Three Reasons We Need the Formidable Power of the Bygone Sea Shanty

Estimated read time: 2 minutes

Storm tossed. Toil. Violence. Sweat, blood, illness, fears, and tears. Far from comfort.

Back in the 1700 and 1800s, whaling boats, military, and merchant ships crisscrossed the ocean. The crews needed to work tedious and monotonous jobs together. So, they chanted songs to build a rhythm for work and combat boredom — a roughriders form of whistling while you work. Sea shanty songs lifted spirits, gave a sense of community, camaraderie, and identity.

We all need a good sea shanty now and then (especially now) to get into flow state. And while we won’t be singing songs together, we can at a minimum spur each other to carry on.

Here’s three thoughts for how we can reap lessons from the sea shanty:

1. Tension is Rocket Fuel

Sea shanties expressed tensions and followed similar themes. A longing for the deep blue ocean. Port calls. A longing for home. A tension. They were often call and response.

We all live in that tension. We’re on the way. Pushed out of the comfy harbor and out into the wild unknown. Yet we also yearn for the joy and comforts of sanctuary and loved ones. The best, of course, is when we’re all in it. No one left behind.

Rather than struggling or regretting the tension, we need to see this is where we’re meant to be. Sure, we could choose to sit on the couch. Watch some more TV. But we all know we’re meant for more.

Mission is written into our DNA — at the core of our being. We’re made for adventure. When we deny that, or numb out, it can be disastrous and poison our lives.

A resentment can brew that we don’t even understand sometimes. Resentment at ourselves, our circumstances — our inertia becomes bitterness aimed inward, but often smashes into innocent bystander loved ones and family.

But that tension is there to propel us into problem solving and taking things to the next level. Making things right. Better.

2. What’s Your Story?

Sea shanties usually included a story, a narrative thread that would bring the crew together with shared understanding and mission.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator, poet, and journalist, circa 1930

We’re an expeditionary force. There’s a calling on each of our lives, but it isn’t just for ourselves. It’s for one another. It’s when each of us shows up and delivers, that we’re greater than the sum of our parts.

Often it’s easier to make excuses. We have all kinds of reasons for not doing the work. The bed was just too comfortable. The chips were just so crunchy. I just needed to veg out. Just one more Instagram scroll.

This isn’t about the power of positive thinking or the stoic just-grin-and-bear-it.

3. What Fires You Up?

It’s about finding who and what lights you up. Sometimes it takes work and real awareness to recognize how to go beyond just survival mode.

But even when we find it, we have to decide. We have to choose. Roll up our sleeves and take action. And then the wholehearted pursuit.

Best part of the recent sea shanty redux is that the musician who sparked it never saw it coming. Nathan Evans, a musician who worked as a postal worker, loved to sing so he shared pop music covers on TikTok. He just kept going. Kept sharing. He did a sea shanty or two for fun.

But his relatively small group of fans requested more sea shanties. So he listened and sang the Wellerman.

Then, boom. Eight million views and counting. Now, he’s quit his mailman job and is in full pursuit of making music.

We all need a good sea shanty to help keep our shoulder to the stone, bind us together, and focus our force on the mission. For me, I’m reminded of why the worship experience is so powerful. For you there might be other meaningful rituals.

To calibrate us and remind us of why we do what we do. Day in. Day out.

And dare I say sometimes to have fun, or at the very least poke fun, at the drudgery we all grind through — hopefully with more grit and grace in the sharing.

p.s. VALOR:



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