The idea for this came from a post on a Sailing website the other day that resonated with me about how much sailing and boats are a metaphor for life – I realised there are similarities with business as well.

Nine years ago I decided to take the plunge and buy a boat. Having been a sailor for the larger part of my adult life I felt fairly confident owning a boat could be a lot of fun. Sure, I didn’t know much about diesel engines but they couldn’t be that difficult? I set my mind to turn that into reality – 5 weeks later I’d moved out of my 4 bedroom home on to my 45 foot yacht and was living ‘on board’ at the marina.

I learned, when things seem big and scary and you wonder how the hell you’re going to manage (I’ve also experienced this in business), to calm down, it will all be okay. Once I’d realised the enormity of the commitment I’d made my first reaction was to sit down, pour myself a big glass of wine and have a good cry – after all everything’s better after wine and a cry isn’t it? Terms like ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ were running through my head as well as ‘fake it til you make it’ (also relevant in business). So I wiped my tears away, poured myself another glass of wine (well a second always seals your resolve) and thought bugger that, I’ve just got to figure this out!

First thing I discovered was my mechanical aptitude, perceived dexterity, and self-assurance was severely lacking. How in the world was I going to figure this out? How was I going to avoid looking like a complete and utter fool? You already know where this is going. Just one of those life lessons that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve always loved setting myself challenges and living on the edge of my comfort zone, this time however I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it! Looking back now however, I understand the whole experience gave me something I wasn’t really expecting.

Confidence – Sailing and boat ownership, more than anything else I’ve done as an adult, has expanded my “I can do this” belief beyond what I had previously used to define my abilities and worth. It has built an “I want to try even if I struggle” mindset that wasn’t there before.

When you learn to sail and own your own boat you gain an ocean full of perspective and skills. These were all positive, I became braver, more optimistic and happier, after all, if I could manage to keep myself alive while sailing, not run into rocks, other boats etc surely what I was doing in business I could handle?

Self-reliance – owning my own boat has taught self reliance. The realisation that through trial and error, you can actually do it is a huge confidence boost. The learning curve for me was almost horizontal. I learned not to be scared, to back my own decisions and most importantly that preparation, thinking ahead, planning was key and as long as I did all those things I’d be okay – and even get from point A to point B safely!

By applying these same principles to the way I’ve run my business it’s had the same effect, it’s built my confidence and I know that on the other side of fear is a nice bay (metaphorically), which is exactly where I want my business to be. I’ve learnt that thinking ahead of all eventualities and planning for them were key and now know quite confidently that if it’s up to me it will all be fine.

Sailing is all about mechanics. With sailing, actions create instant reactions. Moving the rudder changes direction, sail trim can improve or diminish performance.

In business, the one thing I have noticed is that we too often only think about our business from our viewpoint, not our clients. We think what we are doing in our business will happen cause we think it’s a good idea, and all will be okay but do we understand the mechanics of what we are doing or delivering?

How do all the metaphoric moving parts (processed and procedures, terms and conditions) affect our customers, will a slight change make a big difference? Are we thinking about the direction we want to take our business, the reaction we want to create and how we can improve our business performance?

On a boat, all the moving parts are as important as they all work together to give us the desired outcome. Each year on the boat all the ‘moving parts’ get maintained.  I think of it as keeping myself safe  – knowing that when I’m out on the water. I know the boat will respond and take me where I want to be because I’ve maintained the moving parts.

How many of us each year look at the moving parts of our business and do the same? Each summer (while out on the boat), when things are quiet business wise, I work what has worked, what hasn’t, what do I want to change?

Coping with Adversity – When you’re out and about on the boat weather happens, things break and patience is definitely a virtue, things don’t always go as planned.

One minute you’re sitting in a bay, the sun is shining and there is no wind and the next moment all hell breaks loose and you have to get yourself out of a dangerous situation quickly. Learning skills to work through unexpected curve-balls and cultivating the ability to adapt and thrive regardless of the circumstances is possibly my favourite lesson.

In business, I can confidently say that, as with sailing, the biggest problems have been my biggest lessons. I know it sounds weird but I almost enjoy these – the challenge of finding yourself in a ‘not so ideal’ situation and getting yourself out successfully and safely can be quite a buzz!

Listening to Learn – One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned when it comes to boat ownership/sailing, and in business, is that listening to learn is a skill, and a very handy one both in sailing and in business. Most of us listen to respond – you know what I mean, listening to someone while formulating a response in your own mind.

I’ve learned so much without having the learning experience (both good and bad) that goes along with it. I’ve been able to ask questions and then relate those to myself and my own boat and learn what not to do. Similarly one of the best things about owning a business and networking is the stuff you can learn by sharing with one another.

Balance – Being on a boat helps improve balance because the motion of the boat requires it.  Figuratively, though, a different kind of balance can also be achieved. Sailing allows me to engage with nature, friends, and a new experience in a way that offers a refreshing balance to the plugged-in world that is such a constant these days. I’ve learned that by unplugging from my business and giving myself a break I come back to it with renewed enthusiasm, fresh ideas and a positive, can-do attitude.

The Power of Possibility – Sailing and boat ownership has taught me about the power of possibility. What I do/don’t do or think I can or can’t do is entirely up to me, the possibilities/opportunities to go places, to experience things and to meet people are endless, the possibilities and opportunities are there for the taking – I just have to open myself up to them.

Many years ago when I first got the boat I wouldn’t leave the safety of the marina without having someone else on board with me however I decided it was ridiculous to own a boat and be too scared to take it out so I took a deep breath and just did it – best decision ever! I won’t kid you it was a hard step to take but after actually doing it I realised the possibilities were endless for me to be out on the boat enjoying myself.

I’ve had the same experience in business – been able to see the big picture, the dream of where I want to be business wise. More often than not the biggest step is to back myself, have faith and keep my eye on the prize. Once I feel the fear and go for it I’m happier and I see even more opportunity for myself and the business.

Comparison –  is a killer in life and in business, just don’t go there! It doesn’t matter when you’re out on a boat in a beautiful bay whether you’re sitting on a boat worth $5 million, $500k or  $50k, the beautiful sunset looks the same from every boat!

Ask for Help – Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t know everything and I can’t do everything – which at some stages in my life has been a source of annoyance and disappointment! Human beings by nature need one another but there are some of us who have in the past thought we needed to be all things to all people, I was one of them.

I’ve learned to ask for help in both my sailing/boat ownership and business lives from people who have ‘been there done that’, are far more experienced than I am. I’ve learned that life is all about learning, having experiences and mostly about helping other people. I’ve learned that being helped, as much as helping other people, is rewarding, it involves us in things outside our own lives which are interesting, it gives us views and perspectives that we probably would get any other way. Life is about giving and that when you do that with no expectation of getting the world becomes a much better place.

As a single female, the comment I often get is about how brave I am owning a boat and running my own business. It’s a lovely compliment but I like to think that I’ve chosen a path different to most women, one that sees me doing running a business I love while also indulging myself in my favourite pastime – it works for me though and makes me extremely happy and after all isn’t that what life’s all about?

Carolyn Banks
CEO Venus Network