That time I went kayaking on the Atlantic Ocean

2015-07-27 11.27.54On Friday, I did something I have never done before. I tend to do this quite a bit – especially when I travel – because I believe that life is meant to be lived and I for one, want to live it to the fullest. However, when I have these “life is to be lived” moments, there are always so many lessons wrapped up in them. I thought it was only fitting that I share the latest lessons learned on this Marvelous Monday.

As I was saying, this past Friday, I was persuaded to do something completely out of my comfort zone. My mission was to get into a kayak and sail down the Connecticut River with a group of fantastic, brilliant, gifted, and hilarious women. Now, let me be completely honest. I was in NO way excited about taking this adventure with my friends, but I didn’t say anything to suggest my apprehension. Instead I said something like “Great! I can’t wait! Super excited!” (Insert mortified emoji here).
Lesson One: Tell the Truth!

So here is the backstory: Every summer for the past five years, I have been coming to New Hampshire, for what has consistently been one of the best weeks of my life. The trip is for Girls’ Leadership Camp (GLC), a retreat for middle school girls that promotes assertive self-expression, teaches important life skills, and allows the practice of leadership in a variety of settings. In other words, at GLC our goal is for girls to say with conviction, “I am who I am.” It is really an awesome week! (Yes, you should send your daughter next year and/or yes, you should come).

I usually come in a day before GLC begins to spend time with my friend Brook(lyn), the super talent camp director. It’s also a great time to do staff training and just bond as a team before we welcome the girls and parents.

Brook sent out an email about a week before camp began, asking if everyone was up for kayaking and just hanging out before our staff training Saturday. Everyone else on the team seemed up for it, so I figured I should just go along with the group, right? WRONG! See, Everyone Else knew how to swim. Everyone Else had been kayaking or tubing before, therefore in my eyes, Everyone Else was already an expert and I was FAR from that status! Lesson Two: When You Are NOT an Expert, Don’t Pretend Like You Are!

Ok, so maybe expert is a strong word, but it is a word that resonates in my core. I knew I wasn’t an expert and I told my team about my inability to swim. They couldn’t believe it and frankly, neither can I. My mom and I actually had a discussion about this before I left Dallas. I asked her how I missed this major life skill as a child. She looked at me and said with a straight face, “Hey, you took piano lessons,” as if THAT was a life skill. I know her point was that she couldn’t do it all and besides not being able to swim, she did a fantastic job as a mother, but…piano lessons? Not the same thing.

And since I know I don’t know how to swim, I know how to prepare to save my life in aquatic applicable situations. I ask the right questions, like, “Will there be a special life jacket?” I wanted to make sure my ENTIRE body would be saved by said life jacket. In other words, do they have the right size so more than just my left arm could be saved from the raging ocean if I get caught in a current or wave? All these curves are fabulous, but they don’t stand a chance on their own in a tsunami.

My friends convinced me (again) that we were simply going down the Connecticut River and that there would be nothing raging, ocean, or wavy about it. In fact, we were going on a very popular kayaking trip which was about five miles upstream at Sumner Falls. But, to me, the non-expert,  it may as well had been the Atlantic Ocean!

As promised, there were life jackets when we arrived onsite and there was one that fit me perfectly. As we dressed and loaded up for the short drive to the river, I felt myself getting a bit anxious. While riding in the van, I gave myself a pep talk. It went something like, “Shanterra just do it…just get in the boat and just do it.” I said something similar when I jumped out of an airplane and lived to see the next day, so how hard could kayaking be, right?

Well, I have news for you. It. Was. HARD!


Because I was afraid.

I was afraid I was going to drown.

I was afraid because I didn’t immediately know what to do which meant I didn’t know how to control the kayak.

Afraid because everyone else knew how to control the kayak, which meant they knew how to enjoy the experience because they weren’t afraid of dying, at least not from kayaking.

I was afraid my friends were going to let me die. Why? Because I didn’t have control over my own life and it was in their hands.

I was afraid I was going to get separated from them and there was no plan on how they would find me.

