The “Old School” Compass That Saved Them All

My first “real job” coming out of college was working as a groundfish observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

If you have ever watched any of the related reality shows like “Deadliest Catch,” then you have an idea of what it can be like.  I don’t know if it is anymore, but at the time, I heard that commercial fishing was listed as the 3rd highest job in fatalities; behind front line combat and coal mining (don’t tell my mom) ;-).

The job entailed accompanying commercial fishermen for weeks at a time in the Bering Sea, monitoring the catch and collecting data to help set the fishing quotas, and there were different types of ships, depending on what they were fishing for.

The first ship I was assigned to was an 80 foot longliner.  It was called that because it would lay out a fishing line miles long with multiple hooks.  They would then leave to set another line and come back to collect what they caught later. 

I remember riding 20 foot waves and 9 days straight of seasickness with a sleep schedule that was literally determined by a random number table, but that’s for another story.

While hanging out on the bridge one day, I  watched the navigation monitors as the captain used satellite guided precision to lay and collect his lines.  There were actually two separate systems for redundancy and the whole thing seemed very sophisticated.

Then I noticed in the middle of the bridge what looked like a giant antique compass.  So I asked the captain why it was there, since it obviously wasn’t needed anymore.

He explained, as he waved his hand at the navigation monitors I had been admiring, that all this was brand new.  

The reason it was brand new, he continued, was because the last time they were out, a rogue wave had crashed through the front window and fried all the electronics, and that that compass was how they made it home.

We all have systems in place; things that we know or do to guide us and keep our lives running smoothly.  

We developed those systems based on past experience, with built in redundancies and coping mechanisms for unexpected events.

But what happens when a rogue wave seemingly comes out of nowhere, destroys your plan, and even your backup?  

What happens when you feel overwhelmed and the usual coping mechanisms don’t seem to work?  What do you do when you feel fried and floundering without direction?

You return to your old school compass; the emotional guidance system you were born with.  The one that can never break or ever steer you in the wrong direction.

It may seem over simplified when you find yourself faced with the complexities of whatever storm you find yourself in, but how you feel will always guide true.

Finding ways to feel better moment to moment, is how you move step by step in the direction of who you really are and what’s important to you.

It’s how you find clarity and the new choices, options, and solutions it brings.  It’s how you find compassion for yourself and anyone else involved.

It’s how you can always find your way home to yourself, no matter how big the storm.