Personal Sinking Ships

Finding a Plimsoll Line in Our Personal Life

Many years ago I went on a trip to England. I was interested in the early industrial age cities Like Preston. The history in that area of England is both fascinating and frightening. The dramatic changes that took place during Victorian England are remarkable. The country seemed to make a dramatic move out of the dark ages during that century.

While we were there we visited Liverpool. Of course I was familiar with Liverpool as the city where the Beatles came from. For the modern pop culture observer, that connection has overridden the fact that Liverpool is also one of the most important sea ports in England. Because England is essentially an island, the sea ports are critical to its survival.

In the nineteenth century boats that left the ports in England had an unusually high probability of sinking. Thousands of men died on ships after they left the ports in England. It wasn’t a mystery though, the ships that were overfilled were often the ships that sank. Some unscrupulous business men would actually take out insurance policies on ships they knew were high risk in that way.

One man, who happened to be a member of Parliament, recognized this problem and decided to take it upon himself to remedy this problem. His name was Samuel Plimsoll. You may have heard his name before in reference to something called the Plimsoll line. He helped create a system whereby lines were drawn on the sides of boats that would help show how far the ship had dropped against the water level as the ship was loaded. Once the line on the hull dropped to sea level the ship could not be loaded any further. Over the years this system has become a bit more complicated considering the temperature of the water and the type of water.

The introduction of this simply idea kept ships afloat and saved untold thousands of lives.

I tend to think that all of us could use a Plimsoll line when it comes to our time. We tend to think we can load more and more things into our lives without repercussion. We take on new projects, follow exciting ideas, add responsibilities, schedule events, volunteer our time, set new goals, join new ventures, etc. and yet we rarely stop to consider how everything we add to our lives impacts everything else. The Plimsoll line with our lives and our time is very difficult to find.

The Plimsoll line is a maximum. It’s a warning. In a world of shipping products and maximizing profits, organizations will push it all the way to the edge. I imagine every ship back then and now added as much weight as they possibly could get away with; taking that line all the way to the surface of the water. But in our personal lives, maybe its best if we don’t go all the way to the edge. Cramming our lives full of projects, responsibilities, goals, etc. leaves little room for error or adjustments. Filling our lives to the maximum almost guarantees stress. And beyond that it may also lead to average results in many things rather than great success in a few.

In the immortal words of Ron Swanson, “Never Half-ass Two Things, Whole-ass One Thing.”

Most of the successful people I know got where they are focused on one thing. They found a niche, a talent, a direction that suited them and they stayed focused. And over time, great success found them. Many of them have multiple businesses and pursuits now, but it wasn’t always that way. Those additional things found them after they established themselves. And each of them still have a “mother ship” that remains their primary focus.

I have often been guilty of taking on too many projects and responsibilities in my life. In recent years I have had to come to grips with the folly of that lifestyle. Although I have had many incredible experiences in my life, the times I have had the most success and inner-peace are the times I have been the most focused. When I don’t try to fill my life with more things that I can reasonably accomplish.