Yesterday was a profound lesson for me, in how far I have come over the past years in changing my mindset and the powerful impact that has had in my life. I have never considered myself a particularly happy person; the combination of incredible shyness and a poor self-esteem generally left most situations in life pointing back to some general failing of mine. When most days of my life brought reminders of what is wrong with me, my days weren’t too happy. My days were spent trying valiantly to be better, trying to be someone I am not, and taking the setbacks incredibly personally.
Yesterday I saw clearly the impact of my years of mental training combined with extremely effective coaching: that how I approach my situations in life can completely transform what I experience and my state of mind through the situations.
Yesterday was a tough day. We have two boats that each need to go to different harbors; the sailboat doesn’t have a strong motor, and while sailboats are incredibly fun when you don’t have a strict end time, depending on wind conditions, are extremely inefficient to cover distance quickly. Therefore, we needed to tow it with our motor boat in order to meet the goal of both boats to winter storage in the same day.
This was the first year with both boats to deal with, plus we had an unusually tough fall with work, business travel, and our daughter’s gymnastics that left us with very few times when we could actually do this. If we failed, we had to make some very tough priority decisions against our professional or personal roles.
We also had a quite tight time window. I had two important meetings at work in the morning, so we couldn’t start until I completed them and drove the two hours to where the boats are. Then we faced several tight timelines: the crane to lift out the sailboat was at 14.30 sharp (which took some negotiation from my husband to get that time) and nightfall, as our motorboat needed to be left at a village some distance north that required navigation through the rocky channels, which is best done in good daylight, as it is a part of the archipelago where we basically only go to pick up and leave the boat.
Ten years ago, I would have been incredibly worked up about this, about the pressure on me to perform, about how critical is it that everything go right, and it would have been a horrible day. It would have been a day to not fail, a day of incredible pressure, and inevitably, a day where things would have gone wrong and I would have hated myself for all my failings.
However, with the lessons that I have learned and the change in my own head, yesterday was one of the best days of the year for me. It was a day that was very tough in many ways, but it filled me with both peace and confidence for whatever lies ahead.
I am so lucky to be alive
On the 8th of May, 2009, I hemorrhaged and lost several liters of blood in a few minutes. Luckily, we had a midwife at our house, checking on our newborn daughter’s health and environment, so she took control and promptly rang an ambulance. I have vague memories, fading in and out of consciousness, of being carried to the ambulance and the trip to the hospital. I remember thinking that I didn’t want my life to end there, to leave behind my baby girl, my husband, my parents, my sister, and my nephew. That I still had way too many things I wanted to experience and accomplish. I was very lucky, thanks to the quick action by the midwife and ambulance crew, an emergency operation and transfusions with others blood, I am here today.
Almost losing your life makes each day thereafter as a gift. But it took me a few more years to really see and believe it.
Cruelly enough, after that experience, I experienced nearly crippling post-partum depression. I couldn’t sleep at all, had no will to eat and only did so in order to be able to feed my daughter, and, strangely enough after not wanting to die, had almost constant thoughts of killing myself, that I wasn’t good enough to live.
Through that time I had tremendous support from my family and from the midwife to navigate the Swedish health system for help. My family put their own lives and own feelings on hold for many weeks, as my mom, dad, and stepmom put my daughter and I first and gave all of themselves, with their own unique gifts, to help us through.
After several fiascos with incompatible health professionals, I finally came into a team with an amazing psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a physical therapist. With their help over several years, I overcame the post-partum depression and could fully function in my roles.
All of this gave me a tremendous appreciation for the fragility of life, of how close we are from one minute living life normally to fighting for life and possibly have it all end. Each minute, each day from that point is a gift of additional time: a gift of life that is mine to do with as I wish. Seeing each day as a gift is a change of mindset that allowed me to choose to make each day the best that I can, in case it is my last, that even chores or unpleasant tasks can be enjoyed in some aspect.
Yesterday as I drove north, looking at the sunny and beautiful fall day, I thought frequently through the trip about how lucky I was to be able to leave my work and be outside in the beautiful day, about how lucky I am to have boats to have to deal with, and just how incredibly lucky I was to be able to experience the day. It set the tone for the day for me, that it was a day I was lucky to have and get to experience, and therefore, it would be a great day, even if it were tough.
I am competent and nothing is impossible (except coming back from death)
For many years, my life was achieving goals to climb a career ladder, to reach a certain point or status. I was never satisfied, I was never enough, and I was consistently failing my own expectations. Even as I achieved higher and higher goals, and met and exceeded others’ performance metrics, I still wasn’t good enough in my own head. Someone was always better in something, I was always lacking in something I “needed”.
