Sometime around 1000 AD, a group of seafaring Polynesians were exploring the isolated islands of the South Pacific. A type of plover they called a kolea migrated out into open water each spring. Spying these birds, the Polynesians suspected there must be a large island nearby, since the kolea returned to the same beaches and tidal flats each winter to forage for food.
The Polynesians set out one spring from the Marquesas Islands, which lie over 2200 nautical miles from Hawaii. Even today, with GPS and gas-powered motors, it might still take a sailor around a month to travel between the two island chains. We can only imagine how long it took in a carved wooden boat using only the stars to navigate.
So the Polynesians followed the koleas, but the birds always flew faster than the sailors could row. So they would travel back home and wait until the following spring, picking up where they left off. Year after year, they chased the kolea around the Pacific Ocean in search of the Promised Land. It’s hard to imagine this sort of pluck; hard to fathom how many days they went hungry or nights they slept in the rain.
But they finally found it. Huzzah! And it only took them 400 years. Take a beat and sit with that.
Four. Hundred. Years.
It took these perseverant seadogs 400 years to reach their goal. Several generations of Polynesian seafarers were born and died before they finally landed on the golden shores of Hawaii.
And with no guarantees that this mythical home even existed, they kept trying.
I’ve had these determined sailors on my mind recently. I finished writing my second book and have been trying to get a literary agent to represent me (the agent is the one that “sells” the book to a publishing house). Most agents have a “slush pile” of hundreds of unread manuscripts in their office (see attached photo). Due to the enormous number of manuscript submissions, it is standard practice in most agencies to only send letters in the affirmative. This means the agent probably won’t even bother to send me a rejection letter. It’s basically a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” situation.
Now, I don’t mind getting rejection letters. I’ve always believed that rejection is simply redirection; that any obstacle that I encounter is just a detour in the right direction. But it’s maddening to send something out into the world that you care so deeply about and hear absolutely nothing. Did anyone even read it? Did someone read the first paragraph and hate it? Do they have any advice on how to make it better? The nothingness is frustrating; there’s no real closure.
Then I think about those sailors. For 400 long years, they were floating randomly around the Pacific Ocean. Every direction they looked, they saw the same blue water meet the same blue sky. They were betting it all on a hunch.
Don’t we all feel like that sometimes? Like we’re rowing as hard as we can and we have no idea if we are rowing towards our dreams or away from them? There is no encouragement, advice, or cosmic nudge to help guide our way.
But even though we can’t see it, our Hawaii might still exist. There are times when we’re perfectly aligned with the universe and receive encouraging nudges that let us know we’re on the right path. And then there are times in life when all we can see is endless water and sky. It takes an enormous about of trust and determination to keep paddling. But possibilities trump guarantees. As Ken Poirot writes, “Take Action. Success is not guaranteed, but inaction will guarantee failure.”
So, like my Polynesian spirit guides, I’ll keep rowing and trusting.