058: Sailing, fishing, conserving, and the snap of halyards: David Allen, part 2 (transcript)

July 5, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

David Allen

This second conversation with David Allen you’ll hear it starts almost midsentence. The reason is that he and I were talking about sailing partly because there was an event in Europe that he mentioned and that led me as someone who is avoiding flying to think of how to get across the Atlantic. And I’ve been thinking about sailing for a while and I really wanted to talk to him and we were really enjoying talking about sailing because he sailed a bunch. So I just hit record midsentence for him. I indulged, I hope you don’t mind, in something that I been doing lately, as a big project to make my life richer and fuller without the flying, or I should say without the pollution that flying causes. As someone who started off with you know avoiding food packaging and this lead one thing after another to increasingly doing things that are more in tune with my values getting across the Atlantic and maybe one day the Pacific without fossil fuels or you know you have to make the boat but then you power the boat by wind. I wanted to get out how much I’m enjoying the process of the discovery and the culture and the adventure and things like that. So there’s that. Also, when he talks about his being more knowledgeable and more aware and more conscious about fish that he discounts what he did the actual practice of eating less fish is something he concluded was right for him. He downplays it but I think it’s pretty significant. I think he downplays it partly because he’s done so much growth work on himself that this isn’t as big as some of the things he’s done before but I think it’s still pretty significant. Anyway, let’s listen to David.


David: I was taking lessons from there. His little sailing school was right next to the Catalina showroom and Catalina had just come out with their 42-foot sail boat, brand new. So it had one sitting there and he said, “By the way, I know the guy there. You want to have a lesson with the Catalina 42?” I said, “Wow, really cool.” Because my plan I thought was you know go ahead get a boat like 26 or 28 or you know some reasonably small sized boat and kind of really learned how to do all that you know in that size of a boat before I tried to get something that would be sort of sea worthy or ocean worthy. But I went out on the boat and it was so fun and it was so great. And the Catalinas were then, they were building them so they were much more user friendly in terms of shorthand sailing so you could actually sail out by yourself. That’s really good you know a 42 foot so that’s really cool. So I jumped way ahead. So my first sailboat was a 42-foot Catalina. I had sail number 62 or something you know so I was one of the first of the rails in the Catalina store and that’s what I learned to sail and that’s how I sailed as I’m telling 42. And I sailed it by myself you know at least a few times. And it was interesting and fascinating.

Joshua: You said the original goal was to sail around the world. Have you sailed across an ocean?

David: Well, once I got familiar enough with it I realized that you know because I was going to live on the boat, I was going to set up the boat so I could do that blah-blah-blah but I was still doing so much business travel then and just my business wardrobe wouldn’t fit inside a sailboat. And so, that was a little clunky and it would have been unwieldy at the time. And then you know once you get good at it, I realized, “Wait a minute. It’s actually much cooler to fly to Bora Bora and rent a sailboat there than it is trying to sail to Bora Bora.” So if you really want to you know have fun sailing but sailing around the world that you could have done that but that probably wouldn’t have been the best boat to try to be seaworthy because Catalina was really more for a little lighter weather you know lighter seas kind of sailing you know, not so much heavy weather. But you could still do it. But you know [unintelligible] to step into.

You know the funny thing, Josh, one of the most interesting things was I didn’t realize… By the way, the first time you’d go out and your depth meter can’t register because it’s so deep is a strange psychological event. Oh my God! Suddenly… I mean you’d come and you’ll drown in nine feet of water. But when it’s 900 feet there’s just something different that happens you know when you’re sitting down, that sort of dark deep void beneath you. There’s a very you know that’s why it’s subject to you know books and literature whatever about sailing and water and all that stuff. And I also didn’t realize as I became more and more comfortable that I actually could sail you know by myself out there in blue water. It was interesting that when I was flying over the ocean I didn’t realize how much fear of the ocean that I had until I got rid of it. Most people actually have this strange unconscious fear of the ocean. But you don’t realize you have it until you get rid of it. Much like when I got a black belt in karate I didn’t realize how much fear you had of stronger people around you until you get rid of it. So that was a fascinating event that happened in the process.

