Sailing Made Me a Better Person in the Workplace

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When I learned to sail, my expectations included perfecting techniques and staying alive. Little did I know that sailing is more than playing with sails, complaining about wind and being splashed by water. It’s an entire lifestyle that includes a community, mindset and refreshing perspective that any office employee would benefit from.

My first sailing course five years ago taught me two things. One, I did not know how to sail. And two, marinas aren’t off-limits. Until then, sailing seemed to be for other people - those who grew up with it or, well, had a boat. The sailing course replaced my misconceptions with curiosity - one around the sport/lifestyle itself, as well as how I functioned in sailing situations.

Sailing has three modes: high intensity, absolute boredom and smooth sailing. We all dream of being the hero in high intensity situations, but that’s rarely the case. Sailing provokes our ingrained reactions when we don’t have the time or energy to cover them up. The brutal truthfulness of it all can be very confronting.

Everyone reacts differently while on the water. This can change day-to-day depending on sleep deprivation, lingering emotions, eating habits and overall health. For this reason, crew management is one of the most challenging aspects in sailing. Whether you are the skipper or crew, your attitude and willingness to help out affects the greater moral. There’s no mistake that the expression, we are in the same boat, exists.

Onboard, I’ve felt both amazing and amazingly ill. When the latter, others took my responsibilities and continued the voyage. I did the same when crew members fell ill themselves. This made me more appreciative of others and empathetic toward their condition. Let me just say, taking on someone’s responsibilities while sailing doesn’t mean an extra hour of paperwork at a comfortable desk. No, it usually means four more hours in the rain with high winds - at night.

Sailing challenged me mentally and physically more than any other sport or lifestyle. You need to ignore your discomfort, while being aware of everything else. That ‘everything else’ includes boat condition, weather, systems monitoring, other boats and navigation. There is always something new to learn because there is always something new that goes wrong. Continual learning and being open to feedback is part of the game, However, remaining clear-minded and resourceful during high stress situations is just as important.

There are real consequences involved with sailing. Injuries, boat damage and death are a few. These can happen very quickly, especially with unexperienced crew or high winds. This is why clear, sequential communication is key. Commands should be simple, and whoever is giving directions, should consider future steps for said manoeuvre. A strong communicator needs to have a strong grasp of the process to lead others.

By putting ourselves in unfamiliar, and many times, uncomfortable situations we grow. That growth can affect many aspects of our lives, including our attitude in the workplace. Now, I will probably never be good at sailing or really love it like others do. But I continue to sail because it makes me a better person, and has taught me more about team work and leadership than any workshop, book or even TED Talk.