Home » Archive » Loaded for seagull, built for battleships

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

The guns of Navarone

1. “The tunnel itself, dripping-damp and duckboard floored, stretched forward into the lightened gloom ahead, the great, gaping mouth of the cave … crouched massively above, like some nightmare monsters from an ancient and other world, the evil, the sinister silhouettes of the two great guns of Navarone.

Torch and revolver dangling loosely in his hands, Mallory walked slowly forward. I’m here at last, Mallory said to himself over and over again, I’m here at last, I’ve made it, and these are the guns of Navarone: these are the guns I came to destroy, the guns of Navarone, and I have come at last …

… Mallory approached the gun on the left. He was staggered by the sheer size of it, the tremendous girth and reach of the barrel that stretched far out into the night. The experts thought it was only a nine-inch crunch gun, that the crowding confines of the cave were bound to exaggerate its size. He told himself these things, discounted them: twelve-inch bore if an inch, that gun was the biggest thing he had ever seen. Big? Heavens above, it was gigantic! The fools, the blind, crazy fools…”

2. “I always feel like this way of being was meant for bigger things. More complex. More sophisticated. More potentially catastrophic.

Imagine taking one of those bigs guns of Navarone ‘those huge cannons used to sink battleships’ and loading it to target seagulls floating about in the bay. A thousandth of the gun powder, a marble for the cannon ball, a tiny weak pop for a cannon blast.

It is still a cannon, it is still firing, it is still fulfilling a kind of purpose but that is not what it was made to do.

I feel like I am made to sink battleships, but I’ve only learned how (or given my self permission) to shoot at seagulls. More than that, I know hordes of people who haven’t even got a feel for what they’re for and that’s what this post is about …”

3. The first quote above is from Alistair MacLean’s book, The Guns of Navarone. The second is from comments to an old post on doing that which only you can do.

It’s been a strange few weeks. Six, separate conversations centered on that old post. I never brought it up once. Every time, it was the other side who made the mention.

Strange because I need to be reminded. It’s easy to lose confidence in this intention.

4. There is nothing in the world that hands you your best. At its worst, life beats best out of you. At its best – you’re only given the chance for some diluted version of your brilliance.

Diluted best is: being loaded for seagull, but built for battleships.

Seagulls flap around in front of you – low-level versions of greatness. Between the noise they make, the flocks they come in, and the work of doing more – most who seek their brilliance (battleships) end up hunting seagulls. It takes discipline (and conviction) to get past seagulls and hunt battleships.

Battleships evince greatness. They are metaphors for your best, best used. Gunning for battleships is a life-long intention.

The challenge of hunting battleships starts with two fundamental decisions

– Which battleships to hunt?
– What to hunt battleships with?

These two, parallel, mutually dependent choices are, I believe, in the top five questions anyone passionate about greatness must ask and answer.

Rowboats, kin of battleships

What gets you juiced? Don’t bother rationalizing it – just let it roll out. What have you done, no matter how small or unseen, that makes you bounce? These are rowboats.

What do you get invited to do? What are those peculiar parts of life – touched by color and music – that seem odd amongst the rest? These are seagulls.

Few know their rowboats and seagulls. And, of those, most never get beyond the distraction of paddling in circles and waving at the noisy birds. The trick is looking inside those examples for the root of greater things – the hulls of battleships.

Having found your rowboat, what is the character of the joy? Does it have to be recognized, does it need to endure, does it need to be critical, is chaos an ingredient? What makes it up?

Take a look at your seagulls. What comprises their voice? Are they asking for wisdom, do they seek asylum, do they want direction? What do you give?

Finding the cannon

Of all you do, how much is that which only you can do? In what are you sine qua non?

Sine qua non is an indispensable, essential action. It’s a condition or ingredient that without which: there is nothing. In what are you the essential ingredient?

Again, don’t get hung up on smallness. And, don’t get distracted by uniqueness. The world is huge – being sine qua non here doesn’t mean someone else isn’t doing the same elsewhere.

Having found that essential ingredient, what is it’s best use? Start at the top. Reach to the highest levels of the things you’re familiar with. Where, way up there, is your best play? Don’t worry about being able to do it – just imagine the alternatives.

So, now with this dream opportunity in mind – maybe you run some amazing design group, save all the wetlands in the nation, or advise the President – whatever it is, if you were going there, which direction would you turn from where you’re at? This isn’t complicated. It’s like getting to the convenience store near your home – walk out in front of your building, stand in the driveway – which way do you turn?

Now, turn toward your opportunity.

Take a step.

Steps are miles

After that first step, it won’t matter if you get there. Asking these questions and going is all that counts.

I’ve written before about Alan Watt’s comparison of journeys versus dances. Below is a cartoon of the same talk. He talks about the consequence of living life (and career) as a journey.

In journeys we constantly seek a destination. One hour more today is an hour less to spend tomorrow. One last step now is a step I’ll never have to take again. But in a dance we don’t seeking the end.

We don’t dance to get anywhere; we don’t sing to finish songs. We seek the moment.

Purpose as mystery

Battleships, brilliance, purpose – these are not destinations. They are mysteries. Rowboats and seagulls are clues.

J.J. Abrams (creator of Lost) speaks elegantly about mystery. In the video below (at about minute 5) he wonders if, maybe, there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.

Of course, there are times where mystery is more important. And, as must be clear by now, I think choosing and hunting battleships is one of those grace-filled/crashing parts of life.

The gift and joy of life

Within us is brilliance. We’ve been given all we need to change the world. It is our life’s work to find and reveal that brilliance and its best use. Having done that work, we turn toward the things we found and step out – into a dance with mystery.

What is within us is certain. All that is outside us will never be. And together, these two characteristics of life define our dance – brilliance within and mystery without.

This is the gift and joy of living.

Choosing greatness

Does this seem too simple? Are there other layers you would add?
Is this a path for few or many? If few, what else is needed to make it broad?

I’d love to hear from you. Comment below or feel free to email.

This conversation started two weeks ago – we post an early draft for email subscribers. If you want in, subscribe to email notification from the blog.

Keywords: Brilliance, Presence, Purpose, Intention, Character
Tags: Brilliance, Awe, Presence


[…] about what we allow ourselves to do, in spite of what we are capable. The concept is that we are, Built for Battleships but Loaded for Seagulls . Jeremy, as he has with other posts, inspired me to keep believing that I am built for greater […]

[…] The working thesis goes like this: a) Your best is your cannon. b) This cannon is tailor-made for sinking just a few, specific things – those few things are your battleships. c) Life is rotund with things that distract us from our best. These things are easy to chase around without ever realizing we’re wasting time. These are seagulls. It’s rare to figure out “your” cannon. It’s more rare to discover your battleships. And it’s rarer still to have deliberately built the capacity to fire that gun at those ships more often, with more precision, and greater purpose. […]