On being … authentic and…

By Ingrid Sapona

Here it is the end of January already and I’m still thinking – and writing – about New Year’s resolutions. I know, I know, it’s even odder given my earlier admission about not being big on NYRs. (See, I can’t even stand typing the phrase out in full!) But, a conversation I had with a friend (I’ll call her Leanne) last week about a resolution she’s made has been on my mind so much, I can’t not write about it.

On a recent weekend trip Leanne booked a place to stay using Airbnb. For those not familiar with Airbnb, it’s an on-line marketplace that lists accommodations offered by people (hosts) who have a couch, spare room, or more, to rent for short periods of time. After a stay, Airbnb asks guests to rate the accommodations. They publish the ratings for other potential guests to get a sense of what that host’s accommodations are really like.

Airbnb hosts also rate guests. The rationale is that Airbnb is creating a “trusted community” and, since hosts have a lot on the line, they want to know who they’re dealing with too. As an example, if a person using Airbnb gets a reputation as someone who makes reservations and then cancels, potential hosts may decide not to accept a reservation from that person.

At the time of our conversation, Leanne hadn’t yet written her review about her Airbnb stay. She was still thinking about what she’d write. It seems there were things that didn’t quite live up to the way the place was described, but it wasn’t horrible by any means. At the same time, she said that it seemed to her that most reviews she’d seen on Airbnb were so effusive and gushing they were often unhelpful and perhaps a bit suspect, given that guests are reviewed too.

She went on to explain that her hesitation in terms of what she might say in the review wasn’t because she was worried about the light it might cast on her as a guest. Instead, it related to her decision to work this year on cultivating being “authentic yet gracious”. In other words, she was trying to figure out how to provide valuable, honest information about the place but in a way that’s kind and thoughtful.

I was very struck by the idea of “authentic yet gracious”. It immediately occurred to me that it’d be a useful approach to take as I implement changes I’ve begun making in my business and personal life. The changes revolve around disengaging from activities I no longer find interesting or fulfilling. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in this position, but I’m involved in a number of things, especially on the professional side, that I simply am no longer particularly excited about – or, worse, that I really don’t enjoy at all any more.  

My unsubscribing from various LinkedIn Groups, which I mentioned in my last column, is a simple example of clearing out things in my life that waste my time or take my focus off things I’d rather spend time on. I found doing it surprisingly liberating, but at the same time, I realize that was the easy stuff. After all, no one in those groups necessarily even realize I’ve dropped out. There are other things, however, that I can’t just quietly disengage from – like volunteer activities, and social invitations that people generously extend but that I’m not inherently interested in. So, finding a way to be true to myself – to be authentic – and yet gracious, can be tricky.  

Though many people throw around the term “authentic” these days in ways I’m not comfortable with (much the way they talk about “their passion”), I could relate to the way Leanne was using the term. We’re both in business for ourselves and so we’re pretty practiced at being tactful and polite. But the idea of being authentic yet gracious isn’t necessarily the same as being tactful and polite. To me, authentic yet gracious involves being honest with myself about my intentions and feelings and having the courage to express those, but taking care to not be presumptuous, overbearing, or self-important.

So, I guess I’m adopting yet another resolution this year: striving to be authentic yet gracious in all my dealings. Seems a worthy goal… Indeed, just imagine how different society might function if more people took care to be authentic yet gracious…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a new year?

By Ingrid Sapona

January has never felt like a new year to me. September – now that has always felt like the start of something. Sure, it probably goes back to all those years of school (K-12+ for those of us who continued on to university). Even when your school years are long behind you, the academic calendar still matters if you have kids or colleagues whose life revolves around the school year.

Since January 1st just feels like the start of a long month of short days, I never really got the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve also found it odd that people decide that at one point in the year they’re going to focus on all sorts of behaviours that they realize probably aren’t that helpful and they resolve to change them – or work on them. I’m all for introspection, but who needs the added pressure of a deadline? 

So, 2016 started for me much the way most years do: resolution-free. Actually, that’s not totally true. Sometime last fall, after finding a couple new recipes that I really liked, I realized my cooking repertoire could use some more new recipes. So, I decided that in 2016 I’d make a concerted effort to try new recipes for mains and sides (I’ve never needed an excuse to try new dessert recipes). I even set a measurable goal: by the end of 2016, I want 12 new recipes that I enjoy making, eating, and sharing with others. Mind you, that’s not as easy as it sounds because I’ve got pretty high standards when it comes to what I’d serve guests. (If it goes well, I’ve already got a plan for 2017: finding the perfect wine to go with each of 2016’s new dishes!)

