Why I'm Crying on the Front of a Sailboat (and how to trust ourselves)

I’m on my knees on the bow of a 24 foot sailboat half a mile off the coast of Newport Beach with tears streaming down my face and a sail wrapped around me.

I had told my husband that I wanted to learn to race our sailboat together. Ten years ago, before our son was born, I’d sailed a little bit. My husband had been sailboat racing for years and I thought it’d be fun for me to learn to race with him. Fun was the opposite of what we were having after an hour of his showing me the ropes.

He’s historically bad at explaining things with any detail and I’m not a ‘just wing it” kind a girl. I want lots of information before I take the reins. After an hour of my asking a million question, he got annoyed and said something like, “I think you have all the information you need to handle this.” I snapped back, “Don’t tell me what I need.” And we promptly hoisted the sails and headed out of the harbor with a boatload of tension between us.

Everything seemed fine until we were a half mile off shore and the wind picked up fast. Suddenly our little boat was getting knocked way over on it’s side. My husband decided we needed to take down one of our sails to slow us down. That meant I had to crawl to the front of the boat and pull the sail down. I inched up there, holding on for dear life, and yanked on the sail. But as hard as I pulled, the sail wouldn’t come down. I screamed to my husband, “what do I do?” And he yelled back, “look around, what’s going on?” I was panicked, the sails were flapping so hard I couldn’t hear myself think, waves were splashing over the bow, and I just wanted him to come fix this! But he couldn’t, he needed to drive the boat. I took a deep breath, looked up, and saw the problem. The line that held up the sail (halyard for you sailing buffs) was tangled. I figured out how to untangle it and the sail came careening down around me. That’s when the tears came.

Once I was standing safely in the cockpit, tears dried, I thought about all the questions I’d asked before we left shore and how none of them had prepared me for what just happened. While I’ve spent my career fighting for girls to have the confidence to never stop asking their questions, I wondered, as women, do we ask so many questions because we don’t trust ourselves. Can we have both the confidence to ask and the power not to? Yes! Here are five tactics I’ve taught myself and my coaching clients to get from point A to point B without needing to ask for more directions.

1) Be the expert now.  Here’s a secret....success has less to do with your expertise and more to do with your confidence in your ability. Women are apt to feel like we need one more class, one more degree, or one more year of experience before we can call ourselves an expert, before we are ready for the promotion, or to launch the business. But if we think this way, we’ll be waiting forever. So your #1 job is to notice, claim, and value the skills and experience you already have. 

2) You have the answers. Once I knew my husband wasn’t coming to figure out how to get the sail down, I embodied a different mindset. I went from  - “come save me”, to “how do I solve this?” Support is important - good coaches, therapists, and friends are amazing. But it’s critical to know that you can save yourself. In moments of struggle, start practicing this simple mantra, “I have the answer.” Say it to yourself over and over. Train your mind and your body to trust and know it’s true. Because it is.

3) Turn down the worry/anxiety/fear. On the front of that boat I was completely panicked. Things were a little hectic yes, but we weren’t in any grave danger. My husband was annoyingly calm. Which is not surprising because women’s brains are hardwired to experience more anxiety and fear. Instead of charging ahead, we pack snacks, extra clothes, and batteries. Great skills! But they also keep us from taking action and moving forward quickly. Exercise and meditation are two sure fire ways to keep fear and worry at bay by releasing chemicals that leave you feeling calmer and more powerful.

4) Take one small brave step. The fastest way to never get from point A to point B is inaction. Taking even a small step in spite of fear, procrastination, lack of motivation, or uncertainty, builds confidence and momentum. Nothing feels better than having taken a step toward where you want to go. If you want to accomplish something new and you only take one piece of advice, have it be this, take one small brave step toward your goal everyday.

Sprawled out on the bow of the boat, legs splayed wide, tears streaming, sail wrapped around me, I felt proud. I’d wanted the owner's manual. I’d wanted all the answers about how to handle all the situations we were going to face. And frustratingly, I didn’t get that owners manual. But what I got was much more valuable. I got the opportunity to feel my own strength, my own ability to navigate uncharted waters and to rely on my own knowing. I used to tell people I didn’t know much about sailing, now I say, “I’m one badass sailor”.


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