less – Cheryl often called me for dinner using a walkie-talkie because she couldn’t find me – no exaggeration. Tied at the dock was a 32' twin-engine SeaRay & jet-skis for the boys. Brendon & Bryan had a great time with the watercraft - no regrets there. The boat was a complete waste and so was the house - we lost money on both. Our home today is a fraction of that – and I sold my Porsche because it sat idle in the garage depreciating. It took me far too many years to wise-up. We’re now left with a Ford F-150 pick-up to haul groceries home from Walmart – I believe it has about 125,000 miles on it! All of our major shopping outlets are within 2 miles – if the ‘ol truck breaks down, we can walk home!


The next thought is about television. TV is the greatest black hole of time available to mankind. After spending eight months living on a ship with minimal commercial broadcasts, I realized I wasted so much of my life, spending 2-3 hours a day watching TV. Following shows that I “had” to see, in order to “relax”. I regret almost every second of it. The whole world was passing me by outside. That being said, I will share with you I have two weaknesses. One, I follow high-profile court cases, i.e., O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, & George Zimmerman. I found those to be very intriguing – it was our American justice system at work. Two, I rarely miss an episode of Andy Griffith, to include re-runs. I know…you’re laughing by now – but absolutely no regrets. There’s just something about the good, clean, down-home living (and comedy) that appealed to me, not to mention the character of Andy himself – a genuinely good man, and a fine behavior & disposition example for everyone. To the grandkids, if you ever stumble across an old copy of one of the shows in your local antique shop, check it out. My personality and outlook on many things is a lot like Andy’s character.  


So, back to what I was saying. TV was an important part of the 20th century, bringing communication and news to the masses, but now it’s wasteful. People get biased, often times exaggerated news when much better alternatives are available. People watch terrible TV shows that teach them, and it sucks so many hours of their lives away that they seem to forget about when they delude themselves into thinking that they don’t have time to pursue real passions in life. TVs encourage people to be antisocial. The only TVs you should be watching are someone else’s – go to your friend’s house to share a series you like if you must, or go to a sports bar with your friends to watch a game or two. Your life will not be enriched by sitting at home watching a screen with zero interactivity to it.


Number seven concerns the internet. The internet is the greatest tool ever available to us, but daily use should be capped in my opinion. Unlike TV, the internet is interactive and allows you to take part and become virtually social. It connects communities all over the world and without it, the last 15 years simply would have been much more difficult for me for many reasons, but primarily business. Having said that, it has the same potential as TV to become a black hole of time. Use it to enrich your life, but put a cap on how much you use it so you can get out and live that life. Replacing one screen with another (even when you use it to chat with people) is just escaping the real world, which is much more beautiful. The world that is worth experiencing is not on TV or computer screens. It’s with other human beings. Get out there and meet them!


The next thought has to do with foreign culture, and my opinion that modern foreign culture does NOT have to satisfy your stereotypes. OK, what do you mean, Dad? I mean that every country in the world is modernizing, but this doesn’t mean they are Westernizing or Americanizing. What makes them unique does not have to satisfy your “quaint” tourist-brochure view of them. Leave ignorant stereotypes aside and have an open mind about how modern life is like in that culture. Not all Irish people drink, not all Brazilians samba and play football - & Germans, Dutch, Filipinos and everyone else will surprise you if you leave your presumptions about them at the pier. Respect the differences, try to adapt to them yourself, and realize that to them, YOU might seem backward in many ways.


Nine – take your time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from visiting countries that are more “easy going” it’s that they are much wiser than the rest of us in their pace of life. People and countries that do everything quicker often times do it worse. Take it easy…go slowly & intelligently. Enjoy every bite of food, walk at a slow pace and take in your surroundings - let the other person finish their side of the conversation while you listen attentively, and stop in the middle of your day, close your eyes or look at nature and become aware of your surroundings. What a beautiful place God has given us to live – and what beautiful people with whom to associate.


Bill Cosby once said: “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone”. That’s number 10. State your opinion and stick to your guns. If you are confident enough and share your ideas with enough people, you will piss-off someone no matter what you talk about. That’s their problem, not yours. However, respect their opinion, & voice any opposition you may have with courtesy and respect.


Eleven. Trying to be cool or following trends is for mindless sheep. I know it’s much tougher being a kid today than it was when I was growing up, but peer pressure is for people who are afraid of their individuality. Stand up for yourself, and go against the flow if that’s what you feel is best. What’s cool now will be frozen over in a few years.


Twelve - make mistakes – and LOTS of them! Mistakes are how we learn, and I’ve made more than my share. Do it, try it, and if it fails, figure out what might have gone wrong and try it again until you get it right.


