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August 15, 2011 / Wendy Joan

Trying New Things … And Failing


When the last time you tried something completely new, and were really, really, really bad at it?

A month of so ago, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. But now, two or so weeks after I should have passed my sailing test, I’m ready to admit my failure.

The timing was bad, I must admit. Back from a whirlwind Buffalo vacation, less than one week into my new job as a pawn shop girl, freelance work piled high and a late term paper for my independent study on travel writing on the American rails still due.

But I was excited–five weeks of spending my Friday afternoon learning to sail in the little harbor around USFSP, basking in the sun and cooling off in the ocean. What could go wrong?

Our first learn-to-sail class started inauspiciously on a stormy July afternoon, with raging thunderstorms, blowing wind and never-ending rain. We learned to tie knots, and rig our boats. Class one was great, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water.

Our second Friday meeting included a swim test. No problem, not even treading water for five minutes. (One time at summer camp, I vowed to tread water in the murky lake for the entire swim period–45 minutes–to the lifeguards’ horror.)

Everything changed, though, when we got out on the water. Paired with an equally clueless classmate, we fended for ourselves, learning to steer and move with the wind, which always wants to blow you in another direction. While my stern, unforgiving undergraduate classmate yelled at me, I crashed into a dingy, and beached our boat on a sandbar. I was done at the helm, and as much as I wanted to jump ship and swim for the docks, I got the hang of crewing while she steered.

Week three brought summer squalls. Out of our class of 10, three didn’t return, including two guys who couldn’t swim, making me the weakest link. I paired myself with whom I thought was a sweet and forgiving guy, but as we sailed into the channel, the wind blowing like crazy and a storm upon us, he lost his cool. I lost my cool, holding on for dear life as a huge manta ray jumped in front of the boat–good motivation not to capsize. I was promptly scooped up by the instructor, who knew I was scared even though I wouldn’t admit it. It’s not that I didn’t like sailing, I just didn’t know what to do to make the boat go.

I can’t remember being so ashamed. I couldn’t handle being the worst at something, and was so intimidated by my classmates that I didn’t want to try, try again. I sat in the safety boat, sulking, again with the same instinct to jump ship, swim back to the docks, leave and never come back.

After class, I pedaled home in near-tears, and saw Sam, who was supposed to be at work, driving toward me down 1st Street. He bought me gelato, told me it was okay, and that I would do better next week. But I knew there wouldn’t be a next week.

It’s still a sore subject–so much so that I’m thinking about taking private lessons before too long, with a real life instructor in the boat with me, telling me what to do and letting me mess up, crack my head with the boom and keep steering.

When’s the last time you tried something new, and were no good at it?

[Photo of my arch nemesis, the Flying Junior Sailboat, by mali mish.]



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  1. Bridgit / Aug 15 2011 7:36 pm

    I suck at any game involving a ball. I remember taking tennis lessons with my jock girlfriend Kathy O (who also skiied like a demon first time out). Every, single, friggin ball hit the raquet rim and went off the court nilly willy in no direction I was aiming at, or just went straight up into the sky.. Worse than that, at least one-third of the time, the ball didn’t meet the raquet at all. And then I couldn’t stop laughing — turns out laughing hysterically on the court is not good. My friend Kathy was not letting me quit, going over and over again, the grip, the serve, the eye on the ball crap! I spent the rest of the lessons humiiiated and torturing myself (probably for many months) with “what is wrong with you?” and, once that kicks in there’s no hope! And golf, geez, don’t even go there!

    But sailing Wen, I think you can do it!!!

    • Wendy Joan / Aug 16 2011 9:02 am

      I remember Kathy O to be quite the skier! Thanks for sharing your tennis story 🙂 Sam and Kathy should play some time … every time we do he just hits the ball as hard as humanly possible, and I can never get it back over the net.

  2. Heidi / Aug 23 2011 10:49 pm

    Oh Wendy! Don’t give up on sailing. Consider yourself humbled and get back on the horse.

    This reminds me of the way I felt after that painting class I took right before Henry was born –– the one where I painted an epically AWFUL owl the first night. I totally thought I was a failure. It didn’t help that I was surrounded by talented artists. (I thought I was in a beginner class!) I was so mortified, I considered not returning, but I forced myself to buck up and learn something.

    It turned out my mostly female classmates were less concerned with my art (in)abilities and more concerned with my son’s upcoming birth. They were so full of wisdom and good parenting stories. At the end of the six-session, I walked away a better artist and a better mom-to-be.

    My teacher even reads my blog! I ran into her at Evo’s a couple weeks ago and she was all like, “So that story you wrote about your breast pump…” 🙂

    I would’ve never had these experiences had I not left my comfort zone.

  3. Sky / Aug 29 2011 10:08 am

    The gun range was one my more memorable social belly flops. As a writer I wanted to know what it felt like to hold and fire a gun. My coworker at the time was an ex Marine who could’ve outfitted a small army by himself, so he took my husband and I to the range. Wow! For some reason I thought it was just point and click – so wrong. The noise was staggering. The smell was overwhelming. And that was just the show room floor!

    I fired a 38 and a 22 and managed to hit everything except the target. (That floor will never hurt anyone again.) After I finished I sat and watched my husband and our friend shoot. Next thing I know the Range Officer is rushing over demanding to know what happened. I was clueless until I looked down and saw my hand covered in blood. I felt no pain and for a few panicked seconds couldn’t even find the wound. Then we finally discovered the tiniest cut on a cuticle. I had nicked myself on a rough edge of the 38. Mortified is an understatement. To top it all off I was wearing white shorts. 😦 (I mean really, who goes to a gun range in white shorts? *raises hand*) It was months before I stopped being the punchline at the office. BUT, even so, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Hopefully, someday, you’ll be able to look back on your sailing “adventure” without embarrassment. :)~


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