The Work of Exploration

“Filling the mind with illusions is not the way to carry out with honor the work of exploration.”
– Samuel Champlain

Champlain was a stickler for careful preparation and research. He wasn’t one to half-ass anything he did, especially when it came to sailing across an ocean to uncharted places. He learned from the failures of others, noting failures in leadership, failures in preparation, failures in aligning political alliances to have your back when you were away, and failures in the treatment of the Native American population. And he was disciplined in his resolve to be successful in his own exploration.

When I think about Samuel Champlain, I think about the guy who famously explored the North American coast and more than anyone helped stake a flag of settlement for France. In New England we live in a culture that rightfully celebrates the arrival of the Pilgrims in America 400 years ago, surely a major turning point for the English settlement of North America, but let’s not forget those who came well before the Pilgrims. If the settlement of Plymouth was a comedy of errors and bad preparation, Champlain’s plan for exploration and settlement was meticulous.

Champlain found a way to be an invited guest of the Spanish on a trip to their own empire, surveying and documenting the atrocities of the Spanish conquerers with the native population and with African slaves for gold, silver and pearls. He resolved to never duplicate the things he saw, and treated men with respect and honor in his own exploration. And he learned from the brutal religious wars of France between Catholics and Protestants as well, resolving to bring religious tolerance to his own settlement. Champlain wasn’t just ahead of his time, he was helping to pave the way to our time.

I’ll return to Champlain again in future blogs, but for now I’m lingering on the quote that opens this post. A warning to not half-ass our own exploration. To be prepared and do the work necessary to put yourself in a position to not just survive, but thrive. This is true whether you’re starting a business, changing your career, working to finish a project before a deadline or planning that long hike. Filling the mind with illusions is not the way to carry out with honor the work of exploration. Be prepared, as the Marines would tell you. But don’t just prepare and dream of exploration either. Do the work of exploration too.

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