Joshua: You know, first I have to mention you may have noticed that I started recording and we can delete this part if you don’t want to have it in. The reason I’m recording this partly is you know my sailing…The reason this is coming up is that I mentioned to you, so that listeners can hear, is that I mentioned to you how I took sailing lessons and part of it is to be able to go to Europe next summer to attend an event you talked about. And a big thing for me is not flying. I mean the big thing for me is like how do I get to Europe if I’m not flying? It’s pretty hard without a boat. And sailing, I prefer sailing to taking like a cruise ship or something like fossil fuel based. And a reason why a lot of people like flying is because they like adventure. They like to travel and make things happen. And I’m finding that the constraint of not flying only forces on me taking on new challenges and sailing is one of them. And what I’ve found is that one, I’ve only been out in the water two days where I’ve been like you know trimming sales and watching for luff and stuff like that it’s only a couple of days.

But first of all, I’m out in the New York City Harbor and that’s like it’s only a couple of hundred yards from where I live. I mean a mile away from where I live and it’s as different a world as other places. So one, I’m getting adventure. Then there’s this whole culture of sailors which is totally international and global. And then there’s all this community of…So culture is one thing and community is another. And I’m having conversations like this with you with lots of people. I was just talking to this guy yesterday who is a documentary filmmaker with this amazing movie called Albatross and he was talking about sailing and how one of the things that really struck me was he said for a day or maybe more there was just no wind at all out in the middle of the Pacific which I thought Pacific bigger ocean means like bigger waves. He said for some time it was like totally clear and he just took on the sails because there’s no wind and they could just look all the way down as far as they could see, no waves at all. I’d never heard of anything like that. And so people, myself as well before I did it, are like must-fly. But I think that the description now of reality but a description of the system that one buys into and when you exit the system it’s not so necessary. And man, I’m getting amazing… It’s like this discovery after discovery after discovery of people and sailing and things like that.

David: Sure, no doubt marina blue is one of my favorite colors and hearing the snap of a halyards and the sound of the seagulls. You know it’s…One of the reasons I actually didn’t set up the boat for living on it was that 90 percent of the people at my boat was in Marina del Rey. 90 percent of the people who lived on the boats never sail them, they just live on them which is like a houseboat in Amsterdam. You know you don’t take the boat out, you just live on it. And so, I said that’s kind of no fun you just to do that. Also, another reason not to live on it if you actually went sailing, you’d have to batten everything down so you know because…

Joshua: They’ve been living that way for so long they don’t want to like…

David: Yeah, they just you know so they just had cocktails at four o’clock in the afternoon sitting out on their boat enjoying marina blue and the snap of the halyards and the sound of the seagulls you know and people passing by the boat cheering each other you know cheers. It’s quite a culture, yeah.

Joshua: I’ve been watching a bunch of videos just to see what’s out there. I just searched on like “crossing Atlantic”, “crossing the Pacific” to watch and there’s a lot…It also feels you know it’s definitely like a flow activity. It’s definitely an activity that you can take to any level of mastery because a lot of times when I get into something I’m like I want to see what level of mastery I can reach. As you were saying before to be a skipper with everyone relying on you to be ultimately responsible, I am like, “Do I want that?” I’m not sure to what level I want to go if I go across the Atlantic next summer. I don’t have nearly enough time I don’t think to learn to become a skipper for a transatlantic crossing but to help out and be not dead weight, I think we’ll see if I’m able to do that but I don’t know if I want that kind of responsibility but I don’t know. I’m just getting started.

David: Understood.

Joshua: Now over your left shoulder nature…

David: Nature will win out.

Joshua: I mean I can’t imagine what it’s like. Now you can see storms coming from farther away although they are still going to get you. But I can’t imagine what it was like before, just sometimes they’re going to get you and then when I see the lightning and the storms and the waves I’m like, “Wow, that looks incredible.” I don’t know if it’s amazing or awesome or scary and horrible…

David: I’m totally impressed over here in Europe you know Catherine and I went down in Portugal last year just for a little bit of a mini vacation and we went out to the westernmost part of the European continent is right there on the sort of southwest of Lisbon. And you know that was the jumping off place, that was the last land anybody saw when they were in those boats in 1492. Can you imagine? It’s like oh my God. Sailing off into the void. No idea in those funky things. It’s like wow. It sort of raised my appreciation of the risks people were willing to take. Of course, life was just so shitty. It was like why not?