Anyway, after returning from celebrations with my family, I was back to my usual routine. Then, about the third day back at work, I checked in with a client to see where things stood on a project we started just before Christmas. In an e-mail back, they explained what they’d like me to do. But, it was so vague and jargon-laden, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do.

My first reaction was to feel stupid. Given that I’d already done some work on the project, shouldn’t I understand what they’re talking about? Then, without my usual hesitation and fear of looking dumb, I wrote them back and simply said I didn’t understand what they were talking about. As I sent it, I felt oddly transformed. I realized I’m tired of feeling like I’ve got to take sole responsibility for not understanding what clients want. After all, I’m not a mind reader.

The client promptly wrote back, apologizing for being vague and then they more clearly set out what they want me to do. An interesting and eye opening exchange, I thought… And with that, I decided to put the responsibility on clients for clarification from now on. No more feeling like I ought to figure it all out by myself!

Then, on another day during that first week of January, I was reading my e-mail in box and one item was from a LinkedIn group. It was one of many such groups I belong to that focus on some aspect of what I do for a living. I opened the e-mail, quickly confirmed that it was a typical self-promotion-type comment, and went to delete the message. But, for some reason, rather than merely deleting it, this time I scrolled to the bottom and clicked “unsubscribe”. It felt empowering – like I was taking back control of my in box. No more inane messages from that group!

Over the next couple days, I decided to try that approach with the myriad of other e-mail messages I get daily. Unless the message is from someone I really want to hear from, or is about something I’m really interested in (like recipes, given my 2016 goal), if there’s an unsubscribe option at the bottom, I clicked it. You know something – it’s been great! My in box is no longer full every time I return to my desk, and I’m not wasting time on BOGO promotions for things I don’t need or seat sales to places I’ll never go.

By the end of that first week of January, I realized that maybe the quiet of a long winter month is a good time to try some new approaches. In fact, I even think I’ve stumbled on a workable approach to New Year’s resolutions. The trick is to not think too much about them – just give them room and time to find you. Go ahead – it’s definitely not too late – give it a try!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … 2015 in A to Z

By Ingrid Sapona

Here’s my alphabetic review of 2015:

A is for asylum seekers – people seeking asylum are not leaving everything behind just because they want new opportunities. They are seeking protection from harm.

B is for border – Donald Trump wants a southern border, former candidate Scott Walker wanted a northern border. Does the U.S. really want to create Fortress America? Well, with all the guns in the U.S., I’m happy to be outside the U.S.’s borders.

C is for Constitution – I never thought I’d be in favour of amending the U.S. Constitution (the thought of opening that can of worms for something like banning flag burning just seemed ridiculous, not to mention dangerous, as I think it’s a pretty good document and I don’t trust politicians of today) – but, I think without a change to the second amendment, the U.S. will become so dangerous, there will be no turning back.

D is for disruptive – when did being disruptive become cool? I find it odd that everyone’s now trying to find a way to describe processes and products as disruptive. What ever happened to simply trying to make things useful?

E is for endless campaign season – the recent Canadian federal election, at 78 days, was the second longest in Canada’s history. Way too long for our taste. Why – or how – the U.S. puts up with an endless campaign season is beyond me.

F is for fleeing – people fleeing their homes are not migrating. They are seeking safety.

G is for gun – I’ve tried so many times to raise this issue with my American friends and they routinely simply change the subject. Change can’t happen without people being willing to say they want change.

H is for herbs – actually, fresh herbs. If I had one take-away from the boot camp my sisters and I did at the Culinary Institute of America it would be to splurge on fresh herbs – they can perk up the humblest dish.

I is for imogee – there is now an imodicon dictionary. I wonder if in 1000 years someone will need a Rosetta Stone-like cryptography tool to understand us.

J is for justice – I’ve always held the notion of justice in high esteem. Sadly, the term has become like beauty: subjective.

K is for kindness – a quality that the world could use more of.

