The Pirate Who Chased The Horizon
Have you heard the one about the pirate who chased the horizon?
There was once a young boy from a small coastal village, who used to dance and play
From the moment he could walk and talk, skip and jump, the young boy found a love for the sea. He would take his friends on small boat rides in the creek, imagining brave adventures, singing and dancing along the way.
And everyone in the village celebrated in particular this young boy boy because he had a gift for sailing. They told him that he would change the maps of the world, that he would charter parts unknown, that he would go to the ends of the earth and peer into the next world.
And the boy grew up believing them.
All through his youth he was told the story by all those around him, all those who believed so much in him, of the Treasure on the Horizon. The legend of this mysterious, unknown but ultimate treasure had circled in this village for generations.
To find this treasure, one had to sail to the line where the sky met the sea. Only there could it be found.
All the young men in the village were brought up on the dream of being the one to find and bring home this coveted prize. The boy grew up being told that he would be the one, if anyone, who could finally reach this horizon.
He would look around at his friends as he grew up and think it won’t be them… it will be me!
So the boy became a man, and that man became a pirate.
The pirate took a crew and sailed off towards the horizon, vowing not to return home until he’d found the treasure, until he caught the horizon.
As soon as he pushed off from shore he knew that he could not become the man his village had promised him to be without finding the treasure. So he set his sights firmly on finding and capturing this prize.
The pirate became disgruntled with his crew.
When the day’s work had been done, the pirate would retreat to his cabin to study his maps. He would grow frustrated however by the singing and dancing of his crew at night, who at sunset would bust out the rum and begin to merrily drink, laugh and make music.
The pirate grew more angry, day by day “don’t they understand the importance of finding this treasure!? Of reaching the horizon!? Why don’t they work!?” And so the pirate would often come out of his cabin to shout at and berate his crew.
“We work hard”, the short and stubby crew member said. He was supporting the old drunk, who had a limp arm dangled over his short and stubby shoulders.
“Take a break, sit down and drink with us Captain!” The old drunk bellowed through his slanted, drunken jaw.
“We just don’t see the point of going on today” said the shy pirate, who would hide up in the crow’s nest lookout atop the ship.
The pirate grew even more frustrated and disgruntled at this. And so other times he would stay inside, tuning out the noise from the evening parties so he could double down on his mission.
No matter how far they sailed, they never seemed to get closer to the horizon.
Some time had passed by now, and the pirate was growing anxious.
Given their lack of progress, he’d banned music, drinking and laughing after sunset. Now the crew had to work day and night, doubling down towards their goal.
The pirate grew anxious. What if the others find the treasure before me? How will I ever be able to return home if lesser men find it first?
One day the pirate was gazing out at the horizon, wondering how he could catch it
He was at his wits’ end. He was tired from not sleeping, and stressed from the continual worry at his lack of progress, and fear that all the friends he’d outperformed when growing up would surely now find a way to the horizon before he did.
For a moment he felt someone was watching. Turning around, he noticed the old drunk sitting on a stool by the rail.
“Hell of a day at sea isn’t it captain!” he grumbled through his uneven jaw.
“Are you drunk even at this early hour?” The pirate snapped back.
“Drunk? I’m not drunk!” the old drunk replied.
It was then that the pirate noticed something for the first time.
The old drunk was not an old drunk at all. He was an old cripple. His jaw was slanted permanently, and the bottom of one of his legs was missing.
It was then that he noticed that the short stubby crew member did not carry the drunk around because he was too weighed down by rum. He carried him around because he wanted to help his crippled friend.
“I only wish I could see the view from the crow’s nest” the old cripple continued, “but obviously”, he gestured at his leg “I can’t get up there. Though I’m sure glad that our friend is always up there looking out for us, making sure we do not crash into rocks or icebergs”.
Then the pirate looked up to the shy pirate in the crow’s nest. For the first time he noticed that the pirate wasn’t shy, that he wasn’t hiding in the lookout. In fact, he was up there to look out for his crew.
And then the old cripple asked the pirate a question
“Captain, why do you want to reach the horizon?”
The pirate, despite his fatigue and bags under his eyes, managed a sarcastic laugh. “To reach the treasure you old fool!”
“Ok…” the old cripple said with his brow furrowed in confusion, “but why do you want the treasure?”
The pirate looked at him dumbfounded. “So I can have untold riches, the glory of our village, legacy on the seas… why so I can have it all!”
