Don’t Conquer Your Fears: Confront Them

This article was originally published on March 7, 2017 on LinkedIn and can be viewed online here:

Don’t Conquer Your Fears: Confront Them

Follow Jennifer Massaro on Twitter at @JMoocow and on Instagram at EaseTheMain

In 2014 and 2015 I sailed 16,000 nautical miles halfway around the world with my husband and 10 year old son. We anchored off of beautiful beaches, sipped cocktails in the cockpit while watching sunset and traveled the world. Jealous? Don’t be. That’s the Facebook version. That’s the romance novel version. The real story is that I was scared most of the time. And the rest of the time I was worried about being scared. I was not cut out for sailing around the world. But I did it. And what I learned is that you learn a lot more from the things you think you can’t do than the things you feel confident about.

Transiting the Panama Canal

I didn’t grow up sailing. It was not a passion of mine. Growing up, I dreamed of adventure – but all of it was on dry land. When I met my husband he told me he wanted to sail around the world. It’s not that I didn’t believe him, it’s just that people say they are going to do a lot of things. When we were in Portofino, Italy for our honeymoon my husband looked at me romantically and said, “Someday we’re going to sail here on our own boat.” I thought, “Whatever, buddy.”

Arriving in the Azores

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see a siren and lights behind you on the freeway and it looks like it’s coming for you? That’s fear.  It’s your flight or fight response. It’s your limbic system overtaking your ability to reason. And that is what I would feel just thinking about sailing around the world.

I was scared of storms, scared of big swells, scared of rough weather, scared of rogue waves, scared of making a stupid mistake that would turn into a life-threatening problem. You name it. I was scared of it.

Leaving Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

And nearly all of the things I was scared of happening, happened. We lost our autopilot in 40 knot winds off the coast off of California’s Point Concepcion. We spent 3 days in 35 knot winds off of Mexico. We got caught in a thunderstorm off of Cape Fear. We ran aground on the island of Vulcano off the coast of Italy. We spent the night in a severe gale off the coast of Portugal. We got pushed toward the coast overnight in 20+ foot swells and 30 knot winds off the coast of the Dominican Republic. We lost our engine as we approached shore in Portugal. We lost it again in 25 knots of wind at a crowded anchorage in Greece. We lost the ability to raise our main sail crossing the most treacherous gulf in France in the middle of the night. And once we got caught in hurricane force winds in Spain. And that’s just the top 10 scariest moment’s list.

It doesn’t even include all of the times I was scared anticipating something: things like, well, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. And unlike people who confront their fears and overcome them (if there are such people), I faced my fears and was still scared. Towards the very end of the trip we were in difficult conditions crossing the Straits of Messina off of Sicily and I remember thinking, “shouldn’t I not be bothered by this anymore? What is wrong with me?”

Saluting Lady Liberty in New York Harbor

I can’t tell you how many times I longed to be sitting at a desk, in beautiful stillness, not worried about my own physical safety or the safety of my family. But I learned a thing or two along the way.

I learned that that life is always throwing things at you that trigger your flight or fight responses, whether you’re at sea or at work. I’ve come to think of it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to expand your circle of comfort, if even just a little bit. The things I could do at the end of our voyage were miles apart from the things I could do at the beginning.

I learned that I will probably never stop feeling scared of some things, but that I don’t have to feel bad about it. My amazing captain of a husband, Darold, would tell me that men were scared out there on the ocean too. But the difference is that they didn’t beat themselves up about it.

I learned that what matters most to me is how I deal with a situation and whether I can look back on it with pride. The most rewarding situations of my sailing trip were also the most difficult.

And perhaps the most important thing I learned is that confronting your fear is what makes you brave. Not conquering it.

Approaching the Straits of Gibraltar

I am not going to tell you not to be afraid. I’m not even going to tell you that you will stop feeling afraid after you’ve faced your fears. But what I am telling you is that if you face your fears, you’ll be really proud of yourself. You’ll have a sense of accomplishment that you can never get from doing something that doesn’t challenge you. You may even gain enough confidence to face another fear or two.

What is your Atlantic Ocean?

Jennifer Massaro can be found working as a public relations professional at Cisco when she’s not out sailing. She holds an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University and an undergraduate degree in Urban Planning from the University of California, San Diego. Jennifer presents to groups of sailors and non-sailors alike about life lessons learned from sailing around the world. Follow her on Twitter @JMoocow, Instagram at EaseTheMain or check out the website her family kept while sailing around the world at