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    updated 8.29.11

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Deep Waters

I’ve been watching a documentary entitled Deep Waters on Netflix.  I say “I’ve been watching…” because watching anything is a luxury that I rarely have time for.  It’s taken me about a week to watch this 90 minute piece.  It’s just that season of life.  By my calculations, it’ll only be this way another 20 years.

Deep Waters is the story of Donald Crowhurst, a second rate weekend sailor who in 1968, decided to enter the Sunday Times Golden Globe Yacht Race.  The rules were simple – one man, one boat, must circumnavigate the world non-stop.  No support, no cache of food somewhere in the Pacific.  There would be two prizes – one for the first man to finish the challenge and another for the fastest time (the yachts left at varied times).

Crowhurst should never have entered the race.  He was outclassed by the other sailors.  His boat was inferior.  He had painfully little experience.  None of this stopped him from talking bravely about not only finishing the race but actually winning the whole thing.    He talked big and planned bigger…but once he launched from England and headed south, reality broke over the bow and smacked him in the face.

Rather than sail around the southern cape of Africa and east, he drifted west off the coast of Brazil, all the while faking reports of his progress.  He  waited months until the pack of boats rounded Cape Horn to to the south of him, then joined the race heading back for Britain.   I won’t spoil the story for you – you really need to watch the documentary – but suffice it to say it ends tragically for Crowhurst.

The film underscored something for me – that I’ve always learned more from the failures of history than I have the success stories.

For some reason, we turn success stories into teaching moments…yet success is as often as not a result of dumb luck.  I’ve been around a lot of successful people – many of them are very smart and skilled…but the smartest among them will tell you there was an element of their success that came to be completely out of their control.  As often as “I did it my way”, you’ll hear “I was in the right place at the right time…”.

In my own history, the dark places when things went wrong have always been the most memorable classrooms. Failure makes a far bigger impression than success does – and offers a better perspective for correction.  Fail and you do better next time.  Succeed and you often quit.

I believe that if you choose to learn in those places of failure, you emerge broken but smarter, which beats just plain broken hands down.  When I read or watch the stories of heroes who got every break in the world, I enjoy the ride but I don’t find things to apply.

Give me a Shackleton or a Crowhurst or some guy who’s been hammering it out in the same pulpit for 30 years without every launching his big building program or writing his book.

Those are the people with real stories.

Catch the Deep Waters trailer here. And watch the whole film to discover how this unbelievable true story walks out.  (Warning, his story is pretty dismal.  Definitely not the feel good hit of the summer.)


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