When I was asked to join an Outward Bound taster a few months ago, I was head down in the daily dramas of three small children, including a breastfed baby. So naturally, I leapt at the chance, safe in the knowledge that there was enough lead time to sort the kids, the work, and it gave me a deadline, and an opportunity for some much needed me – time. No kids. No work. No daily chores. No brainer.
I booked my flights to beautiful Blenheim and didn’t give it another thought.
It wasn’t until we arrived at Picton last week that it dawned on us.
The group, consisting of nine women working in media, had no idea what we were in for. I hadn’t really thought this one through. This was no retreat. No summer camp. More like school camp – on a new extreme level.
Suddenly it was a bit scary. For all of us. We knew nothing of what to expect, the only possible clues to what we were up to was perhaps what we’d been asked to pack: polyprops/hats/plastic bags/insect repellent/wet weather gear.
As a self-confessed control freak, my life is fairly routine. I’m 39 years old. Three kids. A mortgage. The school run, the crèche run, after school activities. Play dates. A couple of small businesses and my lovely lifestyle show on RadioLIVE. You know the drill.
I have things relatively down pat and I don’t stray too far from doing what I do week on week.
But here we were standing in amongst the giant cook straight ferry’s in Picton, the entrance to the incredible Queen Charlotte Sound with not a clue of what to expect next.
Our Outward Bound guides first blindside us by asking for our mobile phones. Our links with the outside world are put in a paper bag until we return three long days later.
There’s no wine. No coffee. No clues as to how we’ll spend each of the coming hours. All this is designed to keep us 100% in the moment. The ultimate in mindfulness.
It’s a chance to step out of life, to be out of control, and to test yourself.
We’re told to change into active wear and plan for the possibility of getting wet.
Our luggage is stowed on an old boat named after Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn, and we’re hopeful of being taken to our accommodation at Anakiwa Bay. A lodge - surely.
But next to the Kurt Hahn, tied up with the ropes, is a dinky old cutter. Wooden masts and sails. Oars even. And just enough space for all of us.
Within minutes, we’re sailing the old cutter, Sir Woolf, in 30 knot winds for the afternoon. No skills. No land. No toilet. Just do it.
I get panic attacks sometimes. It’s part of who I am, and after years of trying to control them, I now accept it. I manage it mainly by being in control.
This was very much out of my control, particularly when I remembered I also get violently seasick. That only aggravated my negative mind.
If I knew then what I know now about how the next three days would roll out. I wouldn’t have gone.
Fear would’ve taken over. Despite me wanting to say yes to most incredible opportunities that come my way, I would have let my negative mind rule this one. And I wasn’t the only one.
Very quickly our team of nine women from all walks of life bond. What do they mean no toilet? What do they mean swim a shore now - in our shoes? Is anyone else nervous? Has anyone sailed before? What does ‘let fly’ mean?
You are all in the same boat – literally.
We’re left to work things out. Given the instructions. Told the basics. Everything we need for each challenge - to survive. And then we’re left - to work it out amongst ourselves. Whether it’s how we’ll ration particular food over a period. How we’ll get from A to B. Who will carry extra weight. We had to work as a group. No room for selfishness here.
But this is one of the great things about Outward Bound. No matter who you are. Where you come from. What you do. You are all in the same boat – literally.
I’ve thought long and hard about this - and have decided I don’t want to tell you all the ins and outs, the blow by blow.
That’s the point of OB. What happens there, stays there.
It’s a chance to step out of life, to be out of control, and to test yourself. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally.
What I can tell you is that the biggest lesson I learnt during this course, was that the actual fear of things FAR outweighs the reality. That I really, truly, can do anything.
Everything we did, I loved.
Sometimes at the time, sometimes in the coming hours, days… but especially now a week later.
I came away initially thinking I was spent. How could anyone do this for the normal eight-day period – heaven forbid 21 days! No phones! No toilets! Food rationing! The unknown.
But it’s gotten me thinking about how little we do as we get older that’s outside of our comfort zones. How lacking our resilience really is.
In 2018 you can opt out at any time, of practically anything you don’t want to do. What is that teaching us? What is it showing our kids? It’s not good.
We forget to push ourselves, safe in the comfort of our routines.
I rarely do – unless it’s in relation to work. Work is where I always find my greatest challenges. I am in the ever evolving media world afterall.
So to have no idea what next, to be completely in the dark, was a whole new experience. A letting go on another level.
Just when you think you’re empty. You can’t take another step, handle another challenge, you’re tired. You’ve had enough. You have to take hold of the OB ethos – there is more in you. And do it. No excuses.
Hiking up a mount at 9pm at the end of a very long day? Do it.
Hang from the high ropes in 30 degree heat with a raging panic attack? Do it.
Row for hours when there’s no wind and your fingers are burned with ugly calluses, just do it.
Sleep under the stars/in the bush/on a boat? Do it.
Use a bucket for ablutions in front of others. Needs must.
There is no “no.” No chance of pulling out. Even as I had a raging cold and fever. I might have thought it, but I never ever once said, I can’t do this.
Resilience. It’s what OB is designed to build, and something I know is lacking in today’s society.
Which is why I would encourage every Kiwi. Of every age and every stage. Every teen. To just do it. It should be a right of passage.
It’s why I’ve booked my husband to do it next month.
I’ll aim to take each of my three children too when the time comes and their allowed.
While it was hard at the time. Brutal even. As each hour after has passed, I feel so proud of what my body, and my mind achieved. It’s given me a new strength. New clarity and a new conviction to seek what I really want, and to prioritise what’s really important.
The rocks in my life. Not the pebbles or sand.
I encouraged you all – young and old to put it on your bucket list. To take the time out from our crazy world, and experience what I and 60,000 other amazing Kiwis already have – that there truly is more in us.