Joshua: Plus, the [unintelligible] to be had I guess in India and China as expected to get to. Yeah and so this discovery is like you don’t have to…The airplane isn’t so necessary for it. Or it’s just me. I also see that behind you are paintings I believe that you’ve created. And one of them is, looks like a shining glowing bioluminescent path. Oh, no it’s just the reflection of…

David: I painted that from a picture I took off the coast of Ireland.

Joshua: So I feel like the ocean is still something…The one on the other side of you. Sorry, the people listening they can’t… There’s a sunset or sunrise.

David: Yeah, that’s kind of lower sun on the western coast of Ireland.

Joshua: What about to the right of that? Between that one and the books? The other one. The yellow.

David: That’s on a poem I wrote, A Moment is Coming Due. And so it was really about a dream that I had and the experience I had on the other side really which that were all part of this flow. All going the same direction to the same thing. Fantasy picture.

Joshua: Looking at it tells me that the ocean is a part of your life.

David: I love it. I love being near it.


David: Speaking of which, fish.

Joshua: You’ve had this challenge for the past month or two. Well, we left it less of a specified goal than I did with most people but I think you had a pretty clear understanding of what you’re going to do. Well, maybe can you put it in your words?

David: Yeah, I was being more conscious about that, I thought, “Well, this could be pretty simple. Find out which fish are sustainable, which aren’t.” Ain’t that easy. You can go do a Google search on sustainable fish, not sustainable fish, whether you should eat fish at all. You know the bottom line for what I am trying to know is that line cod or whatever, it turns out that our fishmonger that we use is you know at least according to them a sustainable fishmonger and in other words they only use sustainable fish. But when you go look at the list to see how different it is, some hey, it’s fine to eat Atlantic cod as long as it’s caught in a certain way. It’s not fine to eat Atlantic cod if it’s farm or whatever. So how do you know any of these? And so you look at out there at least all the web based data that I could find it’s actually it’s not so much confusing, it’s just that trying to be exact about that. The one thing that probably most stood out to me as I was researching this was simply everybody should just eat fewer fish, that fish in the grand scheme of things or you know like mining there’s only a certain number of them out there and you know the whole fish population on the planet is just diminishing fairly significantly. And so you just eating less fish, you are putting less pressure on mining the fish populations around the world. It’s their idea like all the stuff you are eating fish for you can find in other fruits and vegetables and meats and things like that, if you want to do that. And frankly, meat – beef, lamb, poultry or whatever – they’re producing as much of those as you want to eat just by the nature of the farm but fish they can’t do that.

Joshua: When I teach my class on systems thinking fish are in principle renewable above a certain threshold. Below that threshold they can’t find each other and they can’t mate and have babies.

David: Well, you’ve also got you know fish farming that’s actually creating as much pollution as it’s solving. You know given the fact that you know what they’re trying to do with that and how they’re trying to just sustain those and make those as profitable as possible. You know that doesn’t seem to be the solution either. And so I’ve just become a good bit more conscious about the fish I’m eating. You know I was just in Australia for a week and it’s kind of hard to tell you know if you are just having me having dinner or whatever what where something is from or whatever. And most people didn’t know had no idea, no clue about…Nobody was advertising themselves as only serving sustainable fish.

Joshua: Yeah, that lack of transparency is a big issue that sustained growth for a long time because I think a lot of people don’t want to know where stuff comes from especially if at the other end there is unsustainable practices or labor issues and I’ve been studying this but I think I see a lot of people valuing transparency and companies coming up to find out you know is a dolphin safe or what are the labor practices or things like that. But it’s got a long way to go I think.

David: Yeah. So my conclusion was kind of hard to make a conclusion about how to do that other than eat less and keep buying for my fishmonger that that’s their stuff is all you know sustainable in some way and to sort of trust their judgment about that. They’re good folks. So that’s what I could do, and just being more conscious about all that. So there wasn’t any major life change that I went through in the process because as I mentioned before we are pretty conscious about most of all this stuff anyway. Anything we can do we can control and have any you know ability to you know put our plastics together and recycle those and everything we could do in that regard. And so that’s why fishing was sort of you know that’s something I was somewhat unconscious about. So if nothing else maybe be a lot more conscious about that as a food source.

Joshua: So I make a big deal about distinguishing between consciousness and education, knowledge and what goes on inside your head with actual behavior. Did it lead to any change of behavior?

