If you don’t have to fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.–Ralph Lee Hopkins, Wildlife Photographer, Expedition Leader
These words of wisdom were imparted many years ago on the stern of the MV Sea Lion, somewhere in the Sea of Cortez. I was working as Purser on a small expedition-style cruise ship (we had flush toilets and a chef, thank you). I’d say Chief Purser, but to be honest, I was the Only Purser. A group of crew members were hanging on the stern, some smoking, because that was the only place on the ship they were allowed to smoke. We may or may not have been complaining about passengers, or as they were referred to on another ship I had worked on, non-stackable cargo.
Part of your job as a crew member on any ship, or if you work in a manufactured environment (think Disney World, theatre, high end retail) is that you must always be outwardly cheerful. In fact, one ship I worked on had signs posted on every door to any passenger area: SMILE. ON STAGE. And we were. Most jobs allow you to go home at some point and escape the work environment. On a cruise ship, you’re always working or at least on call. Many cruise line workers are on for months at a time with no days off. Crew quarters are cramped and since they are below deck, usually dark. You’re often sharing accommodations with one, two, or more people.
Alone time is rare and the constant interaction with people wears on you. Since you have to maintain relationships with your fellow crew members, passengers are often the target of whining, even if they’re really not the problem.
So the conversation (read: bitch session) that day most likely centered around that constant requirement to be over-the-top cheerful and helpful. Someone noted wryly, “If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.” It was a phrase we repeated often.
Ralph looked up and said these magic words: “If you don’t have to fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.”
That stopped us cold.
Because as much as we liked to bitch, it was a pretty sweet life. We went to remote, unspoiled places. We had an ever-changing cast of characters. If you didn’t like someone, odds were very good they’d be gone in a week. The food was prepared by master chefs. (Maybe not so amazing for the chefs, but very much appreciated by the crew.) We got free drinks. (Limited to one or two a night.) We worked hard and we played hard. We were privy to some of the most amazing natural moments on this planet—things that most people only see on a screen. And we worked with very cool people. There was a lot to like.
That was the day my thinking about what I wanted to do with my life changed. What would it be like to live a life where you didn’t have to fake sincerity? Where you were just sincere? Where you were just happy? Where you were just you?
The truth is that crew wasn’t doing a whole lot of faking. We loved to deliver over-the-top service. We loved to surprise the passengers with something cool. We knew our passengers were experiencing once-in-a-lifetime wonders and we were the people delivering miracles. It was a very cool way to live.
As cool as it was, it wasn’t the way I wanted to live. I have done a number of things over the decades since that day—stand-up comedy, a bit of (very bad) acting, real estate investing, speaking and training. I always came back to writing. I never stopped, really. So I finally gave into it.
I’ve made my living as a writer and editor for the past 15 years or so. In many ways, I have it made. I work with clients I actually like. I do work that I love to do. I can work from anywhere in the world—with wifi. I don’t have to fake sincerity because I genuinely like helping the people I work with. I love to write, even when the words aren’t flowing.
It took me a long time to get here. I heard Ralph’s words 30 years ago. (Damn I’m old!) But I didn’t trust that I could make a living doing what I loved. I listened to people who had given up on their own dreams telling me I couldn’t live mine. Somewhere along the way I flat out forgot that people live their dreams every day. I have been privileged to work with some of them.
We all know it’s stupid to take advice from people who aren’t qualified to give it. But most of us are racked with self-doubt and it just takes one voice to stop us, to make us lose confidence. Let me tell you this right now: Those people don’t know you, your skills, your passion, your drive.
Fuck them. (And the horse they rode in on.)
Don’t ask “Can I?” Ask, “HOW can I?”
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, a dream that others have told you is impossible, figure out how to do it. Someone is doing or has done what you want to do. Someone has taken their five kids, spouse, and the family dog and lived on a sailboat. Someone has started a foundation to help underprivileged kids get an education. Someone earns a living as an actor, an artist, a photographer, a writer. Not just someone. Many ones.
There is a path. You just need to put your happy ass on it. It may not be smooth. It most likely won’t be immediate. (Cheers if it is!) If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that our time here is short and not guaranteed. Get yourself out of any situation where you find yourself faking sincerity.
Do you know what happens when you finally hit your groove, when you’re finally doing that thing you were meant to do?
You no longer have to fake sincerity. And it feels fabulous.
You can find Ralph Lee Hopkins work here: http://www.ralphleehopkins.com/ I promise you’ll audibly gasp at least once.