“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” – an African Proverb

Or, put another way by John Shedd, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

As a former Navy officer, I can appreciate the analogies to ships and seas, but what struck me about these quotes is the importance of challenging ourselves, and, as importantly, making mistakes.

Frederick Douglass said it another way, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

When I think of the goals I’ve chased and the achievements I’ve had, the ones that have been the most meaningful to me are the ones where the path was lengthy and the outcome was uncertain. In other words, the meaningful achievements were the ones where I had work really hard, develop new skills and overcome failures.

When I was in the Navy, I was stationed for six months at the Navy Nuclear Prototype Training Unit (NPTU) in Idaho to learn how to operate the nuclear reactor and engine room of a submarine. The training was intense and required long hours of class, study and standing watch at the different positions in the engine room – all while being on rotating shift work, which messed up my internal clock and sleep.

The last hurdle that students had to pass in order to graduate was to pass a Final Oral Board, which was basically me standing in front of a white board with a dry erase marker and answering questions about the reactor, how it worked and anything else I had learned in the prior 12 months of nuclear training.

I failed my first board and had one more chance to pass or I would be kicked out of the Navy’s nuclear power program.

After two weeks of intense study, practice answering questions and worry, I re-tested and passed. Failing the first board made graduating from the program that much more meaningful.

And, in the words of Goethe, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

Now, go challenge yourself…