Raising the Sail

I thought I was ready. fall winter 2013 246

I’d rigged the boat and was ready to sail.  The dockmaster came by to see how I’d done.

“Great job.  Except for one thing.  Your mainsail isn’t raised to the top of the mast.”

Seeing if the mainsail (that’s the big sail in the middle of the boat) is raised to the top of mast is still tricky for me.  It means learning to watch for these little creases where the sail meets the mast.  If you see those creases, your sail isn’t raised the whole way.

As the dockmaster reminded me,

“A sail that isn’t raised the whole way is a less efficient sail.  It doesn’t take advantage of every inch of this great sail that you’ll need.”

To raise the mainsail the whole way, you have to loosen something called the “downhaul” a piece of line which pulls the main sail and boom (that big piece of wood along the bottom of the sail) down.  You then grab hold of the halyard (the line that goes to the top of the mast) and pull.

I pulled.

I pulled harder.

Nothing happened.

big 003When that happens, you then do something called “sweating the line”.  With one hand you pull back on the on the halyard and with your other hand pull the line away from the mast.

I pulled.

The dockmaster pulled.

Together, we raised the sail.

Last fall I heard Amy Cuddy speak at the University of Washington.  Cuddy is a professor at the Harvard School of Business and has become known for her TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

When animals feel powerful, they literally take up more space.   Peacocks, gorillas, elephants, and human doings all do the same thing – we get bigger when we want to strut our stuff in order to ward off an enemy, intimidate prey or attract a mate.

Watch the Olympic gold medal winners throw their hands high overhead and beam.  Watch a runner do the same at the end of a race.   In fact, even blind runners raise their hands high at the end of a race even though they have never seen anyone do this.

Cuddy’s research shows that when we practice taking up more space, whatbig 015 she calls “power posing”, lots of good things happen.

Take two minutes being an Olympic champion with your hands high overhead, or standing with your hands on your hips and your testosterone levels will increase.

You’ll be more assertive, confident, optimistic, willing to take risks and open to feedback. Your pain threshold will increase, and yes, you will be more likely to get a second interview for that job.  Why?  Confidence, presence, passion, authenticity, enthusiasm, warmth all lead to feelings of trust.  Trust opens doors.

However, when we collapse into our bodies, sit twisted and huddled into a ball over things like our cell phones, the opposite happens.  Our cortisol levels increase and our feelings of stress, anxiety and insecurity.  Watch how some of those silver medal winners collapse into themselves on the stand.

No, we can’t “make” people trust us.  Sterotypes rooted in race, sex, age all get in the way of how we experience another’s warmth or competence.  But we can start with changing what we can – ourselves.  As Cuddy reminded us, “When you connect with and trust yourself, you can begin to connect with and trust others.”

So Cuddy practiced “power posing”, standing in the bathroom stall for two minutes with her hands raised high overhead before a lecture.  Over time, she changed.  “I faked it until I became it and became the self I wanted to be.”  She now has taken her “power posing” practice across the globe and into work with many vulnerable populations.

I hear it from the dockmaster.

I hear it from Cuddy.

I hear it from the Book of Deuteronomy, “I set before you the ways of life and death – choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I hear it from Jesus, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10)

big 017This great crowd of witness reminds me that maybe there really is nothing wrong with raising the sail the whole way.  That it may, in fact, the beginning of turning things around and doing things differently.    Who knows?  Maybe there is a new, better, more alive and engaged self out there for each of us to discover.

Today, may we have the grace, in the words of William Sloan Coffin, Jr., to never to sell ourselves short.  But to risk something big, for the sake of something good.

3 thoughts on “Raising the Sail”

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