Life Lessons from the Panama Canal

We recently completed a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Los Angeles, California via the Panama Canal. Though we have transited the canal many times, I looked at it differently on this journey. I saw it as a metaphor for life. 

1. BE PATIENT. Great ideas take time to manifest.

The idea of cutting a pathway across central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific was first conceived in 1513 when Balboa spied the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal did not open until
1914. Before that, ships had to circumvent South America.  

Everything starts with a thought. Contemplation, imagination, and daydreaming lay the foundation.

2.  SET YOUR GOAL. Where are you going and why?

The goal of the canal was clear: construct an opening between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans thereby creating a new shipping route that saved thousands of miles* and avoided the treacherous passage around Cape Horn. 

What do you want to do and why?

*14,000 miles from New York to San Francisco around the Cape versus 6,000 miles through the Panama Canal.

3.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Study the landscape. 

The French attempted construction of a canal at sea level in 1881. They did not take into account the rainy season, climate, and changing elevations.  After millions of dollars were spent and over 20,000 lives lost, the project was abandoned. 

Know what you are getting into.


In 1903, engineers from the United States undertook the project with an entirely different method. They adapted to the rising and falling topography by incorporating locks to raise and lower ships.

If one method doesn’t work, try another.


The building of the canal required years of extensive clear cutting, dredging and drilling through jungle, mountains and rock cliffs.

There is always a way – over, under, around or through. Finding your way takes time and effort.

6.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Have resources in place that will nourish and energize you. 

A dam was built to create Gatun Lake, a manmade reservoir that supplies the water that fills the locks.

 Take time to rest and refuel.

7.  SEEK GUIDANCE. No one succeeds totally ALONE.

Train tracks run along each side of the canal. Little silver cars have cables attached to the ship that guide it through the canal.

Listen. Learn. Accept help and guidance from others.

8.  LOOK TO THE FUTURE. Be prepared to expand.

The ever-growing size of cruise ships and freighters necessitated the building of a third set of locks that opened in May 2016.

Ongoing success requires ongoing growth.

9. ANTICIPATE COMPETITION. Success attracts attention and competition.

Over 14,000 ships a year pass through the canal bringing jobs and millions of dollars into Panama. Consequently, the thought of building another canal through Nicaragua has attracted interest and investors.  

Be prepared to continually prove yourself and demonstrate your value. Always be the best you can be and do the best you can do.

Are you in a relationship? Working? Building a business? Are you an artist? Volunteer? Going to school? Raising children? In one way or another, we are all building canals – moving from Point A to Point B. We can learn valuable lessons from the greatest canal of all. In summary…

Everything starts with a thought.
What do you want to do and why?

Know what you are getting into.

If one method doesn’t work, try another.

Finding your way takes time and effort.

Take time to rest and refuel.

Accept help and guidance from others.

Ongoing success requires ongoing growth.

Always be the best you can be and do the best you can do.

Every Day is the Beginning of a New Year

January 1 is celebrated around the globe as the beginning of a New Year. Social gatherings, champagne toasts and midnight kisses, music and firework displays bid farewell to the old. High hopes and resolutions greet the new. But as the days pass, many resolutions fall by the wayside, not to be picked up again until the next January 1. 
Why do we only make resolutions and set goals at New Year’s? What about the other 364 days of the year? Isn’t every day a brand new beginning, the start of a whole new year?

Are We Sleep Walking Through Life?

Just as everywalking-152659_640 year should be the best year of our life because we bring to it the experience and wisdom of all our previous years, every day should be the best day of our life. Why isn’t it? Perhaps because we live much of life on automatic pilot repeating the same actions and thoughts day after day. Get up, make the bed (making your bed is a happiness hack), have breakfast, go to work, check the internet or take the kids to school or whatever your routine is. We have thousands of thoughts a day and the vast majority are the same thoughts as the day before and the day before that and countless days before that. What if we lived each day awake and aware instead of automatically?

What if we treated every day like a New Year day?

The Japanese prepare for the New Year by cleaning house, literally and figuratively. They want to welcome the New Year’s god with clean homes, minds and bodies. Isn’t that the way to greet each new day? That’s why making the bed increases happiness – it starts the day in a positive, orderly way. We can develop the habit of remaking our mental bed every morning, and start the day with a positive, orderly mind.

We need to be aware and catch ourselves when thoughts get derailed. Winston Churchill said: To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. Change your thoughts and you change your emotions. Change your emotions and you change your behavior. Change your mind and you change your life.

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny. Gandhi

You are the way you are because that’s the way you choose to be in this moment. Are you addicted to your beliefs and deeply committed to your self-image? Those beliefs and that self-image come from past experiences.  Most of our programming and conditioning occurred before we were old enough to think rationally. 

Make a list of everything you believe about yourself.  How much of it is negative and where did it come from? 

A thought cannot have an effect on you unless you agree with it 

Every time you stop agreeing with, supporting and actinflower-197343_640g on a negative belief, you regain personal power. It is not as simple as saying I don’t believe that anymore. Old beliefs have roots deep in the subconscious. Where we pull up a weed, we must plant a flower. If you want that flower to grow, you have to cultivate it; tend it with lots of attention and loving care. Dwell on what is good and beautiful and true. If you fall back into old habits and programmed thinking or break your New Year’s resolution, don’t beat yourself up, don’t give up. Every day is a fresh start, the beginning of another new year.