Life as a Ship

Life is a ship. Or, it is for the sake of this analogy.

When you’re born, you’re a hot mess of pieces and parts that would sink to the ocean floor if not for the fleet of ships taking care of you. They’re in charge of assembling the pieces and teaching you how to sail. In high school you take your first solo adventures; joining clubs, getting a job, dating, but you’re still close enough to home that your fleet can scoop you up if something goes wrong.

By the time you set sail for adulthood you have a vague idea of what your North Star is- your big priorities in life. “Get married, have babies,” or, “Be a rockstar, travel the world.” Whatever direction you’re hoping for, you set sail to gather supplies for the journey. Stopping at the college harbor will lead to a job which will lead to financial stability for raising a family. Going to a port where you can start your first band will lead to an even better second band which will lead to the band that will definitely make you famous.

Every port and harbor teaches you about your ship and helps you see your North Star more clearly. Maybe when you started that first band you realized you don’t like loud music, but while reading about former rockstars you developed a passion for books. Your next harbor might involve writing or studying to be a librarian.

Aside from giving you tools and skills, each harbor also introduces you to new ships. Some will be like yours, some will be completely different. Your ship was built like the ships that raised you, but as you become an adult you start to personalize it and make it fit the life you want. Some changes might feel scary, like you’re undoing the work of the fleet that built you, but this is the only ship you have to live your life on so you should make yourself at home. Maybe you’ll add a little rainbow flag or a few tattoos, maybe you’ll have to work with a therapist to take apart and completely rebuild your entire ship. Either way, you are the captain and sole passenger on your ship so it’s your job to make sure it’s the ship you need.

You’ll never stop learning about your ship or stopping at harbors, but as you get older you’ll spend less time gathering supplies and more time sailing toward your North Star. The seas will feel smooth, your ship will be beautiful and cozy, and you’ll have a little fleet you’ve built up along the way.

Then a storm will hit.

It’ll tear up your ship and send you completely off-course, it might even leave you so depressed you stay in bed and watch TV all day. It’s okay to be sad when bad things happen, plus your ship could use some time on a safe harbor to dry out. Other ships can help keep you afloat temporarily, but the only person who can get your ship back out to sea is you. Therapists can help a lot with this part; they’re unbiased shipbuilders and professional sailing teachers rolled into one.

In time your ship will be reinforced stronger than it was before and you’ll set sail with even more focus on your North Star, though post-storm it might look completely different. The goal isn’t to reach your North Star, you can’t get to a star in a ship made for the sea. The goals are to love and care for the only ship you’ve got, to find a path you love sailing, and to find a fleet that makes the journey even better.

One day your ship will stop sailing. Maybe it’ll go into the earth, maybe you’ll have your fleet turn you into a tree or a fancy piece of jewelry. You can’t control when your ship stops sailing, but I hope when you leave it behind you can look back at it and say, “Man. I used the crap out of that thing.”

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