If there is any family prepared to “shelter in place,” it’s mine. We spent more than three weeks on a small sailboat crossing the Atlantic on a two-year sailing trip. So far, I’ve found sheltering in place is kind of like crossing the Atlantic, but on a bigger boat with better communication (and a house that’s not moving or leaning!)
During our trip, I experienced a lot of fear that included uncertainty of the weather and concern for the physical safety of my family. During this pandemic, I’ve felt those emotions all over again: fear of the unknown, and fear for the wellbeing of the ones we love. It’s a visceral, panic-inducing fear and it puts life into perspective: Will my family be okay? Can I handle this? What happens if these conditions get worse?
When reflecting on the situations we were in before, during and after the trip, a few lessons came to mind that helped me navigate our current uncertainty and may help others do the same. Here are three of them.
Take it one day at a time: You don’t have to figure everything out right now.
Our 25,000-nautical mile journey was tiring, uncertain and at times uncomfortable. We had 142 overnight passages where someone had to always be on watch – 3 hours on and 3 hours off. Many times we got seasick and we often found ourselves wet and cold in rough weather. We knew before we started that there would be unknowns ahead of us, and we kept thinking everything had to be figured out before the journey. But we ultimately realized we just had to believe in ourselves and set sail. We had to accept that the journey would be long and that we would make mistakes, but that we’d also figure it out along the way.
In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, there are many people in the world who may be in a similar situation – balancing work or layoffs, their family, discomfort, exhaustion and uncertainty about what lies ahead. Most of us don’t have a choice but to start – we are in this situation whether we like it or not. The most important lesson I can impart is to take it day-by-day. A plan will start to take shape organically, and you’ll begin to get a sense of what you don’t know and what needs to be done. And when the seas get rough, which they probably will, weather storms of doubt by believing in yourself. That belief in yourself will help you get through, regardless of what challenges you face.
Not feeling brave? Courage isn’t about conquering your fear, it’s about confronting your fears
Before and during the sail, I was scared. Despite having a solid boat, an experienced and safety-conscious captain (my husband), I worked hard to discern what was dangerous and what was simply uncomfortable. I tried everything to conquer my (sometimes unfounded) fear – from stoic silence to laughter, from verbalizing it to using logic (I found that can be very elusive!) and even anger. I tried smiling. I tried shouting at the waves (you can’t get the best of me ocean!) No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake this anxiety – even after the most difficult segment of the trip, crossing the Atlantic.
I started asking myself, “Why am I still feeling this way? What is wrong with me and how could I not have overcome this yet?” Finally, something my husband said clicked for me. He told me he was scared too sometimes; he just wasn’t beating himself up about it.
Comfort doesn’t equate to bravery. Relaxed doesn’t equal courage. I was beating myself up about how I felt – yet regardless of that, I was able to do my job competently. Through hurricane-force winds, when our boat ran aground, amidst severe gales, in thunderstorms and more. The most important thing wasn’t how I felt but how I dealt with a situation while it was happening. Was I scared? Sure. But did I handle the situation without panicking? If I could answer “yes” to that question, that’s what made all the difference in the world.
Mark Twain said, “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” When you are confronted with feelings of fear, don’t beat yourself up. Know that how you’re dealing with the situation – right now, in this moment – is enough.
Recruit help where you can: Everyone has a job as part of the crew
On a sailboat, everyone has a job. There is always something to do from mundane day-to-day tasks such as laundry and food preparation to preventative maintenance and more. There isn’t much space. And there’s always something to fix. I used to joke with my husband that we didn’t have a “to-do list”, we had a “to-do loop.”
This is certainly very much like life, particularly now, in a time when families are stuck in confined spaces together, for a seemingly endless period of time and the absence of regular activities. Use this opportunity to give each member tasks to own and teach your family things that they wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to learn. Let them watch you while you work, help you cook dinner, clean the house or take on a new project. Every crew member should have their list of tasks and pull their weight because even if we aren’t literally in the same boat right now, we certainly are figuratively.
As I was walking my son (now 16) to our garden and explaining to him the work I needed him to do this weekend, he nodded and said to me, “You know, I have been reading about families not getting along in quarantine. I feel like we are getting along better than ever. Maybe we needed to spend more time with each other, or maybe we just have a lot of practice at it.”
The global pandemic we’re in now is the kind of threat that’s drastically different from the normal stress we have in daily life or work. I’m lucky to work for a company that has always built technology to enable remote work securely, so I have the opportunity to still do my job every day – but there is still a level of anxiety we aren’t used to. People who have had life-threatening illnesses know this kind of fear. It makes other kinds of worry pale in comparison. I don’t know how we will weather this storm or if I’ll be brave the entire crossing – but I do know that all we can do is take it day-by-day and be as brave as we can while leaning on the support system around us.