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Knowing Your Next Port of Call - Nightingale

Another essay by Earl Nightingale from the How to Completely Change Your Life Series

Knowing Your Next Port of Call

I had the good fortune to be raised near a harbor on the sea. As a kid, I used to spend hours down on the docks, watching the ships loading and unloading. They’d bring in cargoes from the distant and romantic ports all over the world, and I used to stand there with a faraway look in my eyes, envying those sailors who were so fortunate to travel to all those places.

They traveled over the distant horizon to places I could only imagine or read about in my geography books.

I hung around so much that some of the mates and skippers finally recognized me and actually invited me aboard. I guess you can imagine the heaven that was for me. They’d take me from the engine room to the forecastle and finally to the place I liked best—the navigation bridge. The bridge had the best view—but it was much more than that. It was there that the ship was controlled and steered into all those distant places I dreamed of.

(Once I was even invited to lunch, and I didn’t get over that for months!) It’s strange how something like that can have such an overwhelming fascination for a youngster and exert such an influence over his life. As soon as I was old enough, I was on a ship, and I sailed to quite a few of those distant, deep-water ports. No matter how long the trip, I never got tired of sailing, and being at sea, and watching the sea in all its different moods. Entering a distant port, even if I’d been there before, was always a brand new thrill.

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out why I like ships so much. I believe I’ve come up with the answer. Ships operate the way people ought to, I believe—but so few do. Maybe you’ve never given it much thought, but at any given moment, a ship has a direction. That is, either she’s sailing to a predetermined port of call, or she’s in port, getting ready to sail to another one. You can climb up to the navigation bridge of a big, far-sailing ship and ask the captain where he’s going. He can tell you instantly—and in one sentence.

How many people do you know who can do the same thing? It seems that most people want so many different things—or at least they think they want them—that they’re unable to focus their efforts, their minds, their hearts on anything specific. And all this leads to is doubt and confusion. They’re like the guy who jumped on a horse and rode off in all directions at once. They don’t recognize how vital it is to pick one port that’s important, then sail to it, rest and refit for a little while and then sail to another port. In this way, in not so many years, a person can set and reach his goals, one by one, until finally he has a tremendous pile of accomplishments in which he can take pride—he has all the things he wants, just because he had sense enough to realize he could do well with only one thing at a time.

There’s another analogy that fits here, and maybe it makes the most important point of all. If a ship tied to a dock for some reason had no place to go, she would stay there until she fell apart from rust and disuse. A ship’s engine isn’t started until she has some place to go. Here again, it’s the same with people. This is why it’s so important that each of us has a port of call we want to reach—a goal—a place to get to that we feel will be better than the place in which we now find ourselves. If we don’t—why, we might never cast off. We might never start our engines and know the thrill of sailing a charted course to a place we can’t see for fully 99 percent of the journey. But we know it’s there, and we know that if we keep sailing toward it, we’ll reach it.

If someone came up to you today and asked you what your next port of call is—that is, where you’re going—could you answer him in one sentence, as could the captain on the bridge of his ship? If not, maybe you’d like to give it some thought.

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