Becoming A Lighthouse


On January 12, 1804 the HMS York, a warship, struck Bell Rock and sank. It’s crew of 491 men and boys all perished.

Bell Rock (or “The Inchcape Rock”) is found about 18 km off the east coast of Scotland. The rock was the scene of many shipwrecks throughout history. At the time it was estimated to have destroyed six ships every year. In 1799, a Scottish engineer named Robert Stevenson proposed the construction of a lighthouse on the rock. Parliament dismissed the idea because of cost concerns and the radical nature of the proposal. After the tragedy of the HMS York, parliament had a change of heart and passed legislation allowing construction to begin.

From 1807 to 1810, Stevenson and his team overcame innumerable challenges throughout the construction of the lighthouse that would eventually be described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. Since it’s completion there have only been two recorded shipwrecks, none resulting in fatalities.

Strive to be a lighthouse. If there is a storm in someone’s life seek to guide them through it, give them hope and keep them away from danger.

Here are few key lessons I’ve learned from the history of the Bell Rock Lighthouse:

  1. Don’t wait for a disaster. Start now. Even 200 years ago it still took a catastrophe for people to take action. By acting now, you may mitigate a disaster. Even if you don’t, you’ll be more equipped to deal with it.
  2. It isn’t easy. Stevenson and his men’s initial phase of construction had them working 7 days per week, and away from home for 2 months. They had to live on a ship 2 km from the rock for 20 hours per day because the rock was only exposed for four hours each day. Before they even started building the lighthouse, they built a beacon to live in on the rock so they wouldn’t have to travel to and from it each day. A man was knocked unconscious and drowned, another needed his finger amputated after an accident, another died when a crane collapsed on him. In 1810, Stevenson’s twins and daughter all died of whooping cough. The crew carried on. There will always be excuses to stop but you have to persevere.
  3. Find an inspiration and act as you think they would. Stevenson’s design was based on a lighthouse which he had inspected nearly a decade ago. When times inevitably get tough and obstacles seem too daunting, put yourself in the shoes of someone who inspires you and try to emulate what you think their actions would be. When I find myself stuck, feeling down, or beating myself up I’ll ask myself “How would someone I aspire to be like handle this?” It’ll often reveal a better action than the one I’m taking (I’m often not doing anything at all). It’ll put me into a more positive state of mind which is often all I need to begin taking action. You could prevent someones ship from sinking, try not to keep your light off too long.
  4. Don’t let other people hinder you. When Stevenson found a visit from John Rennie (basically Stevenson’s boss) to be detrimental to his work he got creative. During the remainder of the construction Stevenson wrote Rennie a total of 82 letters asking detailed questions about a variety of, often trivial, construction issues. He would reply in great detail to every letter but Stevenson would mostly ignore them. Rennie’s interference was minimized. Believe in yourself. By building a better you, you will help the others around you. If something is slowing your growth, find a way to remove it.
  5. Overcome loneliness. The Bell Rock Lighthouse stands alone. This is challenging. Not everyone will come to your shore. You won’t always know if you are helping anyone at all. You have to stay patient. Trust that you are doing good. Love yourself.  The brighter your light shines the more people will notice it. Keep it on, and people will eventually gather to you.

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