Fjordland, South Island, New Zealand

February 26, 2017

Doubtful Sound and Riding the Waves

Last week, I wrote to you on a plane down to the South Island here in New Zealand, to head out kayaking the fjords in Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound is a rainy place, generally filled with waterfalls, wind, and choppy waters. It's rained nearly every day for three months down there, and I went in expecting more of the same.

Instead, I was treated to two days of cloudless skies, mirror-glass water, and realistically, the best kayaking amongst fjords one could reasonably expect in a lifetime.

And this is the part where - in the storytelling we're supposed to do - I'd tell you that everything was perfect, and it was the trip of a lifetime.

But it wasn't.

In truth, Doubtful Sound pulled out my self-doubt in swarms like sandflies, and the deep, dark water below our boats felt like a lot more than a metaphor.

It's strange how these bouts of existential terror never seem to go away. I've worked with folks at all level of societal success, and once you get past the polished exteriors, we're all the same people - striving, screwing things up, worried and hopeful and occasionally (or not so occasionally) crippled by uncertainty, self-doubt and a the what-am-I-really-doing internal inquisition.

I'd love to tell you that the sheer beauty of nature - the fern-laden cliffs, the precarious trees, balanced on granite, the staggering milky way on a pitch-dark night - washed all those doubts away. But they didn't.

Instead, I just did what I know how to do - to look around at the boat of my life, focus on fanning away the fog from my eyes, and realizing for brief moments that I am not in fact sinking. It's always momentary - the fog comes back in, and that newfound knowledge doesn't fix the emotional reality of the situation. But it is a life raft of a statement I can cling to, as the storm rolls through.

I am not sinking.

Eventually, days and conversations and a good breakdown later, I've found myself still afloat, across rippling waters. Weirdly, the boat of my life isn't in shambles. Things aren't scattered and torn. Everything is right where I left it.

When I briefly studied philosophy in my first stint in university, the question of perception vs reality caught and fascinated me, like I suspect it does many 18 year-olds. Was there an external world? Was it all in my mind? How could I be sure?

As I grew, got caught in the flow of life, and aged, I settled into an Occam's razor of an answer: the simplest solution was that yes, there was an external world, and I was looking at it.

But the only tool we still have to see it is our minds, and as I've lived the past week, our minds are not alway a reliable narrators.

So here's to all of our boats, out on the water, and a brief moment of clarity for whenever each of us needs it: we are not sinking.

Wishing you wind, warmth, and calm sailing in the week ahead,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week is this Googly-Eyed ocean trash-eating monster. We need more of these in the world. :)

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