über sailing and growing up

The warm salty air blows over my face. Somewhere in the far distance men are shouting at each other over the noise of the waves hitting the pier. I am walking over the boards behind my then – CEO and one of our local business partners.

We have planned to sail for a couple of days and discuss the renewal of his contract. I am there as an assistant and to learn how to lead this type of negotiation.

But of course, I am also there because I am his next price. To be won and impressed.

I have gotten far less excited about business trips as I am travelling an average of 20 days per month. I arrange meetings, execute plans, figure out travel and laugh at the right times at stories I have heard hundreds of times.

Me learning a bit of sailing was part of the plan for this trip. I didn’t give it too much thought. I just glanced at the boats all around me while typing a response to some urgent email on my phone. The men in front of me discussed the shapes and types of the boats with great admiration. At that time I couldn’t see myself participating in this gushing.

When making decisions I then listened more to my craving for adventure and hunger to see the world. The fear of never experiencing anything close to this was always stronger than the sense of self-preservation.

My thoughts tended to be more a stream of consciousness. Being on the road felt like the right thing to do – never quite settled.

My process of learning sailing that day was not at all what I wanted it to be.

There was a persistent picture in my head, that you are just supposed to have talents or learn new skills smoothly with little effort. And if you didn’t you never would.

I asked for instructions and received an off-hand explanation which simmered down to ‘Just do it!’. ’

I thought if you ask the right questions you would get the answer and a pat on the back at the end of the day. None of that happened. I didn’t know how to handle failure so this resulted quickly in me being afraid and confused. I vented my frustration to both of the grown men and felt like a little girl all over again. None of my newly learned feminine charm was shining through. Just my weakness.

When you first get a growth spurt, your limbs, organs and blood vessels grow at different speeds. What you get is usually a limp looking teenage body.

My mind seemed to grow in a similar fashion. I had gone through an education that gave me insight into economic models, I had the experience to be able to hire and fire people and with that came the false sense of total control. The ability to control my feelings or even understand them still hadn’t caught up.

What you got was a grown-up looking woman who lashes out in frustration.

My mind required a rational explanation. When thrown into an unknown situation I couldn’t muster up the clarity or logic to make the decisions; I was paralyzed by confusion.

‘Jump off the boat and hold it’!

‘What do you mean? Explain to me precisely what you mean!’


That was the boat hitting the pier. It was a gentle thump. Of course, I just needed to get off the boat and hold it. Makes perfect sense now. No explanation needed.

I got off that boat after that trip affirming what a success it was, the men were happy and proud.

After some more bumpy trip, I got the chance to spend time doing formal training which matched my personality more. I since have screamed at a woman to get off the boat and hold it. She didn’t and we thumped the boat again.

This taught me that you need compassion not only for growing yourself but also for helping others.

The journey of learning how to sail took me from looking outwards for advice to gaining stillness in my own mind and to face the challenges the boat and wind put in my way. Once you learn to handle 4 tons of carbon fibre, two crew mates and two sails you also learn to control your own thoughts.

Preparation and a plan before the trip are key. Where are we heading and how long will we be on the water? Then you point the boat the way you want to go and figure out all the rest. Once the boat is moving you continually decide and adjust based on outside circumstances or the whims of the crew.

My mind grew to behave in the same way. This new learned sense of self and the adventures I experienced made me braver and more decisive. Coordination was introduced to the body once driven by hormones. The energy was no longer controlled by impulses, but lead by goals.

The heavy weight of expectation started to lift from my shoulders with every mile I was on the water. I quit my job because I was exhausted and yearned to stay still, anchored in my safe harbour. But no epiphanies or revelations came to me. Instead, I got depressed and joyless, even though I had believed the days where I didn’t get up were long gone. But they caught up to me like the tide does when it pushes you back so strongly that the wind stops carrying you forward and you stand still instead.

Realising it that stillness wasn’t what made me happy, but the continuous self-realization helped me to get back into the open seas.

Controlling the movement and guiding myself like a boat through winds and storms became my philosophy in life. Still on the road, but no longer being tossed around by impulses, but captaining my journey with determination.

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