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Below Deck’s Captain Lee on Choosing the Right First Mate

Finding your forever person can be a daunting task. You need to be ready to ask the right questions, decipher the answers you get, and figure out if you have that desired spark. Captain Lee, star of the Bravo TV show Below Deck and the author of RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE, offers his advice on love, dating, trusting your gut, and choosing the right first mate in life.

Boats are intimate places. The quarters are cramped, there’s a pretty substantial baseline level of stress at all times, and there’s no getting off for prolonged stretches. As a result, selecting the right crew isn’t just about finding someone who can do the job, but finding someone who can get along with everyone else, while still getting the job done. When you’re sitting across the big desk from a candidate, making that kind of choice, it’s not unlike the kind of decision making that comes into play when you’re on a first date. You need to evaluate the person, do it quickly, and realize that making the wrong decision could ruin your next Super Bowl party. Some things to consider:

Trust your gut.

Choosing someone to work with, in tight spaces (in any context) is a complex process, but never undervalue your gut instinct. If something feels wrong, there’s a reason for that. You’ve spent your life sharpening your intuition, and that’s something you shouldn’t dismiss just because you can’t immediately put a finger on why you feel the way you do. If you’re talking to someone who’s saying the right things, but you’ve got a voice saying “This guy is full of shit,” then you need to trust yourself. There are plenty of fish in the sea, so take the time to find someone who is both good on paper and passes the “gut test.”

Trashing the last Captain is never a good sign.

When I’m looking at crew, I’ll ask the candidate “Why’d you leave your last job?” And there are a million answers that are perfectly reasonable. “I thought I was ready for a leadership role” or “I needed a change of scenery” are perfectly acceptable. What I don’t want to hear is “The last Captain was a huge asshole, or “The crew were a bunch of jerks.” It’s more likely than not the “jerk “ is sitting across from you. It’s the same thing if you go on a date and say “Why are you still single?” and your date replies “My ex was a total psycho,” you know it’s trouble. If I were to hire a guy like that, and we had any kind of disagreement, I’m sure he’d tell everyone it was because I was an asshole.

Be wary of complicated answers to simple questions.

When I ask “Do you smoke?” and someone replies “Nope—only when I party,” I know I’ve got trouble. If I ask “Have you ever had any legal problems?” and hear “Never—but are we going to go anywhere near Mexico?” it sets off my bullshit detector. If I throw a yes/no question your way, give me a yes/no answer, not a three-page essay. If I ask “Can you take orders from a younger crewmate?” and hear “Absolutely—as long as he asks me nicely, and says please, and as long as it’s not a woman, and provided he has a more advanced degree than I hold” then you’re not impressing me. If you ever find yourself at a bar talking to a great, brilliant, attractive person and ask “You ever been married?” and they answer “Nope—it was only three months, it was in Europe,” you know 1) they’re not that great or brilliant and 2) you’re not going to be ordering another round.

Never settle for mediocrity.

Something that drives me nuts is someone who wants a pat on the back for bare minimum work. You were hired to do a job—you don’t get special praise for simply doing it. If I ask you to take the guests for a snorkel trip and you do it, then that doesn’t merit an “attaboy.” You don’t get points for doing what you’re supposed to do. If you ever hear someone look for applause by saying “I never got fired for drinking on the job” or “I never cheated on my wife” or “I never embezzled money,” you know that person has some seriously low standards. Mine are never low enough to want to share company with someone like that, and yours should be too. You are better than that. Wait if you have to, it will be worthwhile to get what you want and deserve, I assure you.

For more advice on choosing the right first mate, pick up a copy of RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE by Captain Lee.


Also from Tips on Life & Love: 5 Dating “Mistakes” You Should Make Before You Settle Down


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