Tuesday, November 24, 2015

5 Lessons Learned While Sailing the World

At my current school, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, we are required to spend between 300 and 330 days working on ships. One benefit of this internship requirement is being able to gain real world work experience with multiple shipping companies while traveling all over the world. Over the course of 303 days, I made 43 port calls, in 18 countries, on four continents. Here is what I learned along the way:

1.    People Won’t Like You, Get Over It

Walking onto a ship, before even saying a word, people form preconceived notions about you. Some people will not like or respect you because of the school you attend, your ethnicity, your age, etc. However, since this is out of your control, focus on what is in your control. By doing this, I found that often you can gain nearly anyone’s respect. The first step is to make a good first impression. This includes dressing appropriately for the occasion and displaying respect and humility upon meeting your employer. The next step is showing up on time and prepared. On a ship working as part of the engineering department, this means carrying at least a flashlight and notebook. Notebooks are great for any job. No one remembers everything. Writing down instructions from your boss, concerns to address later, as well as general comments is always helpful. Developing relationships and earning the respect of others is a lifelong challenge. Nevertheless, it is important for working in harmony with coworkers and superiors. 

2.    Learn from Others

No one knows everything. Confucius, an influential Chinese philosopher, stated, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Confucius is saying that gaining a greater quantity of knowledge often makes evident how little we know.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many different ships (companies) you’ve worked on, there is always something to learn or a better way to accomplish a job. It is important to seek the advice of people with more experience and knowledge. Typically, these people are not paid to teach you anything. Therefore, displaying humility, genuine interest, and a desire to learn are crucial in influencing them to pass on their knowledge. When people do help you, convey your appreciation. 

3.    Mistakes Are Good

Now, don’t get me wrong. Every effort should be made to combat any potential mistake. Nonetheless, when attempting anything for the first time, mistakes are nearly impossible to avoid. The key is to acknowledge the mistake, analyze what went wrong, and learn from the experience. Take mistakes seriously, while keeping everything in the proper perspective. Henry Ford stated, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  Further, it is important not to cover-up mistakes. Instead, admit them to your superior and convey how you plan to rectify and learn from the situation.

4.    Develop Your Personal Brand

Your personal brand starts at a young age and is constantly changing. It includes far more than the school you attend, discipline of study, and grades you earn. A personal brand is the perception others have about you. Professionalism is a good place to start. This is a general term, which to me extends far past a person’s skills. It is important to display dependability, integrity, accountability, and self-governance. Peers and superiors respect men of integrity and respectfulness. By keeping this in mind and displaying these traits, along with a strong work ethic, people will take notice. 

5.     There Is No Place Like America

When people hear about all the places I have traveled they often say, “You’re so lucky. I am jealous.” These people may be correct. However, after seeing much of the world, I have become convinced of one thing. America remains the greatest country on earth. It is hard to fully appreciate this until you have seen the poverty in places such as India or Pakistan. Further, the freedom that we have in America is not the same freedom that exists in beautiful countries such as Spain and Italy. America is not exceptional because we are better, smarter, or superior people. This great nation is great because it was formed on the premise that freedom was not granted by man - it comes from God. Further, the leaders of the country are to serve the people, because the people are supreme in knowledge. Collective knowledge always trumps individual knowledge. This structure has enabled America to become superior. People have the freedom to act in their self-interest, which leads to improving society as a whole. Adam Smith famously wrote in his book Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest.” Adam Smith brilliantly understood that as individuals strive to fulfill their needs, society as a whole benefits.

MIDN Matthew J. Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management

1 comment:

  1. I like how you stress that everyone has something to teach you and that because it is his choice whether to impart that knowledge, it is wise to first show you are worth his time by showing up on time, with a respectable appearance, and something like a notebook that shows you are serious about learning. A proactive and purposeful approach that is much better than sitting back and complaining that opportunities weren't given to you or that nobody told you how you were supposed to act.

    In fact, the "ordinary" way of doing things is to do just that. So you get to sit back and maybe later complain. But whether or not you complain, there is no learning of that "local knowledge" only that person could share with you. And that person gets to not spend time and effort with you. By using that proactive, eager to learn approach, you and the person are better off because you get to learn and he gets to teach. A connection is made and the world is a better place.

    But as you point out with the Adam Smith quote, making the world a better place is not the aim. It is the unintended, positive consequence of your leadership and good judgement.