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The Ship of Opportunity - A Fable

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The ocean water rushed softly up the shoreline. The wall of foam and bubbles crashed into the feet of two men sitting on the shore. The water receded unnoticed, their eyes too preoccupied with the seemingly endless ocean. Wave after wave came, but their eyes never left the horizon.

“John, it’s starting to get late, we better head home.” John didn’t acknowledge his friend’s comment. “Seriously, if we don’t go now, it’ll get too dark to walk home,” he pointed up, “there’s no moon tonight.”

“It’s coming today, James, I know it. Just wait another minute,” John replied, never taking his eyes off the horizon.

“Okay, five more minutes and then I’m leaving you here,” said James.

John nodded.

Five minutes passed, then ten, but nothing came. James started to pack up his belongings. “It’s not here. Let’s go,” he said.

“Start walking, I’ll catch up.” 

James rolled his eyes as he pulled his bag over his shoulder, walking toward the tree line. After about two hundred yards, James looked back as John jumped to his feet. “Good,” James said to himself, “thought he’d stay all night.”

Just as James turned back toward the trees, he heard John yell, “It’s coming! It’s here! Finally!”

Turning back, James saw a dark shadow on the horizon that resembled sails. His heart seemed to leap out of his chest as he ran to John’s side.

“How far off?” James asked.

“Close to an hour, maybe two,” John replied.

Scratching his head, James looked at the horizon, then toward the fading sunlight, “It’ll be dark by then. Getting in the water will be risky.”

John simply stared at the horizon, not taking his eyes off the ever-growing sails. Frustrated, James kicked the sand and said loudly, “Are you even listening? There’s a lot of risk waiting that long! Let’s go home and hope it comes back.”

John shook his head, “It’s been months. I’m waiting.”

James cursed loudly and stormed off down the shoreline.

John simply stood, staring intently at the sails as the ship moved closer to the shore. A grin slowly grew on his face, his eyes twinkled with the last few minutes of light. Soon, the only light left came from the stars and a small light bobbing back and forth against the water close to the horizon. The light continued to grow, and John continued to wait.

Eventually, James returned to John’s side, more nervous than agitated. James said softly, “If I leave, are you coming with me?”

John shook his head.

“So you’re just going to risk your life and wait for it to come in?”

John nodded, saying, “If you knew what you could gain, you’d wait too, regardless of the risk.”

James threw his hands in the air. “You think I don’t want it to come too?! Of course I do! I’ve waited months, just like you! But I’m not going to be an idiot and risk my life for one lousy boat. There will be others; others that require way less risk and way more reward. I’m not staying, I’m heading back. Good luck drowning out there.” He turned and stormed off toward the tree line, not looking back this time.

John wasn’t taking his eyes off the boat. In fact, he started to remove his jacket, then his belt. He took off his shirt and pants, until he was only in his underwear and a t-shirt.

As the boat neared, John jumped into the ocean and swam out toward the boat. The freezing water didn’t bother him, his eyes were focused on the boat and getting to his goal.

The perfect opportunity never came for James, he stayed where life was comfortable. He waited weeks, months, even years, and no boat ever provided the perfect, most comfortable opportunity for him to swim out into the water. So he remained there, always waiting, never moving.

Jonathan Winters captures this story in one sentence, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it.” The opportunity to pursue your dreams will never be perfect. You’ll never find a situation that requires only a little sacrifice in return for much gain. Waiting for the perfect opportunity is like waiting for the perfect boat that comes when the sun is shining and the water is clear. Opportunities will never be perfect, so swim out to meet it. And that’s what this story is all about: don’t wait for your dream and potential to reach you, swim out and grab it.