Staying Afloat: Boats & Analogies

I was inspired to get a boat by Virgin boss Richard Branson, when I read in his autobiography about the London canal boat he lived aboard, and later held meetings on. Holding meetings aboard a colourful old wooden boat sounds like a good idea to me, because I like the idea of making work as satisfying and rich as the rest of life, so that life becomes integrated and the “work-life balance” is almost completely imperceptible.

So I bought Great Train Robber Ronald Bigg’s old boat, Aphrodite, and had her transported to my sister’s property on Oxley Island in NSW, where she currently bobs away at the end of my sister’s jetty.

The only problem is, she’s on the Manning River, which is four hours drive north of Sydney, so I can’t really hold meetings there, although if you are up for a long drive, I’ll happily entertain you when you get there.

Instead of having meetings, I spend my days on board watching birds and dolphins, listening to the gentle sloshing of the water, restoring and repairing, writing, reading books, and thinking. I have never been in an atmosphere of such bliss and inspiration before in my life.

What I like most about my boat is the metaphor for life and work she provides. “Staying afloat” has a whole new literal meaning. And to literally, physically, face up to that challenge, through storms, rain, floods and wind is both humbling and cathartic. No matter how big my ego might get, no matter how smart I think I am, or how philosophical my thoughts and revelations might be, there is just no way I can ignore the simple truth of physics and the weather. If the boat gets a hole, if you don’t plug it, you’ll sink. If the pumps fail, and water builds up, you’ll sink. If there isn’t enough sun to keep the batteries that run the pumps going, you’ll sink.

Like King Canute, and the Dutch Boy who held his finger in the dyke, human beings and their egos cannot overcome physics, we just have to learn to live with it and manage it.

I find this constant lesson Aphrodite teaches me enormously helpful. We use lots of catch phrases in business and the general community, especially sports analogies, but to constantly face the challenge of keeping an old wooden boat afloat is to really understand the underlying literal meaning of the metaphors, and therefore what life is all about. It’s why some companies send their staff away to boot camps, or to climb mountains, or to fly on the trapeze – they believe that the physical challenge and hardship will make them generalize into other areas of life, particularly work, and help them to face up to challenges and learn to manage and over-come them, often by learning to work together in “teams”.

But I don’t have to do that, I just have to live aboard my boat for a few days.

While I wish I could invite you to meetings aboard Aphrodite, perhaps I have a better thing. Aphrodite provided a place for Ronald Biggs to hide out in Port Adelaide, but for me she provides a place to learn to stay afloat – literally and metaphorically.

Lynette Jensen

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