I visited the Panama Canal recentle. It is a 50-mile channel that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
I was impressed by the engineering wonder and even more by the story behind it. I wanted to share some of my lessons from the Panama Canal history with you.
1. Copy-pasting does not work
Ferdinand de Lesseps, the brains behind the Suez Canal, wanted to replicate his success in Panama.
But, the mountainous jungle of Panama was nothing like the desert of Suez. De Lesseps tried to copy-paste the strategy of Suez.
The project was ultimately abandoned in 1889, with over 20,000 lives lost to diseases and accidents.
What worked for others may not work for us. Yes, we can get educated, follow success clues and have mentors.
But, when it comes to building our business or career, we need to create our own path that will work for our unique set of resources, environment and timing.
In the Canal’s example, trying to copy-paste a strategy that worked elsewhere led to a devastating loss. Being present to what is happening at the moment and taking your unique steps forward is the way.
2. You cannot achieve your mission without health
During the American construction phase, led by John F. Stevens and later George W. Goethals, the focus shifted to the workers’ health. You cannot finish a project when your workers keep getting malaria and yellow fever.
Finally, scientists discovered that mosquitoes transmitted these diseases. Often, when you know the cause of the problem, the solution becomes clear.
They implemented a mosquito eradication protocol, which allowed the workers to be healthy and finish the project.
We are going through a similar health crisis today that stands in the way of us thriving and achieving our goals.
At the beginning of the 20th century, we did not know mosquitos spread illnesses. Now, we are not clear on what causes the mental health crisis and the rest of frequent health conditions.
Our doctors tend to treat symptoms rather than causes. We give patients pills rather than support to overcome ultra-processed diet, poor breathing, sedentary lifestyles and loneliness, for example.
We need to turn a corner, diagnose the causes versus the symptoms accurately and implement the proper protocol. Just like they did in the Canal.
3. We have the power to bounce back
Rainforests in Panama suffered during construction. Now, the rainforests around the Canal have completely regenerated. Humans let them be, and they thrived.
This demonstrates nature’s incredible ability to recover. The rainforest came back and reached complete maturity in just a few decades.
This is a parallel to our own capacity for recovery and healing. Whether facing failure, trauma, or burnout, we can bounce back stronger than before under the right conditions.
4. Harmony sustains progress
The people of Panama know the importance of preserving the rainforest.
Without rainforest, there is no rain. Without rain, the water levels in the Canal go down, and ships cannot go through. Everybody’s livelihood is threatened.
It is a false dichotomy that we either have progress or environmental sustainability. The jungle around the Canal of Panama is one of the most vibrant I have seen.
This lesson also applies to our lives: the false dichotomy we create between work and play. We can have both. What’s more, the more we play, the better we are at work.
5. Working with what you have rather than against it
Engineers fought against the natural Panama landscape for years.
When the workers of the Canal tried to remove the mountain and make the river not to flood, they failed miserably.
Finally, it occurred to them to incorporate the region’s river and terrain into the Canal’s design.
They worked with the mountain by creating locks to raise and lower the ships. They allowed the river to flood by creating Lake Gatun.
They completed the project only when they worked with nature rather than against it.
Similarly, in our career, working with our natural interests and strengths rather than against them can lead to more success.
I remember in my job in sales; my superiors often gave me feedback that I was too direct and honest. In my work as a coach, honesty and directness make me effective.
How can you turn what you think are liabilities into your assets?
5. Keep evolving
The Panama Canal’s journey didn’t stop after opening in 1914.
In the 21st century, the authorities decided to expand the Canal. They realized the changing trends in global trade and the increasing size of ships.
This expansion, completed in 2016, made way for the “New Panamax” ships. They are much larger and can carry up to three times more cargo than the ships the original Canal could handle.
It’s a clear example of why we must keep growing and adapting over time. The expansion of the Panama Canal shows us that success is not something you achieve once and then forget about.
To stay ahead, relevant, and capable, we must be willing to change, learn new things, and adjust our plans.
Whether that is how to use AI or lead a team, we only stay competitive and relevant by evolving.
My visit to the Panama Canal was not just a tour through a monumental channel of global trade. I was immersed in a story of trials, triumphs, and transformations.
The Panama Canal can inspire us to forge our unique strategies and prioritize our health. Embrace our innate power to recover, find harmony in our pursuits, work with what we have, and remain ever-ready to evolve.
Which lesson from the Panama Canal history resonated? Hit reply and let me know.
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