David: Just being more conscious about whether the fish I was eating was on the list or not. So not really a change of behavior so much other than just being more…I mean that is a behavior where you’re putting your attention, just a bit more subtle behavior.

Joshua: I’m curious because you concluded to eat less fish is helpful. Are you eating less fish?

David: Yes, I am eating less fish.

Joshua: OK, so it is changing…

David: A little bit. Well, I wasn’t eating a whole lot before to begin with. So that being more conscious of what I’m eating and if I have a choice in something or the other and I don’t know where the source of the fish is or how sustainable it might be, I tend to eat something else.

Joshua: What’s the emotional side of that? Are you lamenting that you’re missing something that you used to have?

David: Not at all. No.

Joshua: Are you enjoying something instead? Are you enjoying the consciousnesses?

David: Yeah, sure. And I always enjoyed doing something that I think is fairly worthwhile you know on the planet at least doing my part and not feeling like hey, I’m some sort of a numb about all that. So yeah.

Joshua: I feel like you’re saying, “Of course.” But to me something that’s been missing from the whole… To me the big part of leadership is it’s not just getting compliance and telling people what to do but I find it improves my life. It’s joy, discovery, growth, meaning, purpose, value and things like that. However obvious the question may have sounded, I want to bring that out so that people can tell if you make a shift. If you raise your consciousness, it’s not going to force you into doing something you don’t want to do.

David: Sure. But you know come on, Josh. If you were trying to make a significant change in a significant arena like the [unintelligible] movement, come on, a lot of those women really had a lot of guts to step out and you know make an impact. And you know that’s obviously going to change your life if you step into something that meaningful you know or like Gandhi, wonderful you know story whether it’s a myth or not it was a good story you know that a woman came to him and said you know, “Can you get my boy from stopping eating sugar? He is eating too much sugar.” And he said, “Come back in two weeks.” She came back in two weeks and he said, “Well. I’m back in two weeks.” And he said, “OK, you should stop eating sugar.” She said, “Well, why didn’t you tell him that two weeks ago?” He said, “Because I was eating sugar.” That kind of event and that kind of stepping up to you know that was nothing that I really did but I certainly understand if somebody takes on something of significance, makes a significant change it could certainly galvanize your life. But I’ve got a pretty galvanized meaningful life already. So it’s not like I am missing something you know some great cause I should step into. I mean I’ve been in one for 30 years with the work I do.

Joshua: Well, I mean here’s the question I can ask you is now that you’ve raised your consciousness on this and you’ve changed your behavior at least a little bit on this, are you inclined to do more?

David: Frankly, in this particular aspect not really other than just being conscious about any of this kind of stuff. I mean you read to see all this stuff about plastic. You know I will even take a little plastic strip off of something and put it in our little plastic recycle bag you know. So just becoming a lot more conscious about all that stuff is…

Joshua: You are already there.

David: I was already there but just a little bit of a sensitivity that is added to it just in terms of what gee, what difference could I make. You know that’s sort of one butterfly whatever you know flaps its wings and that affects the rest of the planet in some way. So you know I’m like I’m kind of a believer in all that as well.

Joshua: So OK so it sounds like you are already there. Partly for me another reason for asking is that the more that I do once I found at least for myself that the changes that I make improve my life then if I do small things it makes me want to do… The small things bring small reward. I’m experimenting and I’m finding that bigger things are bringing be bigger rewards so that makes me want to do more. And I think that a lot of people will feel that way especially among the people who haven’t done anything.

David: Yeah, that’s probably true. But then again you know the other side of that coin is I’ve said you know small things done consistently in strategic places create major results. So find some small things to start doing and they become consistently part of what you do produces huge results as opposed to necessarily not one big thing that’s going to produce some you know some ever-lasting result. So that’s kind of two sides of that coin.

Joshua: I feel like what I took away from what you said several things but one thing is small things people say, “Oh, it’s not worth doing” but the consistency and the doing like small things thought about a lot I think don’t add up to a lot but small things done not consistently they don’t add too much so it’s small things done consistently.

David: Yeah. Produces huge impact, that’s like patricide or anything. You know a little bit on a consistent basis, then one day you’ll suddenly do twice as many pushups as wherever you had to do before. And that doesn’t come from one day doing twice as many pushups as you can do. It comes from little things that make a difference. It also works in the negative – little small little negative things you do on a consistent basis produce huge negative results.

