I recently had the fortune of hearing Pete Goss speak about his life and experiences on the high seas. If you've never heard of him, and I hadn't prior to that lecture, you should youtube him. His tale is pretty amazing.
He's a very unassuming sort of fellow; he got up on stage in front of a room full of up-and-coming fellows admixed with huge names in minimally invasive surgery, and began winding his engrossing tale that was meant to embody leadership. It did that, but walking away I was left more with a sense of the underwhelming nature of my own accomplishments in my very ordinary life.
He described his decision to build a ship and enter the Vendée Globe solo around the world yacht race; there is absolutely no way I can recreate the mesmerizing quality of his narration but the harrowing account involves a two day, hurricane accosted rescue mission of a fellow competitor who was, by doctor's accounts, hours from death. The frenchman he rescued was clinging to a life raft, having just jumped from his doomed vessel, clutching a bottle of champagne that floated up from the bowels of the ship as its last parting gift. Septic and starved, he came aboard stiff like rigor mortis had already set in though he hadn't yet succumbed. It also involved a desperate auto-surgery on a septic elbow aboard the high seas via a jerry-rigged setup of semi-sterile instruments, a mirror balanced upon a knee, a headlight, and a mainland orthopedic surgeon directing him via fax machine.
After this, he asked us if we'd like to hear his next story. The one he reckoned was the more interesting one. Dumbfounded, the audience as a whole mutely nodded our assent.
He's met the Queen of England, he's logged over 250,000 nautical miles, and in the end he shook his head staring out into the audience made up of surgeons and quietly said, "What you all do is truly extraordinary. I have such respect for the work you do."
Needless to say, most of us internally scoffed in amazement. Nothing I have accomplished seems particularly extraordinary or unattainable by my standards. In my mind, accurate or not, I don't really consider that I have excelled at anything thus far. Especially when performing a quick year-in-review, nothing about this collection of months strikes me as evidence to the contrary. It's had it's ups, but mostly it's been full of lows that have been lower than I've previously dealt with.
So anyway. Pete Goss somehow managed to make me realize that my life is ordinary, mundane. I will never meet the Queen of England, never sail around the world by myself, never be a name that anyone cares about, or a speaker anyone pays money to hear. And while that is mildly depressing, it is also humbling. None of my worries or concerns are really significant at all. Because my life hardly is. So 2012: The Year of Colossal Disasters will go down in no one's memory. Because I am forgettable. And so are my accomplishments, and failures.
Taken in that light, I might as well give up stressing. And spend more time reading about and experiencing the awe-inspiring world around me.