Soul-Talk: Are You Captain of Your Ship or Just Shipwrecked?

07/02/2012 08:16 am ET | Updated Sep 01, 2012

How would you like to become the "captain of your ship, the master of your destiny"? You may prefer my Self-Talk to Soul-Talk lexicon of becoming captain of your soul. If this resonates even in the slightest with you, then perhaps it's time to actually own the notion that you are a soul having a human experience, that it's up to you to determine the quality of experience you have as you navigate this life.

You may not get to choose all that happens to you, but you can choose how you respond. My good friends Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick remind us so eloquently in their amazing book Loyalty to Your Soul what happens to you in life is not the issue; rather, how you respond is the real issue.

As Viktor Frankl and countless thousands have demonstrated in their lives, how you respond may be the only real control you have in life. Frankl could have wound up "shipwrecked" as a result of years of Nazi concentration camps; instead, he wound up discovering that freedom is an inner choice. Regardless of what the Nazis did to him, he still maintained the final choice, the ultimate freedom and control -- how he chose to respond.

The power of this simple advice comes down to an inarguable basic truth: While many events will occur throughout your life, how you go through what happens to you is your choice and yours alone. Now, of course, many will choose to argue with the inarguable, but then that's their choice as well. Over several decades of "teaching what I most need to learn" and having observed through working with thousands of people the world over, it remains consistently obvious that what you resist, you're stuck with.

I have learned that I can complain, blame or generally be upset with what happens around me or to me, and the more upset I get, the more resistant I become, the more things remain the same. Curiously, the more I have surrendered to the fact that I'm the one choosing my reactions to the apparently negative events in my life, the fewer negative events seem to occur. It could be that the same kind of situations keep showing up with the only real difference being one of learning to make lemonade out of the lemons.

If you wish to argue with the obvious truth that you're the one choosing how you respond to what happens, then you get to stay stuck with the quality of experience you are having. If you like the experience you are having, then there's no need to change a thing. However, if you find yourself complaining, blaming or getting upset with what's happening around you, perhaps it's time to consider that you do have a choice.

Captain of Your Soul

William Ernest Henley wrote an intriguing poem first published in 1875 that offers some profound wisdom and insight into how you can choose to navigate life's currents. The poem seems to reflect how he approached the many physical and emotional challenges he endured in a somewhat tortured life. When the poem was included in The Oxford Book of English Verse, the editor added the now common title of "Invictus," which means unconquered in Latin. The poem sums up a courageous view of dealing with life's challenges in its concluding stanza, again underscoring that we have choice in how we experience what happens to us:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

While Henley was not the first to frame this rather ancient bit of wisdom, he certainly was not the last. Mallika Chopra, founder of, recently shared with me that her father, Deepak, taught her to meditate when she was 9 years old. He also encouraged her to begin practicing this simple-yet-powerful affirmation from A Course in Miracles at the end of her meditation:

I am responsible for what I see.

I choose the feelings I experience.

I decide upon the goal I would achieve.

And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for,

and receive as I have asked.

There are many versions of these truths, and yet they all come down to the same basic elements: what is, is. How you choose to experience what is has nothing to do with the events and everything to do with your own choices about how to respond. Of course, it's pretty hard to make good choices if you don't have a goal in mind. You might find it useful to do some meditation or otherwise explore the deeper aspects of who you truly are to move past your Self-Talk and spend some time listening to your Soul-Talk.

What would your soul have you experience? Listen closely and you will become captain of your ship, master of your destiny. Turn a deaf ear to that quiet inner voice of your soul, and you may wind up shipwrecked instead.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject. How have you taken the helm? How have you guided your own experience of life? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)