Joshua: Yeah. You are making me think about sailing again because I’m probably going to join the club in New York. This is great about New York. There’s like a sailing club. I don’t have to buy a boat. I don’t have to find someone to skipper me all the time. I can join this thing. And it’s when you compare the cost of joining there it’s still kind of high. But compared to a couple of flights I’m still in the black. You know I’m still saving money relative to…And still getting just as much cultural stuff and so forth. So back to the fish. Were there any hurdles that were… I mean it sounds like it was not too big of a deal that maybe there were hurdles that you didn’t mention.

David: The hurdles are just that you know how little conscious information there is out there that you could trust. If you surf the sites about that a lot of that is from the UK and Marks & Spencer and some other companies you know there that they are saying look if you buy the fish from those folks they’re really doing a really good job about making sure that their stuff is sustainable so but other than that it’s almost impossible to find anything that’s… There’s no stamp of approval [unintelligible] this is a sustainable fishery but you know that.

Joshua: Yeah and that’s everywhere because it’s also I mean I know that tuna cans will have the dolphin safe thing on it but who knows. And it’s certainly in the interest of the people… There’s a lot of, how do I put it, conflicts of interest that people can say stuff is safe when it’s not and it’s similar with garment’s. Do you know if something’s made in a factory, in a sweatshop? I don’t know of any way of finding out and what are the other areas. I mean there’s lots of other areas where that happens and to the entrepreneurs out there, solving that problem could help a lot of people.

So I always wrap up with a couple of questions. One of them is is there anything I didn’t think to ask to bring up? And the other is do you have any message direct to the listeners from the experience or otherwise?

David: So I’ll start with the latter. I mean, yeah sure, just become more conscious about that, more conscious about any stuff that might that anything you’re doing might have an impact on that. I think that’s highly useful in a good way to spend your time. So anything you can do to research or find something especially if it’s something that you’re involved in on a daily basis like eating or using plastic you know those are kinds of things that people I think can and I know I hate to use the word should but probably should and they have an opportunity I think to say, “Hey, you know I’m doing my part as a participant on the planet to whatever I can control and whatever is in my eco system that I might be able to affect or change.” I think that’s a great thing to do. There are worst ways to spend your time.

Joshua: You are describing it as an opportunity which reminds me when I interviewed Frances Hesselbein in her office she had notes. I told her about the podcast and her assistant helped there and prepared other stuff and she crossed off... I asked people if they want to take on a challenge and she crossed off challenge and wrote opportunity and I haven’t yet incorporated it into how I do the interviews because I also like the idea of a challenge but I think for a lot of other people it’s an opportunity to live by their values.

David: Yeah. And I can’t think of anything you haven’t asked me that I should be asked.

Joshua: Okay. So, then well, thank you for sharing. I’m glad that you went through it and I’m glad to hear that… It sounds like you had a benefit from this, that you liked it.

David: Yeah. No, no. It’s a sustainable thing for me to be aware of sustainability now.

Joshua: So well, thank you very much.

David: Permanent imprint for sure.


It was a simple change, not a whole lot. Didn’t take a whole lot of resources, didn’t take a whole lot of time but I read that it improved his life, that he found his life more rewarding with this increased consciousness and it changed behavior that I read as improving his life that he liked. So whether you haven’t done anything or you’ve done a lot, there’s stuff that can be done. And yes, it changes the world but it also changes yourself. And I hope that… I mean my takeaway is there’s always things that you can do, that you can enjoy and bring you value and discovery and things like that or whatever you enjoy while making that difference that you want to make for others. And also, I can’t help a comment on my part of things is that the sailing stuff is really picking up as something that I think is going to be really great part of my life. I thank David for being part of the impetus to accelerate it and also to demonstrate.

This is what happens when you live by your values. You will talk to people about stuff that are valuable to you and they will become friends, they will become people that you hang out with and do things with because we’re social creatures and you can take for granted that if you value something, many others will too. And you know I expect to see David Allen in Europe some time by taking a sail over there. If you do your changes in your life by what you value maybe sailing is it, I don’t know, but whatever it is you will find that as you do more of these things by your values you will develop community and in the case of me adventure and discovery and cultural change and things like that but for you it’ll be what you value which may or not be sailing but will be what’s valuable to you. And that means improving your life. It may not happen right away but if you do consistently, it will happen.

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