Keep Your Eyes on Your Boat

I am just back to work this week after spending the last three weeks at the breathtaking campus of Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. I recently began my Masters of Arts in Professional Communication and was in Victoria for a three-week residency. I chose a program with a Communications focus because in the work that I do, and really, that most of us do, success often comes down to the ability to build relationships and to effectively communicate ideas and vision. 

Going back to school has certainly been a major adjustment, but a wonderful one at that.  It is a blessing to force yourself to carve out the time to think about things from an entirely different perspective.  To remove yourself from the day to day grind and think of some of the larger forces at work in our world.

It has also been an adventure joining a new community, that of student.  It is incredible how quickly a group of sixty people can come together when dealing with similar challenges.  The feeling of community that developed while on campus, through power failures and an unusual few days of West Coast snow (seriously, the whole city just shuts down after a few inches of snow!), is something that I know will stay with me for years to come.

Community also comes in smaller sizes.  Our program head and one of our talented instructors, Jennifer Walinga, is a gold medal winning rower.  One morning, she took us through her gold medal perfomance in the 1989 World Rowing Championships Womens 8 race. As she dissected the film for us, it was clear how the smallest details can sometimes make the difference between success and failure.

The race was one that did not start well for the Canadians and they quickly fell back into fifth place.  There were a number of factors that got them back into the race, but two that stood out for me.  The first was a comment from the cox. Apparently, the team had a very strictly laid out plan – every stroke and every word was decided and rehearsed before the race.  On this day, the cox spoke two additional words and they came in reference to the Russian team, “They’re dying.”  That was enough to take the Canadian women to another level.

The second detail was perhaps more subtle.  It could only be seen on the tape. Near the end of the race, the Russian women began to look over at the Canadian boat, while the Canadians never once turned their heads or lost focus.  As Jennifer told us, the message here was simple, “Keep your eyes on your own boat.”

One of the most memorable experiences during my time at Royal Roads was listening to another of my professors, Michael Real, provide his account of being at the Lincoln Memorial for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  What struck me was the degree to which that experience still impacts him today.  He described a feeling of community and oneness of spirit that is something we should all be so lucky as to experience.  If you have never taken the time to watch the speech, it is well worth your time:

While it will undoubtedly take some time to process everything that I have learned, and continue to learn, I know that the experience will serve me well as I do my part to work towards building a stronger community.

Tim Osborne is the Director, Community Building and Investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.