L is for loudmouth – when I was growing up, being a loud mouth was something that got you in trouble. Hard to believe some think being a loudmouth is appropriate presidential behaviour.

M is for migrant – migrant is not another word for refugee, or for those seeking asylum, or for those fleeing violence. Migration implies looking for opportunity. Easy – and convenient – for many to gloss over the difference. How dare we?

N is for neighbor – my sister and I recently reconnected with a family that lived down the street from us. They were one of our favourite neighbors but, as is so often the case, all us kids moved away and made lives elsewhere. We’ve managed to keep up through Christmas letters, the occasional e-mail, and even noting new jobs and transitions via LinkedIn. But, there’s something about re-connecting in person that is so much nicer. As we chatted and reminisced, so many memories flooded back. I was amazed at how much we knew about each others’ lives back then – and how many shared experiences we had. To borrow a concept from the wine world – you could say that our street was our “terroir” – it definitely impacted our values and character. I wonder if folks get to know their neighbors as well as those on our street seemed to.   

O is for one – though we are all individuals, we must not think that our actions don’t matter or won’t make a difference. They do. Change can only happen when each of us takes responsibility and speaks up and takes action.  

P is for profound – earlier this year a friend of mine was telling me about the emotions she found herself dealing with when she was helping her daughter relocate to begin her career. I was very moved by my friend’s description of solace and wisdom she found in the writing of others who had gone through the same experience. My friend used the word profound to describe what she read – I love the thought that someone’s words can help in that way…

Q is for questions – why don’t journalists ask the right questions of candidates? For example,
why hasn’t anyone asked Mr. Trump if he will put all his business interests in a blind trust if he becomes president so he can avoid any kind of conflict of interest? Or why doesn’t anyone ask Ben Carson what he means every time he uses the phrase, “people know”? (I suppose it could be because I’m the only person who doesn’t know, but I find that hard to believe…)

R is for refugee – like asylum seekers, refugees are not simply seeking economic opportunities.

S is for sunny days – that’s what Justin Trudeau, Canada’s young, optimistic new Prime Minister promised on his overwhelming (and surprising) victory in October. Even though everyone knows in every life there’s some rain – it’s refreshing to have a leader giving voice to optimism.

T is for time – not only do days and years go fast, this November we marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. A decade, and yet, it seems like just yesterday.

U is for unethical – the news of VW’s emissions fraud was unethical and, sadly, just one example of corporate corruption.

V is for violence – I keep hoping that one of these years it will seem that the violence around the world is easing, but, sadly, it’s not… If anything, it is escalating. So many times this year the chant of Black Lives Matter could be heard echoing throughout the U.S. That is undeniably true. But the truth is, all lives matter – including those of refugees.

W is for Windows – Windows 10 came out this year and I recently made the switch thanks to Sandy, my computer guru. When I asked her why they skipped from Windows 8 to 10 she explained that since there was a Windows 95 and 98, they couldn’t be sure that there might not be some old code from those versions still hanging around. Kinda reminds me of the big kerfuffle around Y2K, eh?

X is for xtra time (at least if you’re a bad speller – or maybe a texter) – time flies faster and faster, it seems. Nothing we can do about that, I know. All the more reason to try to slow down in an effort to be present to every moment.

Y is for Yazidi – how sad that the only reason many of us in the west heard about this religious sect is because they’ve been targeted by ISIS.

Z is for Zuckerberg – in a touching post, complete with a sweet photo of the new family, the founder of Facebook and his wife made two big announcements recently: they had a daughter and they “gave away 99% of their Facebook shares”. The detail their posting glossed over is that the wealthy couple’s definition of “give” is not quite the same as yours and mine. Their “gift” isn’t a charitable donation; it’s a transfer of their shares to a new vehicle (a limited liability company). I’m sure the LLC will do all sorts of good works in the long run, but the announcement seemed a bit self-aggrandizing.  

There you have it – the words and thoughts that mark 2015 for me.

Here’s to 2016 and – I hope – a more up-beat list to draw on. Happy New Year!

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … wholehearted

By Ingrid Sapona

In October Canada elected a new government. One of the promises the new Prime Minister made during his campaign was that his government would resettle 10,000 refugees before the year’s end. Since his election, however, the logistics of the endeavour have resulted in the timeframe being extended a bit.