Lucky thirteen. Stop thinking so much…and act! Too often, people think their way out of doing everything that’s worth doing in life. The reason I feel I’m getting so much out of life the past two years is precisely because of how much time I give to over-analyzing whether I should do something or not: That is…NONE.  As Nike advertises: Just Do It!


Next, making new friends is easy and so is appreciating your current ones. If you are friendly, genuine and charming, making friends with people from every culture and background is possible. People make not speak the same language or come from the same mold, but courtesy and treating others with dignity & respect is recognized by all human beings. I can’t begin to count the times during our last two voyages where we interfaced with a cab driver, a bus driver, a train conductor…whether we rode elephants in Sri Lanka or Camels in Egypt, the words "please" and "thank you" are common terms recognized & appreciated all over the world. Be a kind human being. When people who are surrounded by family, networks, work and school colleagues, other friends, clubs and communities they are a part of… tell me that it’s hard to meet new people I feel like slapping them in the face to wake them up to the opportunities – just look around you!


Fifteen. You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. Don’t take anything for granted. This one may even surprise Cheryl - when I was young I couldn’t afford $75 for apartment rent. My parents never knew I slept in my car for a week. Ever since then I appreciate having a bed, couch or hammock, no matter how small or where it may be, because I know what it’s like going without. One week was enough to burn it into me. Out of desperation, I went to work on a night shift in 7-Eleven for $1.70 per hour – then Circle K - I fell in love with the business and the rest is history. I hug my family members and tell them I love them every chance I get, whether we’re in public or not – it doesn’t matter. My boys still kiss my bald head and tell me they love me – no sense of embarrassment at all. I also clear any bad air with friends and don’t hold back on sharing my emotions with them. Life is too short – celebrate each moment and every day you have.


Sweet sixteen. Swallow your pride and apologize. Never hold a grudge and never try to win every argument. Sometimes it’s best to let your pride slide for the sake of clearing the air with someone. Be the first to say you’re sorry. Never wait for the other person to make the first move.


Next, doing anything specifically to impress people is stupid. People will never give you the validation you seek if you try to be a dancing monkey for them. Saying how many languages you speak, how rich you are, who you know, what you drive, where you studied or what you do for a living, or trying to show-off in any other way to get someone to like or acknowledge you - working for these things just for the bragging rights will leave you really disappointed. I can’t begin to tell you how many people we’ve met over the last two voyages who felt an immediate need to share their personal accomplishments in life and ‘successful stature’ in society. “Hi…my name is Sally…I’m from Los Angeles…actually Beverly Hills…I left my Rolls-Royce parked at the airport 3 months ago with my chauffer on stand-by…where did you park yours?” “Well, Sally, we took a taxi-cab to the airport and I didn’t have enough cash to cover the fare, so I had to wash his windshield before we could leave!” Who cares?? Enjoy the sights & sounds of the journey and the company of REAL people! We met a beautiful, elderly lady shortly after leaving Ft. Lauderdale. Her name is Julia - 92 years-old.. We befriended her and spent many memorable hours together simply because she was so genuine, so sweet, and so down-to-earth – we enjoyed her smile, her witty sense of humor, everything about her personality. We had a great time with this lady! As we were exchanging contact information a few days before the end of the cruise, we learned that she was the past president (10 years) of the American Heart Association, a famous university lecturer, & multi-millionaire. No, she didn’t volunteer the information – another passenger told us a few days later. Now there’s a REAL person! We stay in contact, and plan to sail together again 2015.  


People are impressed by those who aren’t trying to impress them and are comfortable in themselves, and have the ability to be social and interesting. Sometimes to be “interesting” all you have to do is be a good listener.


Eighteen. Love isn’t “all” you need, but if you don’t have it in some form, your life will be very empty. We don’t need love to survive, but without it there will be a huge hole inside you. Make sure that every day you have someone (family, friends) to remind you that you are special, and that THEY are special to you. If you postpone this part of your life until later, after you get this or do that ‘thing’ you want to do, you will continue in that lonely path indefinitely. I’d be lost without Cheryl, our five children, five grandchildren and wonderful friends…and I let them know that as often as I can.


And last for now…the most important lessons in life can never be expressed in black and white, but must be experienced. Back in Iowa, I thought I knew it all in school – that everything of importance can be found in books. But the truth is… that the most important things in life are very challenging with pen & paper, including what I’m sharing with you now. When most of the world’s information is at our fingertips & a mouse-click away, it somehow makes it feel like we don’t need to experience any more. Movies, books, or “living vicariously through someone else” means we can apparently get the general gist of anything. This is false. Experience is the greatest teacher of all. Stop reading about or watching the world passively…start living it.


I’ll continue to add thoughts as I have them, though our next sailing isn’t scheduled until January, 2015!


…& I love you!