In a recent podcast interview, I spoke with Michael Harvey about his journey to Chief Strategy Officer at Corra. The full conversation is worth a listen, but it was his story about traveling the world for four years with his wife and two children on a 40ft. sailboat that has had me rethinking what it means to leave an impact on the world.
For Michael, the experience taught him to “leave a clean wake” in both his professional and personal life. Common amongst sailors, the term means to leave a clean trail so someone else doesn’t have to pick up after you. That same advice is posted at the entrance to every campsite in the world, and it’s certainly advice you’ve heard or shared yourself.
But it was the application to our daily lives which struck a chord. Am I leaving a clean wake in my relationships? As a leader? I’ve spent some time thinking about how best to leave a clean wake, and here are two ideas I’ve come up with.
Have you ever met someone who takes all of the energy out of the room? Or worked for a leader who seems to delight in tearing people and teams down? Leaving a clean wake is about leaving the spaces we occupy better than we left them – or, in other words, building them up. Build up the people you encounter and build up their mentality and sense of accomplishment and purpose.
You can do this by looking at your social encounters and asking how (or if) you added value to the situation.
- Did you leave that person (or that team) better than when you met them?
- How do you think they felt the moment you left? Were they happy you left – or did you leave them feeling happy and fulfilled by their encounter with you?
Sometimes, simply being a positive force and avoiding negativity is all that’s required to build up. If you can bring light to those around you, you’re leaving a pristine wake.
Be In the Moment
One of the more profound comments Michael shared with me pertained to his night journeys. When sailing for days at a time, Michael and his wife would have to take shifts behind the wheel. 12 hours on, 12 hours off. At night, while the kids slept and the other adult slept, either Michael or his wife were completely in charge at the helm. Alone. In the dark. Traveling the open water. With everything important in your life sleeping peacefully 10 feet away and under your responsibility.
In these moments Michael said he felt the world really sinking in. Under the stars, passing through well-traveled sailing routes, Michael said it was extremely likely no other ships would ever pass in the exact spot they were sailing that night. In the vast ocean waters, they were pioneers in the moment.
We all know the importance of being present in the moment. But if we’re going to truly leave a clean wake in life’s journey, you can’t build up without being in. Commit to being here, where you are. Because nobody will ever get another shot at this moment. You, too, can be a pioneer. You just have to be awake to recognize you’re in it.