But, the project is clearly underway and a couple of weeks ago the government announced that two Canadian transport planes would soon be dispatched to bring over the first planeloads. Then, last week it was confirmed that the first group would arrive on Thursday evening in Toronto, with the Prime Minister and Premier of Ontario on hand at the airport when it touched down.

I’m a supporter of the Prime Minister and his policies, especially those related to the refugees, but my initial thought was that it was a bit over the top for him to meet the plane. I thought the gesture was more for our benefit than the benefit of the refugees. After all, besides the fact that they wouldn’t necessarily recognize him, I figure the refugees’ main concern would be simply feeling they were safe and that they could begin their new life.

Then, Thursday morning, as I turned to read the Toronto Star, I saw the banner headline written in huge white type against a red background: Welcome to Canada. Just below the headline was a huge photo featuring the silhouette of a casually dressed person joyfully running with a Canadian flag waving above his head. As if the banner and photo weren’t surprising enough, at the bottom of the front page was an equally rare site: a front-page editorial.

The simplicity (it was under 300 words) and elegance of the editorial moved me to tears. There was no grandstanding, no self-congratulations (not a hint of “aren’t we a wonderful country to let you come here”). Instead, it was an open-armed hug – the kind you give your favourite uncle who you haven’t seen in a long time.

The editorial acknowledged the cruel injustices and nightmares the refugees have faced, as well as the difficult decision they made to leave their homes and many loved ones behind. It also expressed the honour Canadians feel at the refugees’ choice of Canada as the place they will make their new life. And, it reassured them that they are entitled to all the rights and protections that each of us holds dear.

It also offered lighthearted advice about getting through our cold winters by embracing winter sports, for example. And it poked fun at some of our uniquely Canadian idioms and customs, like ending sentences with “eh?”, and making Timmy’s runs for coffee. And, perhaps most significantly, it ended with a single word: Welcome.

Besides moving me to tears, and making me proud and honoured to live in Canada, it really made me think about what it really means to open one’s heart to others. It’s easy to forget that gestures can speak as loudly as words, and that good deeds done grudgingly or in a lukewarm manner are not nearly as powerful and life affirming as those done with an open heart.

Looking at it in that light, I now realize what a powerful signal the Prime Minister’s actions and the newspaper’s editorial sent – and not just to those who arrived that day. These actions remind us all of how important it is to ensure that our words and commitments are embodied in our every action.

My wish for you this holiday season and throughout the New Year is this: I hope you discover the power and joy of doing things with a truly open heart.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a sign of the times

By Ingrid Sapona

Earlier this month one of my sisters attended an “active shooter” seminar at her place of employment. She works at a university and while her school hasn’t had an “active shooter” situation, U.S. campuses certainly seem to be magnets for them.

I was caught by surprise when she casually mentioned attending, then talked about the things she learned. Apparently the recommended procedure is: run, hide, fight. I said I can understand the run and hide part, but the fight idea reminded me of the nonsense Ben Carson said after the Umpqua Community College shooting in early October. (For those who missed the story, in the wake of 11 dead and 7 injured, Carson said he thinks people should have rushed the shooter – after all, “the shooter can only shoot one person at a time”.)

My sister went on to explain a bit more about the things they learned. For example, when you’re running away, run with your hands up so that law enforcement officers don’t shoot you. Jeesh, I thought. While I’m glad she went to the seminar, I can’t believe the university felt there’s a need for it.

Perhaps sensing my disquiet, she mentioned that the run, hide, fight mantra reminds her of stop, drop, roll. When I said I’d never heard that trio, she explained that it’s it’s something they teach school kids if their clothes catch fire. I guess that was after my time, as all we had were fire drills.

We then “reminisced” about air raid drills from when we were growing up. I vividly remember hearing the simulated siren sound over the PA system and then all of us crawling under our desk and covering our heads with our arms. She too remembered that, and the fact that the motion was referred to as “duck and cover”. 

Back then, I knew the air raid drills were meant to protect us in case of a nuclear attack. But, I also remember doubting how ducking and covering my head would offer much protection from the plume of a mushroom cloud. Indeed, my most vivid recollection about those drills was the fear it instilled in me about how dangerous the world must be.

