3 Things We Can All Learn from Seafarers

A lot of the work that I have been doing lately has involved developing health programs for the maritime world. When I took on the project a little over a year ago, I had with the tools I had gained from various coaching programs, grad school, and work experience in community management coupled with some things I learned in the practice of preventive medicine. Where health was concerned, I was certain I had enough experience, but nothing could have taught me the ways of the maritime quite like venturing deep into the industry in the last 13 months. 

First of all, I didn't realize how massive the industry was, and what a huge role Filipinos played in keeping this industry afloat - literally and figuratively. To date, the Philippines supplies the industry with 20% of the 1.5 million crew that venture to the seas each year.  Perhaps this is because seafaring comes naturally to the Filipino. After all, the likes of water tribes such as the Badjaos, who were born on the water, tell us that navigating the seas may run in their veins.

The maritime industry, as I've mentioned, is totally unique. In the last 13 months, I have been cast into the ocean of the maritime world, going on board vessels, attending conferences, having honest conversations with the crew, and learning the ropes of this massive operation.  While it has been exciting (and sometimes scary), I have found most value in the conversations I have shared with the crew. While I came to teach them, it appears that they have in turn enriched my journey with important lessons that we could all certainly learn from:

1. We could all take time to UNPLUG

Internet connection is sparse in the maritime world - to have access is a luxury. Can you imagine a world without whatsapp, viber, telegram, skype, etc? I mean, forget social media, but with call and text available to us all these days, instant messaging has crippled our sense of emotional regulation. I don't know about you, but in my experience, 90% of the connections I now make are online - through iMessage, whatsapp, and other internet based applications that help me keep in touch with the people I care about when I am far - or somewhere in Makati (lol). 

I noticed that with the lack of internet connection, seafarers are challenged to use their time well and creatively. Unplugging from the world takes discipline and a strong sense of trust. Wherein we've become dependent on technology, they're challenged to use their instincts and to trust in their voyage. 

2. Trust the process and believe in divine timing

One of my favorite conversations with crew involves talking about what motivates them to continue in their careers - choosing to live far from home, disconnected from the rest of the world. And in those conversations, I have come to take on a whole new understanding of what it means to trust the process. With the lack of connection, seafarers hardly know what's really going on in the world around them. All they have are their dreams and goals which they would like to achieve. 

We too have dreams and goals, but a lot of us like to take control of the situation and then grow angry when things don't go as planned. These men show me everyday that there is something greater at work in their lives and that they need to trust the community that surrounds them. One crew member once told me that what motivated him was coming home and seeing how well his family was actually doing while he was away. It gives his time away from them so much more meaning as he learns to trust that they are doing their equal parts. 

3. Abundance can be found everywhere

On my recent visit to a vessel, I asked the chief engineer what he liked to do in his free time. He said that on their days off, they would sit on the deck and fish. He said that it was such an exciting leisurely activity that helped him pass the time and that many of them found ways to make the vessel - the only space they have for 6 months - as comfortable to their needs as possible. To the seafarer, that seemingly large but small space was always flowing in abundance. The way they see it, there is work to be done, but there's also so much that they can appreciate when they are on board. 

Abundance teaches everyone to look at what's available to us and to appreciate it. In a world where everything is moving at such a fast pace, it seems that the men of the sea tend to move more mindfully - able to help me realize how much there is that we can really enjoy. It's in the little things, they say, that make their lives at sea so much more fun.