When I visited Wharton for Spring Welcome Weekend, and attended the Leadership Lecture, they showed a trailer featuring the Wharton Leadership Ventures. As I watched photos of students trekking mountains, climbing volcanoes, and scaling glaciers I thought to myself, “I am definitely going on one of those.”
When the Ventures auction opened up in the fall, it only took me a moment to decide the venture on which I wanted to bid all my points. After almost drowning in college, I was terrified of water, and had spent the last few years working to conquer that fear, and trying to learn how to swim. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with water, so the Tall Ships Sailing Venture stood out to me as the best way to push myself even further. After being accepted for the venture, the magnitude of what I’d signed up for hit me- was I really about to spend eight days in the middle of the Pacific, sharing responsibility with twenty-three of my classmates for the operation of a 180-foot ship?
(My first view of the 180-ft vessel that I lived on for 10 days)
It turns out that the trip was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. I had the opportunity to learn about the art of sailing and the immense skill required to control a sea vessel. I experienced the awe of being out on the open ocean, and found that as scary as I thought the water was, there was nothing I loved more than being on deck during night watch, with nothing around us but the moon and the stars, and the sight and the sound of thousands of waves.
(A shot of sunset from the deck while on watch duty)
Granted, because I was on a Leadership Venture, I also had a chance to lead my group through two shifts on watch. A successful first watch, and an unsuccessful second watch taught me a fast lesson about the dangers of complacency as a leader, and how easy it is to mess simple things up when you think everything is going well. This lesson is definitely one that will stay with me as I work in other groups, both at Wharton, and in my time after I graduate. However the biggest lesson I took from our Venture is one that I learned about defeating challenges within myself.
“The biggest lesson I took from our Venture is one that I learned about defeating challenges within myself”
I signed up for Tall Ships because I wanted to see how I worked in the face of fear. Although just being on the boat was a huge step for me, my real test came on our fifth night. After relatively smooth sailing for the first half of our trip, we changed course and sailed directly into high winds and rough seas. My team was on night watch, and I had been assigned to stand at the bow and keep lookout for any boats or objects on the horizon that could pose danger of a crash. All of a sudden the sky blackened as storm clouds rolled in front of the moon, and I watched as one-by-one the stars were covered and went out. What had been a bumpy ride became terrifying as the bow bounced 20 feet up and down, waves came crashing over the hull, and the ship rolled from side to side.
My first instinct was to run to the back where my team was - I could take one of the safer jobs and someone who wasn’t afraid of the water could stand at lookout. But I could hear orders being yelled by our first mate, and my teammates rushing to follow. Everyone was in the middle of the job, and there was no way I could switch with anyone without slowing down the work being done.
I thought briefly about moving off my perch to go stand next to the life rafts, just for the comfort of knowing I could grab something if we capsized, but I remembered a phrase they’d taught us the first day we boarded: “Ship. Shipmates. Self.”
“Ship. Shipmates. Self.”
The phrase indicates the order of things you should worry about on the boat- we take care of the ship first because she carries us safely through the sea, and without her we are all lost. We take care of our shipmates second, because we cannot take care of the ship alone; only by working together is everyone’s well-being ensured. Once our ship and shipmates are cared for, we care for ourselves. I knew in that moment that, despite my fears, my job was to stand at look-out and ensure we didn’t crash into anything ahead. While my teammates worked furiously to lower sails, I had to trust that if we each did our part to take care of the ship, and therefore everyone on it, we would all make it out okay.
In the end, we did all make it through the storm. What I learned that night is that, although fear can be a strong voice in our minds, it is just that – a voice – and it can be listened to, or it can be ignored. This is a lesson I will carry with me and hope to draw on whenever a tough choice must be made, whether it is taking a career risk, speaking up in daunting situations, or even just getting back in the water to keep learning how to swim. I hope you will take advantage of opportunities to immerse yourself in situations that may seem frightening at first, but which can be of great benefit. Happy Venturing!!
The Wharton School | Class of 2014