After my sister and I got off the phone, I couldn’t help feeling despair that everyday folks are being trained about what to do in an active shooter situation. I wondered if soon elementary school kids in the U.S. will start learning the run, hide, fight mantra. Wouldn’t surprise me, really. After all, maybe such training isn’t really any more traumatizing than duck and cover drills.

Though that thought may not be welcome, I find it comforting in a way. I guess because looking at it that way gives me a bit of perspective. It reminds me that people wanting to cause others harm is nothing new – just the ways they can go about it change. Maybe learning mantras like “duck and cover”, “stop, drop, roll”, or “run, hide, fight” is just a coping mechanism that people use – a way of feeling empowered in the face of fear.

The conversation my sister and I had about the active shooter training happened a couple weeks before the attack in Paris. In the days that followed that event, I watched with admiration how people did their best to take back their city and the café society they cherish. I’m sure many Parisians have adopted their own coping mechanisms, perhaps they make a point of noting the closest exit when they are in a restaurant, the Metro, and so on. But, they clearly also realize that if they surrender their lifestyle, terrorists win.

And, as the city of Brussels went into near lock down in the aftermath of the Paris attack, another coping mechanism surfaced: social media. Apparently, as Belgian authorities were moving about, conducting raids and what have you, some folks took to social media with news about what was going on in their neighborhoods. The police then publicly asked people to stop commenting on what was going on because such information could be used by the suspects.

Soon after the police request, on the hashtag people had been using to report the police activities they were observing, people startedposting humorous pictures of cats. According to the Associated Press, people posted photos of cats in all kinds of situations, including holding their hands up, posing as police snipers, and even blatantly ignoring police warnings to stay away from windows. The next day, after completing 22 raids, the police acknowledged the cooperation by posting a picture on social media of cat food with the message: “For cats who helped us last night … Help Yourself!”

Though it certainly seems to me that the world is a scarier place than it used to be, I realize there has always been – and there likely always will be – things to fear. In this light, I guess active shooter training is just a sign of the times.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... green eyed

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ll admit right off the top, today’s column isn’t really about eye colour. My inspiration for the column was a story in the Toronto Star last week. Its headline read: Taming the green-eyed monster, a matter of maturity, study finds. I wasn’t familiar with the expression, “green-eyed monster” so my curiosity was piqued.

Well, as you may have guessed, the story was about envy. (I was familiar with the expression “green with envy”, but I have no idea where it comes from. Maybe it’s from some green-eyed monster of myth or fairy tale.) Anyway, the article reported on a study into how the experience of envying differs with age and gender.

I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like some lightweight “research” sponsored by some internet dating site or something. It wasn’t. The research, which was published in the November issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, was conducted by Prof. Christine Harris and graduate student Nicole Henniger of the University of California at San Diego. Their conclusions were based on survey responses of 925 participants from 18 to 80 years old.

In the article, Harris talked about envy as a “social emotion”. She pointed out that, as one of the seven deadly sins, envy’s been seen as motivating everything from evil stepmothers in folk stories to Occupy Wall Street protesters. I never thought of envy in those terms, did you?

For the study, participants were asked to recall a time in the last year when they envied some they knew personally. Those who did were then asked a series of questions designed to find out the nature of the envy and the gender and age of the person they remember feeling envy about. The categories of envy participants were asked to consider were: scholastic success, social success (which the reporter interpreted as status), looks, romantic success (hmmm… not sure what that means), monetary success, and occupational achievement.

Turns out, envy of other people’s education, looks, romance, and status all diminish with age. In fact, of those four areas, the only one that still even registers for those over 30 is romantic success. And, by the half century mark (those 50 and over), envy over romance is pretty much gone. Harris’ theory is that as we get older we become less concerned with things like our appearance and we come to accept our social status.

Envy of monetary success, however, moderately increases with age. Envy of occupational achievements, on the other hand, apparently peaks in your 40s, and then declines in your 50s. The authors mention that one reason occupational envy may decline is because people in their 50s may be looking ahead to retirement.

In thinking about the study, I was struck by the fact that the findings certainly seem to reflect my life. Though I honestly don’t recall feeling envious in each of those areas, I’m sure at different points in my life I felt each of those to some degree. But the really good news is that from the vantage point of my mid-50s, I’m happy to say that like the bulk of the survey participants, the green-eyed monster doesn’t have much of a hold on me.

