Columbus Knew a Thing or Two About Tenacity
Some lessons transcend time
“If Columbus had turned back, no one would have blamed him. Of course, no one would have remembered him either. Finish what you start.”
That quote appeared below the signature of a sales executive in a recent email, so I can’t take credit. I can take advice, however, and in this economy and political season, it is sage advice.
By this time next year, we will know if there is a new occupant of the White House and whether Congress gets a makeover. Next Nov. 6 has the potential to produce the most votes in American history because the economic urgencies underscoring 2012’s election fuel each ballot cast.
That’s why all the discussion, debate, fact checks, criticism and mudslinging you or I engage in between now and next November won’t matter if we don’t finish the process: VOTE, please. (No, it is not too early to get out the vote.)
Just like Christopher Columbus’ discovery voyage in 1492, there was a lot at stake long before America came to be. The attendant risks of embarking on a journey where man (at least Europeans) had not yet been—much like our discoveries in outer space and eventual landing of man on the moon—were just as high.
While many questioned Columbus’ sanity, they could not question his persistent determination. Little did the Genoan know that his birthday, Oct. 31, 1451, would centuries later turn into a holiday known for “trick or treat.”
As a teenager, young Columbus was already out to sea, getting his sea legs and learning the defining currents of the north Atlantic. Centuries later, some historians would suggest Columbus believed he was “anointed” by his Creator to find this new world. Others believed he simply didn’t have both oars in the water, to contemporize.
The voyager thought by sailing west, he could reach Asia and its potential trade much easier than eastward, which meant navigating through Muslim-dominated sea lanes.
His tenacity showed in his very first voyage off the coast of Portugal, during which his commercial ship was attacked by French privateers, burning the vessel so badly Columbus was forced to jump ship and swim to shore for his life.
This episode of grit obviously did not impress the Portuguese king, who rejected Columbus’ request for three ships for a discovery voyage. On his second try, he knocked on hometown Genoa’s door: No, thank you. He traversed the peninsula to Venice, but was rejected a third time.
Next, he engaged the Spanish monarchy, which later in the next century created their awesome Armada and obviously knew a thing or two about sailing. At first they rejected the idea also, but King Ferdinand, preoccupied with a war against the Muslims, held his interest and placed Columbus on a retainer (early-day consultant?) until the war was over.
Finally, in August of 1492, Columbus, sailing aboard the Santa Maria and flanked by the Pinta and Nina, launched his expedition funded by the Spanish monarchy. After 36 days, he set foot on what he believed was Asia, but what is the Bahamas today. Eventually, he set foot on the Americas.
The Santa Maria later wrecked on a reef off the Hispaniola coast (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and in 1493 Columbus returned to Spain shy one ship, but with a permanent place in history.
At age 54, the bold but believing explorer died May 20, 1506.
And we remember.