All essays in the column section were requested by people I know.

How to find direction in life. Requested by Mark.

How to find direction in life

“If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

If you feel like you’re just drifting along like a log in the ocean then this essay is for you. Let’s talk about how to build a boat to navigate life with.


Emotions organize rational thinking. What you value is a reflection of how you feel about things. Find a list of values online and see how you feel about them. Let whatever it is bubble up to the surface. It will take a few tries spread over a couple years.

Do the work.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Values have the interesting property of being stable across decades. It’s solid ground. A place to take refuge in when life hurls you into an abyss.

Use mine as a template; three core values and an array of associated values.

  1. Love (health, play, sincerity, gratitude, trust, courage, temperance)

  2. Freedom (education, equality, autonomy, privacy, justice, moderation)

  3. Duty (generosity, integrity, empathy, kindness, loyalty, competence)

When I say duty, I mean in the “moral obligation” sense of the word. I feel morally obligated to be kind to everyone I meet because it’s the the right thing to do. It’s virtuous behaviour, more on that later. To be kind is the default if you want to be a good person.

Don’t fret if your list isn’t as long. Start with anything.

If you value your health, start with that at the top of your list. Then think about your behaviours associated with that value. Are you actions aligned with what you think you value?


Life torments us with the need for purpose and I find it solely in fulfilling my duty to be good to others. I can’t do that without self-love or my freedom.

I exercise regularly out of love for myself. I am sincere out of love for those I care about. I am trustworthy because I’m a loving person who cares. See how that works?

Think of life as the ocean you float in.

Are you adrift or on a boat?

Your values give shape to your boat. What type of boat are you building? A sailboat? A yacht? Your values determine the type of boat you find yourself on.

The people you surround yourself with determine the size of your boat. Do you want a mega-yacht or a small sailboat? Choose your people wisely.

The strength of your relationships determine how likely your boat is to capsize when life’s waters get rough. Size isn’t everything; remember, the Titanic sank.

Pick the wrong friends and they’ll poison your true values, maybe even corrupt them permanently. You don’t want a boat full of weaknesses that could cause a leakage and potentially make the boat sink!

How do you navigate the sea with your boat (i.e. thrive / find your purpose)?

By seeking perfection of character.

It’s a lifelong commitment to mastering yourself.


Even when you’ve constructed a good sized boat you don’t want to continue drifting on life’s currents; you want to steer. You need to insist on executing your values to perfection (i.e. learn how to steer). That’s what virtue is.

Values describe what is important to you; virtue, what is moral/good.

Use mine as a template.

Courage — life without courage is no life at all.

Moderation — he is free who has few desires.

Tenacity — stay the course under all circumstances.

Modesty — being modest eases relationship building.

Empathy — life is suffering, be kind to all.

Sincerity — living under perpetual pretense is tiring.

Silence — mind your tongue, it can wound another.

Cleanliness — don’t expect anyone to take you seriously looking like a slob.

What makes a value a virtue? Values live on a continuum. For instance, some mistake recklessness (vice) for courage (virtue). Monitor for extremes. Don’t rock the boat unnecessarily by taking on extreme views and ideals.

This is how you learn to pick your battles while navigating the sea. You will learn how to spot waves that might capsize you from afar and steer clear.

Even if you manage to build a strong boat and become a seafaring person you could still get unlucky and face waves no boat was built to handle.

Life is rife with tsunamis from which no man is safe.

Remember that.

The Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg. And there’s no guarantee you’ll survive the hit. Regardless, boats can be rebuild, but each time it will look and feel different.

Once you’re done building your boat (i.e. determining what you value) you’re ready to take the seas (i.e. seek virtue). It’s only through living that you’ll learn how to live. Nobody becomes a virtuous person by accident.

From there you can decide what rules you want to live by. You can read about mine here.


Life is like trying to traverse the open seas with a boat you have to build yourself, maintain, and steer.

You are the captain of your ship. Values give shape to your boat. Commit to perfecting their execution. This is how you learn how to steer. This is virtue.

Building relationships is what gives strength to your boat. Your boat will grow in size the stronger your community is. Going out there by yourself means you can only command a small boat.

Don’t do that.

You can’t learn how to steer your boat or instruct others and set boundaries without understanding your principles that govern what you do and say all day.

The way forward is to do things of increasing difficulty that show you are worthy of your own trust while building healthy relationships.

Understand that very little in the world is under your control. Seek what is. Once you master yourself the oceans are for the taking.

“A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.”
– Oscar Wilde

Last modified on March 31, 2022
Published on September 14, 2018