Mind you, I have my own theories about why envy subsides as we age. The way I see it, in our youth we’re on pretty much the same path as our peers, all trying to achieve similar things. So, comparisons are inevitable and if you perceive someone is ahead of you or has some advantage over you, envy might bubble up.

But, as we get older, our focus widens and we realize that a fulfilling life involves making the most of our own qualities and experiences. We also come to appreciate just what we have. And, we come to realize that even if someone has things we don’t, they also have their share of trials, tribulations, and heartache.

So, by now I’m sure you see what I mean – this column isn’t about eye colour at all. But you know, it’s not really even about envy. It’s about one of the really cool things about growing old…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a life-long learner?

By Ingrid Sapona

Last year I joined the volunteer board of a small, international professional organization. When the position of treasurer was becoming vacant, I was asked if I’d take on the role because the treasurer must be Canadian. After speaking with the current treasurer (I’ll call her Angie – not her real name), I agreed to take on the role. The organization has a modest budget and, though I’ve never been a treasurer, I figured it wouldn’t be that hard and it might be good experience.

The first part of the handoff involved what should have been straightforward banking stuff: getting signing authority, getting a bank card, getting the credit card switched to my name, and so on. Given that you can bank by smart phone, it was surprising how much paperwork had to be done in person.

While we were sorting the banking stuff out, though I had officially been appointed treasurer, Angie continued doing the treasurer stuff (she was still on the board). One of the things the treasurer “looked after” was membership applications and renewals. This seemed to make sense since our main source of revenue is membership dues. Though I wasn’t sure what “looking after membership” entailed, I knew there was some system in place and I figured I’d be able to learn it.

Meanwhile, the organization’s website was being re-designed. The membership database, which runs on software the old website was designed on, was not being changed. The new website was simply going to link to the database. Angie had given me access to the database and explained why the system generates three e-mails that are sent to the treasurer (for each renewal) and why she sorted and kept track of each trio of e-mails. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

By the beginning of September, the banking was all in my name and Angie’s term on the board was coming to an end. At the same time, the new website was launched. Soon after, we started getting reports of members having trouble renewing. One of the odd things is that not every renewal is problematic – only some. While the tech people were trying to figure out what’s going on, Angie took care of the problem renewals by going into the database and manually renewing each separately. 

My first official act as treasurer was to pay the web designer’s invoice. I wrote the cheque and mailed it. I also sent him a quick e-mail saying the cheque was in the mail. Three weeks later the designer e-mailed me, saying he hadn’t received the cheque. I checked the bank account and confirmed the cheque hadn’t been cashed. I felt bad that the designer (a small business) hadn’t been paid, and I wondered whether I screwed up. Had I forgotten to send it? Or maybe I sent it to the wrong address? I didn’t think so, but… Talk about feeling you’ve started off on the wrong foot!  (The cheque arrived 30 days, to the day, after the date I mailed it! Unreal, I know.)

The next issue I had to deal with was the web renewal problems. Because many thought part of the problem is the instructions in the e-mail inviting people to renew, I figured I’d start by making that clearer. I logged in to the membership database software determined to find the message and make it clearer. Only problem was, I couldn’t find the message text in the database. I played around in the system for over two hours and simply couldn’t find it. It has to be there, but where, I don’t know. Talk about frustrating!

A few days later, I went to log in to the database and couldn’t. I tried all sorts of things – I changed passwords, changed browsers, re-booted – you name it! Nothing worked. When I contacted Angie, she came back with things I had already tried. By then I was ready to quit as treasurer. Indeed, one night I wrote an e-mail to the board resigning. The last line summed up my feelings pretty well: no sane person takes on a position to feel lost, helpless, and useless. I did send the e-mail, but to a good friend, not the board.

I wish I could say that writing that e-mail and sending it to my friend instead of the board was cathartic and that after that, things magically turned around, but they didn’t. But, writing it helped me realize something I didn’t know – that it’s very important to me to feel competent. And, if I don’t, I’m extraordinarily irritable and angry. I never knew that!

I don’t know about you, but I thought that when you get to a certain age, you pretty much know yourself. Guess not…  Mind you, that’s probably not such a bad thing. After all, don’t we all aspire to be life-long learners?

