Do you remember the first time you saw the beach? The first time you felt the sand under your bare feet? The first time you ran head first into the ocean, only to get smacked down by the waves crashing down on the shoreline?
Since then I’ve grown a severe hatred for sand. The grains have a way of sticking to your body. They keep bothering you for days on end. And when you finally thought they were all gone, you crawl in your bed, hoping to get a good night sleep. But as soon as you’re getting comfortable, you start feeling those tiny little grains scratching at your feet, and you know it’s going to be another restless night.
But I’m digressing … Let me tell you about that first trip I took to the beach. It was ages ago. I was barely five years old, but I remember it well. It was a boiling hot day in the summer. My grandmother and I took the train from Brussels to Ostend. It was crowded, and the ride over there took almost two hours. But I couldn’t care less. I was going to build the biggest sandcastle the Belgian shoreline had ever seen!
Those ambitious feelings quickly made way for a lot of insecurities when I first saw the beach in front of me. The vast, open plain had me puzzled. How in the world was I going to build something that could withstand the powerful tides, the gusts of wind and the stampede of passers-by?
So, without thinking, I got down on my hands and knees, and I started to dig. Although my grandmother brought along all these great tools like shovels and buckets to help me with my endeavor, I preferred using my hands. At the time I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know the rough grains would open up my fingertips and cause irritations for the next couple of days. I should have used those tools. They exist for a reason, don’t they?
I kept digging and digging. I removed the sand in front of me, and dumped it behind me. I didn’t even look at the huge pile of sand I was collecting. I was so focused on moving forward. I eventually ended up digging a hole so deep, I couldn’t get out of it anymore. Luckily I made some friends earlier that day who all pitched in to get me back out.
It was time to take a step back and evaluate. Did I need any more sand? What kind of sand? The wet sticky kind, or the white powdery sand? Where was I going to get it? I sure as hell wasn’t going back down that deep hole they had to pull me out of!
It wasn’t but a few minutes after I resumed shaping the big pile of sand in front of me, I noticed the north-western walls crumbling down. The tides shifted, and water was flooding in. It all seemed lost. Damn it! Why did I place my awesome construction on such risky terrains? Why didn’t I think this through?
Then, just like the narrow streets inside the castle walls, my eyes filled up with water. Tears started rolling down my face. My grandmother must have heard my sobs, because she crouched down next to me and whispered:
To be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered how far from the shoreline I would have built my castle. There comes a point in time that the castle, you’ve just spent the last few hours building, gets consumed by the destructive forces of the waves.
I could have let the waves destroy my entire construction. I could have erected more walls to keep out all the water. I could have dug more moats to direct the water away from my castle. All viable options it seemed. But none was so pleasing as a combination of them. It took a lot of effort to complete my goal, but at the end of the day my castle was the biggest of them all!
The sun was setting, the beach was getting empty and my grandmother had already finished her crosswords hours ago, so it was time to head home. I put on my shoes and followed my grandmother back to the trainstation. But I couldn’t help looking back over my shoulder one last time to admire my accomplishment.
But, that sense of pride also brought up some feelings of disappointment. If only I had built my castle somewhere else. If only I didn’t waste so much time digging with my hands instead of a shovel. If only I had asked more kids to pitch in and help. If only …
Looking back on that day, I realise I shouldn’t have been so disappointed. What matters is, I had a fun day at the beach. I completed what I set out to do. My castle was the biggest. At least for a moment. It was probably gone a few hours later, but I’m sure the very next day there were other kids like me on that beach who built their very own castles.
I always thought that I decided to become a project manager after I finished my last year of further education. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was decided for me a long time ago. Maybe this one day at the beach is one big metaphor for what I do every day at my job. It certainly seems like a lot of aspects of being a project manager came up that one sunny day at the beach.