“Get busy living, or get busy dying”

Surviving the Storms of Life

We often hear about people who have overcome great obstacles and wonder how they accomplished such incredible feats. We marvel at the fact that they overcame uncommon hardships, and hope that if we were ever caught in the same situation, we would muster the same heroic qualities.

Do you focus on the suffering or focus on the mission at hand?

To achieve great things you have to alter your attitude towards the obstacles and the hardships. You have to accept the hardships as an integral and necessary part of your path to achievement. The greater the goals, the greater the obstacles.

Source: Perry-Castaneda Map Collection -UT Library Online. lib.utexas.edu

Source: Perry-Castaneda Map Collection -UT Library Online. lib.utexas.edu

This truth is perhaps no better exemplified by a life or death situation. In a situation where you have no options and given you have the will to win, proceed with all your being despite the fear.

This reality came to mind when I recently corresponded with an old Navy buddy, Senior Chief Roy Sokolowski (USN-retired). He recounted his story when in February 1996, during a Saturday fishing excursion, his 17-foot boat was severely damaged by a wave and capsized. He and his friend, Master Chief Greg Foster, were about 4 miles off the southwest tip of Oahu at that moment. They spent the next 52 hours clinging to the hull of the overturned fishing boat buffeted by high winds and storm-tossed seas.

With only two jugs of water, a bottle of Gatorade and a stray coconut to sustain them, the two Navy chiefs stayed calm as they drifted about 60 miles into the Pacific, away from any islands. The following Monday, the were rescued by the Coast Guard.

“We never gave up and we never panicked, and that’s why we’re here,”  Foster said (news.google.com).


Spending over two days in the middle of the ocean without any certainty of rescue, threatened by being overcome by hypothermia, exposure, dehydration or becoming part of the oceanic food chain, is a harrowing circumstance by anyone’s standard. And unless you are the one who has had to go through the experience, it’s not easy to put yourself into the other person’s shoes.

In response to a sympathetic comment I wrote, Roy responded, “It may be a ‘powerful testimony of determination, strength, and grace’ but when it happens to you there are really only two choices and they were stated in one of my favorite movies – “Get busy living, or get busy dying” (Shawshank Redemption). It really is this simple and comes down to either doing everything you can possibly think of to improve your chances of survival, or give up and die. It was a pretty easy choice for me anyway.”

Roy with Greg and Greg's son. Marlin is 360#. Photo courtesy of Roy Sokolowski

Roy Sokolowski with Greg Foster and Greg’s son. Marlin is 360#. Photo courtesy of Roy Sokolowski

Greg Foster and Roy Sokolowski (Fish is a Mahi Mahi) on Roy's 17-foot boat. Courtesy of Roy Sokolowski

Navy Master Chief Don Noyes and Senior Chief Roy Sokolowski (the fish is a Mahi Mahi) on Roy’s 17-foot boat. Photo: Courtesy of Roy Sokolowski

Roy and Greg. First Ahi Tuna, 125#. Roy's 17-foot boat . Courtesy of Roy Sokolowski

Roy, Greg, and their first Ahi, 125#. Roy’s 17-foot boat in the background. Photo: Courtesy of Roy Sokolowski



We are captivated by the tests of human endurance, but the people most shaken are often family and friends.

Roy pointed his Facebook friends to an article In The New York Times titled, “A Speck in the Sea.” It is about the survival and rescue of John Aldridge, a fisherman who fell overboard in the middle of the night in open ocean while his crew-mates were still asleep. He survived 12 long hours in the cold Atlantic, using his skill and knowledge to position himself for rescue despite the ever increasing effects of exposure.

The writer, Paul Tough, makes an important point about the mental turmoil suffered by those surrounding Aldridge. His best friend who was also a fisherman on the 45-foot lobster boat, Anna Mary, continued to battle feelings of hopelessness experienced that long day. Aldridge’s father, John Sr., frequently wakes in the middle of the night. “It’s something that you can’t kick,” he said. “It’s never out of my mind. Never.”

On the other hand, Paul Tough writes, “The person who seems least shaken by the experience is John Aldridge. He spent the night after his rescue in a hospital in Cape Cod, … but he has no post-traumatic stress, he told me: no nightmares, no flashbacks, no fear when he goes out on the water to work.”


The takeaway today is, when you are able to face your problems head on, you are less likely to be consumed with the what-if…? And the what-if’s are always waiting there if you let them beat on you.

When life sticks you with a monumental task, get focused and take action, take your best steps. As Roy Sokolowski recounted the ordeal he and Greg Foster endured, he offered us an important insight, and perhaps we can all take the hint: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

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I’ll see you… on the next page

Challen Yee

Challen Yee

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