“Ok…” the old cripple said again, still dissatisfied. “So captain, what is the treasure?”
The pirate looked at him, now more impatient than ever.
“How am I supposed to know!? You old cripple, you ask the darndest questions!”
“Ok…” the old cripple said again.
“Say, just for argument’s sake, that the treasure was all the gold in the world… what would you buy with all that gold?” the cripple asked.
“I don’t know” said the pirate, confused. “Maybe my own island?”
“And what would you do on that island, captain?” he asked the pirate.
This time the pirate looked back at him blankly.
“I know what I’d do” the old cripple said, saving him from his embarrassment. “I’d buy this ship off you”.
“You’d WHAT?” the pirate exclaimed.
“You heard me. I’d buy this ship off you, and all the other gold I’d leave on the horizon for some other gezer. I’ve got everything I want and need on this ship, enough to make me happy and merry for the rest of my days”.
The old cripple went on.
“In fact, I wouldn’t have to buy it if you hadn’t turned into such a sour git these past few months. Since you banned our wonderful evenings. I miss those god-darned evenings and I’ll be darned if I miss them any longer.”
The pirate looked on, still dumbfounded. “You want this ship?” he gasped.
“You never stopped, did you, not once, to ask why you wanted that treasure so bad? It never occurred to you that you didn’t really want it, you just wanted it because everyone gave you a dream to live up to, and because all your competitors, your friends wanted it to.
For all these years, pirates like you have been chasing a dream. They narrow in so far that they don’t notice they never ever get closer to the horizon. Because you cannot reach something that never gets closer.”
But the old cripple was still not done.
“Captain, what if the mysterious treasure you seek is not really on the horizon, but on this very ship? What if the treasure is found by chasing the horizon, a journey which leads you to discover what what you longed for was around you the whole time?”
That night there was a party, and the pirate looked around in awe.
He saw in brief moments what the old cripple was talking about. Crew members eating, drinking, laughing and dancing together. Each had a role to play helping one another, from the crow’s nest to the short stubby man and the old cripple.
They drank into the night and then rose again to experience sunrise the next morning together. And on they sailed, feeling the wind in their hair and on their faces.
Smelling the sea and breathing it deep into their lungs. The air was free. The company was free. The sunrise was free. These men did enough work to earn their keep on the ship, and the rest of their time was spent absorbing what was around them.
Whilst the captain owned the ship, it was they who were never tired or stressed, racing the competition to the horizon. They were not on a race. They were on a journey.
Sometimes the pirate still looks at the horizon, thinking he should be heading towards it…
Only because he is so used to chasing the horizon, of trying to get closer to it. But by remembering that all that is good in life is already on the boat, he remembers to look around him, and not at the horizon.
Remembering the Minimum Viable Lifestyle
This little parable is intended to remind you of one of our most important principles… the Minimum Viable Lifestyle, or MVL for short.
This centres on two main questions, the simplest of which is “what is the least my life can be?”
For those who are unfamiliar there are three parts to the MVL: The ‘Minimum’, the ‘Viable’ and the ‘Lifestyle’.
This is not about eating or spending as little as possible in life, as life must still be viable and comfortable.
It is also not purely about your income. It is not the ‘Minimum Viable Income’, but it is a Lifestyle. For the crew on the ship, the lifestyle is being together, co-existing and being needed by one another; eating, drinking, laughing and dancing together everyday.
We keep ourselves in check by remembering to look at what is on the ship, not on the unobtainable horizon.
This is an idea portrayed beautifully in the below graphs, inspired by my good friend and co-author Jordan Jensen.
In my life, having a clear idea of what my Minimum Viable Lifestyle is keeps me from getting caught in foolish material or extrinsic goals, like chasing treasure just because everyone else has suggested I do so, or because they are chasing it too.
It is natural to still look up at the horizon now and again to an ideal self or ‘where I think I should be’ because I, like you, am human. I have an imperfect, outdated brain run by a dog I call Astro.
But thanks to the MVL I remember to ask, “Lol, why would I want that?”
Why would I want more money, more status, or more recognition, when I already have everything I know that makes an amazing lifestyle?
As with the men on the boat, for most of us the really valuable things in life, with true utility, are free or easily affordable. Only sometimes, when our captain gets annoying and interferes with our MVL too much, do we need a bit more gold.
But only enough to buy the ship and our MVL back off him. The other gold can be left on the horizon for other gezers to chase.