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t resign – that’s not my style. But, I’m not a masochist – or martyr – either. I mentioned my frustration to the president and the solution we came up with is that I’ll stay on and look after the traditional treasurer activities, but they’ve got to find someone else to look after the membership stuff!

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … over it?

By Ingrid Sapona

It’s that time of year – time to begin preparing boats for hauling out. Of all the chores associated with owning a boat, putting up and taking down (de-stepping) the mast is my least favourite. I find it stressful and nerve-wracking.  

The club has a small crane that’s used for masts and on a couple of fall weekends, a volunteer crew is on hand to help members de-step their masts. The mast crew is efficient, but they expect members to sign up in advance and to show up on time and ready.

My anxiety around de-stepping goes back to the very first year I had the boat. Because the boat was rigged when I got it, I had no idea what was involved in de-stepping the mast. Turns out that besides taking the sails off, before you head over to the mast crane you have to take the boom off, tie off all the mast lines, and loosen the wires (shrouds) that laterally support the mast.

Each step is comprised of a series of steps, many of which have to be done in a certain order. Take the sails, for example. There are lines and various pieces of hardware that have to be removed in order to get the sails off. Over time I realized that labelling the different bits carefully as you take them off in the fall makes rigging the boat in the spring that much easier.

Tying down the mast lines (ropes) is easy, once you figure out a good system for doing it. If you’re sloppy about it, as I was that first year, the lines can get in the mast crew’s way and slow them down. And, complications the crew runs into translates into guff they heap on the skipper. Needless to say, the second year I got the help of a seasoned sailor who taught me his method, which I’ve used ever since.

Loosening off the shrouds involves removing many split rings and untwisting the turnbuckles that connect the shrouds to the boat. I hate working with split rings. If you’ve ever taken a key off a key ring, you know what a split ring is and you know they’re not fingernail friendly. A surprising number of things are kept in place on a sailboat with good old split rings. Fingernail sacrifices aside, the difficulty with the split rings used for rigging is that they’re positioned in ways that make opening them and turning them to remove them nearly impossible.

Turnbuckles present their own challenges. First, you have to figure out which direction loosens them. Then, if they’re tight (which they generally are, since the shrouds are meant to hold the mast in place), you need a plier to hold the stay while you use a screwdriver to leverage turning the buckle. Two hands – and determination – are usually enough, but not if your frustration level is still high from fiddling with the damned split rings.

Another mistake I made that first year I had the boat was thinking that my job was done when the mast was off the boat. A month later, however, I got a curt message from the club telling me I had to “strip” my mast. I had no idea what that meant – much less how to do it. Naturally, I went to the club office to beg forgiveness and to ask for help. Lucky for me, a member was there – with tools – and he helped me do it. (FYI, stripping a mast means disassembling parts to make it easier to store.)

With haul out just a couple weeks away, mast de-stepping has begun. So, on Saturday I decided to stop putting the mast preparation work off. I calmed my churning stomach by telling myself that I’d take each step as it came and if (when?) I got too frustrated or tired, I could stop for the day, as I still had a few days before the mast would be taken off.

Well, Saturday the weather was perfect – sunny but cool and no wind. As I completed each step, I took a breath and took stock before starting the next step. Before I knew it, three hours had passed, but I was done. I couldn’t believe how smoothly it had gone. My initial thought on completion was that I must have done something wrong, or forgotten something! I went back through my mental checklist and soon it was clear I hadn’t forgotten anything and all truly was well.

On the way home I was thinking about all the dread and anxiety I had about it. I know it goes back to the mistakes I made that first year or two. But, I’ve learned from those mistakes and, to my surprise, every year it truly seems to get easier. The other thing I realized on my way home is that maybe it’s time for me to get over my negative outlook toward the whole process. After all, the rational part of me knows that until I do, I’ll continue to be stricken with anxiety about it.

Well, if admitting a self-defeating attitude (not to mention the sound in my head of all of you impatiently muttering, “Oh, for heaven sake – get over it!”) is the first step toward changing ones behavior – then I guess I’m on my way to a future of an anxiety-free mast preparation. Gosh, I hope that’s the case. (But, I’m not putting money on it just yet. After all, I won’t know until this time next year whether my change of outlook has stuck. Here’s hoping, though…)

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona