In my recent adventure on the high seas, our sailing crew was comprised of starkly different characters. Tony, our skipper, encapsulated everything I’d imagined a skipper would be: rugged and weathered, with a tangled mass of shoulder-length hair, tattooed arms, beer in hand and never clad in anything more than a pair of swim trunks.
Elle, a curvy blonde in her 50s, is a British lawyer who smokes like a chimney and never ends the evening without her friends Gin & Tonic. Elle lives with abandon and a zeal for life that has led her on countless adventures of dancing in the sand and running off with passionate lovers. She’s lived a full and exciting life but, childless, divorced and advanced in years, she seems lonely. She travels the world but has no one to share life with but the locals who she inevitably befriends, but between throaty laughs, she speaks longingly of community and companionship.
While I found in Elle much that I hope to emulate – her zeal, passion and friendly playfulness – I learned the most from observing Jenna, a single 35-year-old from Boston. Jenna aced all of our written sailing exams, but when it came to working together on the rigging, she tended toward stress, either barking bossy orders and criticisms at other crew members or getting panicked and defensive when Tony pointed out something she needed to do differently.
I saw mirrored in Jenna my own perfectionism and the toll it took on not only her enjoyment of the trip but also her relationships with others. During long stretches of sailing on a single tack, Jenna would often read aloud to us from a sailing book she’d brought along. “Oooh, listen to this article on retractable keels!” I frequently saw Tony and Elle exchange glances – Is this girl for real? – but she remained oblivious to the way her unsolicited readings were received.
One night ashore at a beach bar on one of the many remote islands of the Grenadines, Jenna met a young American man over rum punch. After about six beers, Tony was ready to take the dingy back to our boat, but Elle ssh-ed him and gestured to Jenna. “Look at her! She’s forgotten all about her allergies and her Kindle and her lactose intolerance. Give her some time. She may dance in the sand yet!”
Although I agreed with Elle – this girl seriously needed to loosen up – I remember wondering if those are the kinds of comments people make about me when I’m out of earshot. As sweet at Jenna was, it pained me how much I related to her because I saw in Jenna not only my strengths – intellect, ambition and focus – but also many of the things I dislike about myself.
I know I should be who I am, but I hope that as I age, I will relax, live in the moment, and develop a bit more Elle in my Aurora.