After working through the post-partum depression, I had solved many issues in my life on one level. I had better tools to cope with stress, anxiety, and problems in life. I could keep a cooler head, but I still wasn’t very happy with myself and my life. However, the experience of solving the post-partum gave me some hope that there could be a way to solve my other issues and I returned to a lot of the work of Stephen Covey that had helped me through my twenties. On my own, in my way, I interpreted his work back to a fundamental lack in me, that if I had control to choose my outcomes, therefore every situation in my work and personal that wasn’t working was that I wasn’t working hard enough. I missed some critical parts of that work, back to the values and the roles, which give purpose and definition to each interaction, the lighthouse that guides us.
I was lucky enough to meet an amazing coach. Using Covey’s work and others, she helped me see that I didn’t accept myself, nor could I really be everything. That I am a very unique, special, and competent person, but that maybe I should begin to see all the wonderful things about that person and stop trying to be things that I am not, especially when those things are against my own values and roles.
Through her eyes, I began to see all that I had done and could do. That really a lot of it is pretty darn amazing. That I wouldn’t or couldn’t be all the things I saw in others that I lacked, but maybe I also really didn’t want to be that either. That I saw it as something lacking in myself that I had to fix. Through the time I worked with her frequently, I began to see myself as pretty darn good and see something to like.
During the last year, I think and say a lot that nothing is impossible (except coming back from death, I haven’t seen any possibility yet for that), we just have to find solutions. Both at work and at home, having this mindset has allowed me to see problems as something possible to solve, not an insurmountable obstacles. With that mindset, I just need to have the right people with enough creativity, experience, and perseverance to muck through something and figure it out. When setbacks occur, it is to quickly learn from them and figure out the next step. I can’t blame myself if it goes wrong, but I learn from what went wrong, and move forward.
Yesterday, I thought to myself, “you know what Sarah? No matter what happens today? You can do this. You are competent. You can solve this.” With these thoughts, I had a clear head and confidence. I felt like Wonder Woman, albeit in my long undies and sea gear.
The Day Itself
Things did go wrong, in a lot of different ways.
First of all, the wind was against us. The prevailing wind on the west coast of Sweden is generally from the sea, west, northwest, or southwest. We had selected the lift-out point and storage for the sailboat based on that. Yesterday, of course, the wind was from land, which made the crossing of Gullmarsfjorden quite challenging. We reviewed the wind condition and waves, and decided that it would be tricky, but not inherently dangerous, so we proceeded.
We took our foul weather gear, with my husband taking the motorboat and me the sailboat. We didn’t communicate very precisely upfront of connecting the towline between the motorboat and sailboat and thus tangled it up in the propeller of the motorboat.
Upon evaluating it, it was clear that the only way to fix it was to go in the water, dive down and either unwind or cut-off the line. Hopefully that would be possible, as my husband killed the motor quickly. But, someone had to go in to the water, with cool air and water temperatures, to do it. After some thought, I decided that I was the best option, as I have been swimming laps recently, and am also the stronger swimmer of the two of us.
It wasn’t pleasant, but it had to be done.
After that, we communicated the maneuvers better, and managed to leave the dock area much calmer and under control.
Things continued to go wrong. Once again, my husband and I mis-communicated on the order of lifting the mast versus the boat. In the US, a sailboat is usually lifted off after the boat is on the cradle on land, so as I was left on the boat to prepare for the crane, I tied up lines and sheets to avoid tangles, but made it much slower to remove the mast.
Unfortunately in Sweden, the mast goes first, while the boat is still in the water. Thus, we lost extra time in undoing the work I had done, as well as figuring out for the first time how to take apart the mast and riggings from the boat. In the past though, I would have internalized all of this as my fault, and then proceeded under the stress to make more and more errors, leading to a sad comedy of disasters and impediments to progress.
Yesterday, I shrugged off the issues, put them in the back pocket of my mind for the next time, and went on to solve the next immediate issue. I could do this with a clear head and conscious, having the mental capacity to think clearly, without the overriding pressure of “whatever you do, don’t screw up again”.
The boat was lifted up, thanks to some extra help from the guy with the crane, and then we could go on the way with the next boat. The sky had turned a bit greyer, although the wind and sea had calmed a little. We decided to go ahead with the trip, so we could finish and be done. We were both a bit wet and a lot cold.
Through the trip, I gazed out on the archipelago that I love and thought how truly lucky I am, to be able to live here and experience this. To get to be out, to experience the air, the smell, the sight of such a place.
Three quarters of the way to the marina, the alarm went off in our motorboat and then the engine died. It wasn’t clear what the alarm was for, as we bought the boat used, we didn’t have a manual. We checked the few gauges we had and they seemed in normal range. On opening the engine compartment, it was filled with smoke but no obvious source.
We were lucky. We were able to start the motor again, keeping it cool with the engine compartment open, and limping at low speed to the marina. We didn’t have to call the Sea Patrol for help and a tow. We were picked up by our dear cousins and celebrated with a cozy dinner in our neighborhood restaurant.
I did it. I am competent. I am so incredibly lucky.