by Ellen Burgess
I recently watched a Netflix special by a woman named Brene Brown on the topic of vulnerability and courage. She defined vulnerability as “the courage to show up and letting ourselves be truly seen” (weaknesses and all), when you can’t control the outcome (or reactions of others). She was talking primarily about emotional vulnerability but as I discovered this week, that can show up in all areas of life including in sport and fitness.
So this two part blog is all about two new activities I tried this week, which required two distinctly different types of vulnerability: 1) learning how to sail which involved a willingness to make mistakes in front of my loving, but sarcastic cousin Dale with 60 years of sailing experience and 2) participating in a naked yoga class! Yep, that’s right folks, nothing but my birthday suit…aka: totally STARKERS! However this week’s blog will only address the sailing component. You will have to follow up on next week’s post to hear all about the Naked Yoga!
My cousin Dale had invited me to sail with him several times in the past but I had declined. This year he told me he was selling the boat by the end of June, so this was my last chance.
So off to Michigan and Lake St. Claire I went. Prior to this week, I had planned to do an online sailing course, which I proudly announced to my veteran sailing cousin 6 weeks ago. Sadly, I bit off more than I could chew and only finished chapter 1! So, when I got on the boat, all I could do was name basic boat features including: the main sail, jib, boom, port, starboard, bow, and stern. In fact, that was about all I knew. Dale was duly unimpressed since I was one of only 2 crew for his 30 foot boat and we were racing that night and the next. He mumbled that it was “a good thing we have 2 hours before the race gets started!”
He then began giving me directions to rig the boat on my own instead of enlisting me as a helper which would have been easier for both of us. This was a great strategy for me to learn quickly, albeit somewhat embarrassing at times, as I was prone to confusing port with starboard and right with left!
Shortly after I finished rigging the boat, it started pouring rain and there was zippo wind. Things continued that way until we got off the water at 9:30 pm. I was hoping the race would be cancelled since I was tired after all that learning and rigging, but no such luck, so off we went. And we sat… for a long time… in the boat… in the rain…with no wind.
After 30 minutes of 2-4 knots per hour, I started engaging in some idle chit chat with my cousin, because really, what else was there to do? I was quickly informed that “this is no time for chatting, we are in a race, not on a pleasure cruise!” Okay, so this sailing thing can be really serious business I guess. On the bright side, since there was practically no wind the entire evening, Dale was able to teach me to tack and steer without any serious safety risk.
The next night the weather was much better and I was happy to demonstrate my new found ability to rig a boat on my own with minimal direction. This time I was able practice some more tacking of the jib. I learned that the combination of tacking and steering at an angle as close to the wind’s direction as possible, can get me to just about any destination that I choose (although I can’t say I personally experienced this!).
All in all this was a great experience and I look forward to trying it again in Guelph sometime, maybe with Sam and Sarah one night.
So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well at the age of 55, I do not learn as quickly as I used to, so I had to be willing to make mistakes without personalizing my cousin’s sarcastic and sometimes impatient remarks. 10 years ago, I would not have been emotionally strong enough for this type of situation. At that time, I had a thin skin and took myself way too seriously, so I probably would have wound up crying and feeling sorry for myself at the end of it all. Instead, I felt proud of myself for trying something new and was really happy to have the opportunity to bond with my cousin.
Overall, I would say there was both personal growth and learning in my sailing adventure. I am learning a new sport and stretching my limits physically and mentally as I attempt to learn something new. I was also able to vulnerable by “showing up and being seen” when I am not feeling strong and confident… first by trying with no success, trying again with some luck, and then finally, trying and succeeding…all in a day’s work on a sailboat!
Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast. She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community.