I was afraid my kayak was going to flip over and my head was going to hit one of the rocks (I should point out, at some moments, the water wasn’t very deep at all and I could actually touch the bottom of the river…those are the rocks I’m talking about).

I was afraid I wouldn’t remember the simple things I do know about swimming like dog peddling or how to breathe.

I was afraid I was going to embarrass myself.

I was afraid I would ruin it for everyone else.

All of these thoughts were going through my head, but did I say any of them? NOPE! I just strapped on my life jacket and climbed into the kayak.
Lesson Three: Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.

There was one moment, when we did come up to a current, which I affectionately called, “Niagara Falls.” I had a FULL. BLOWN.  “I’m not going to make it” moment. I kept trying to remember the rules of how to steer the kayak and everything that I did was the opposite of what I was supposed to do. I kept going towards the current, when everyone else was going away from it. I looked at my friend Brook, who always kept her kayak near mine, and the only thing I could do was say “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” Followed by, “Brook! Brook! Brook!”

She never ever panicked with me. She was the calmest and best coach. She calmly told me what to do and I was able to steer my kayak away from the rough waters. She didn’t meet my panic with panic. She didn’t yell. She didn’t say you shouldn’t have come. She remained calm and kept looking at me in the eye and said “You can do this.” I assured her I couldn’t and told her we had to turn around and go back. She calmly told me to look around and see that we were too far away from land to turn around. She said there was no point in turning around. The only way were going to make it out of this “raging water” was to keep going forward.
Lesson Four: Keep Going Forward.

After I was “safe” and away from the current, Brook asked if I wanted to attach my kayak to hers and she could just pull me. Of course I said “NO, absolutely not!” I was determined to tackle that fear. I was determined to steer my own kayak, even if that meant getting frustrated with myself while doing it. I was determined to keep trying.
Lesson Five: Good Coaches Check in and Stay Close, While Giving You Room to Try New Things.

Why did I keep going? Honestly, I kept thinking about my little cousins and how I want them to experience kayaking. I kept thinking about how I needed to go through the process so that if I’m with them when they do, I would have already gone through the lesson so I could coach them through it –  if they needed it. I kept thinking about how I tell young girls to take safe risks so in order to be authentic, I have to take them too.

It goes without saying, I survived. My friends were really great! They constantly supported me and kept encouraging me. All my fears were ridiculous and none of them were based on anything real. When we finally arrived back on land, I had to admit that it was one of the BEST experiences of my life. I know that’s a strong statement, but it is true. While on the river we saw a bald eagle perched beautifully on one of the trees. I was completely in awe of the symbolism because some say the bald eagle is the one of the most powerful animals on the planet. It can fly higher, faster, and longer than any other bird. It actually soars. Their eyesight is better than a human being’s perfect vision and one other special fact, they mate for life. Bald eagles are just MARVELOUS creatures.

Seeing the eagle during one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life (kayaking), while in a structure foreign to me (the kayak), in a vulnerable environment because I can’t swim (water), with people who I trust (but because of my fear, tested that trust) calmed me. The bald eagle symbolized something so much bigger than just seeing a bird while on the Connecticut River.

The bald eagle reminded me to keep reaching for more and keep trying new things. Watching it soar, I was reminded to keep taking safe risks. The eagle also symbolized my need to be patient with myself. To stop having to be the expert at every single thing and remain comfortable in the learner’s seat. Finally, the eagle reminded me to have faith, even when I can’t see everything that’s in front of me. Have faith and keep soaring and most of all, BE READY because great things are ahead!
Lesson Six: Don’t Miss the Symbols.

Will I go kayaking again? Sure, if I have to, which means, if a mentee needs me to go, I’ll go. I have to demonstrate what I ask from young people:

Be MORE than what’s Expected

MORE than what’s Required,

MORE than what’s Modeled.

 Until Next Time, Have a MARVELOUS MONDAY!

1. What is one of your biggest fears that you faced?
2. What is something you want to do, but have been hesitant to do it because of fear?
3.  Do you have a coach to help walk you through different “Atlantic Ocean” moments?

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