Going outside your comfort zone is scary. But it can be so rewarding . . . read more about how I've learned to say YES

Saying Yes

“I could never do that!”

“Why not?”

“I’m not brave like you.”

The thing is, I don’t think I’m particularly brave. In fact, I’m often scared the first time(s) I do something.

Several times this summer, I’ve had similar conversations with granddaughters and a couple of friends. Mind you, we weren’t talking about adrenaline junkie kind of stuff, but things that would fall on the “mildly adventurous” end of the scale. For one, it was going tubing — even at low speed. For another, roller coasters (never been on even a small one). Snorkeling (she’s a good swimmer). Learning to drive.

And I’ve had some similar email correspondence with readers: I don’t want to take the boat into a slip; drive the dinghy; let the boat heel. How do I get over my fear?

I’m emphatically not making fun of anyone’s fears here (I have a dog who isn’t fazed by fireworks but is terrified of eating from a white bowl; fears have no logic). Everyone has a comfort zone and some things just plain fall outside it.

I’m not sure you really do “get over” your fear. For me, it’s a matter of pushing past it. Deciding that I’m going to do whatever it is.

In short, I just try really hard to say “yes” to things that I find myself uncomfortable with. Most have ended up being fun, none have killed me (yet), my comfort zone gets bigger with each one and my life has been far more interesting.

Hence the phrase at the top of this post: Life’s more interesting when you say yes. I say it to my granddaughters frequently.

Some things may require training; others may come in baby steps. Some require “just doing it” (apologies to Nike).

Saying no is easy; yes takes lot more mental energy. But no can lead to regret in the future while yes usually enriches our lives.

I’ve talked before about being terrified on my first overnight passage (read the story here). But I stuck with it and was rewarded by an amazing trip past the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center (pre-9/11) and the UN. And then of course all our cruising experiences.

I’m a strong swimmer but my first scuba lesson was a disaster when I had to flood my mask. Total panic on my part. After class I thought long and hard about quitting and decided that tons of other people got their certification; I could too.  I walked into the next class determined not to panic and was amazed at how much easier it was. While I snorkel far more than dive, the skills I got from being certified have greatly enriched my life.

When we were in South America, I got the opportunity to paraglide — tandem with a guy who had just won an international competition for time aloft. I said yes and then nearly backed out as we went up the mountain to the departure point. But I stuck with it (I mean, the guy obviously knew how to keep the thing in the air!) and had a fantastic experience. Not to mention one of my favorite photos.Going outside your comfort zone is scary. But it can be so rewarding . . . read more about how I've learned to say YES

Actually, Dave and I both really stretched our comfort zone just to decide to take that South America trip. I wanted to travel through the Andes; Dave absolutely hates driving along cliffs (and there are many in the Andes). Dave was keen to see the Amazon basin; I’m terrified of snakes, crocodiles/alligators and piranha (and there are many . . .).

We made a pact that we’d do a trip with what we both wanted and we’d both grit our teeth as we hit the edge of our respective comfort zones. Admittedly, on the “edgiest” road in the Andes, Dave spent a couple of hours sitting on the floor of the bus so he couldn’t see out (and had a beer at 8AM) but he loved our time in the Andean villages and trekking to Machu Picchu.

My worst day had big snakes, crocs and piranha all within an hour of each other. But I conquered my fear to the point of taking pictures of all and even jumped into the lake where the piranha were (photo is of Dave diving in since no one took one of me!).

Going outside your comfort zone is scary. But it can be so rewarding . . . read more about how I've learned to say YES

Saying yes despite our fears and discomfort gave us incredible experiences.

But that’s not to say that there weren’t times we just hit the limit of “YES” — I never held a snake and Dave couldn’t bring himself to try paragliding. And that’s okay. There are limits to expanding your comfort zone. It’s not a failure to occasionally say no or not today. Trying hard to say yes doesn’t mean you always can.

But when you do, sometimes you end up having the time of your life.

Just last weekend I was talking with Jan, my cookbook co-author (she writes CommuterCruiser too), about their planned trip to Utah next spring. She wanted to know our highlights when we’d been there. One that I mentioned was rafting the Colorado river out of Moab. Jan looked as me as if I was nuts and said there was no way she was going whitewater rafting. We talked a bit about the fact that there are “easy” whitewater trips and told her I thought she’d love it. And of course I gave my “life’s more interesting” pitch.

This past weekend, she and her husband David went to Denver to visit her son and his girlfriend. And imagine my surprise when this photo popped up in my Instagram feed:

Going outside your comfort zone is scary. But it can be so rewarding . . . read more about how I've learned to say YES

See that person with the HUGE grin? That’s Jan! Her comment in her Instagram feed: “I loved every minute! I’ll need the name of the place in Moab that you & Dave enjoyed!”

What have you said YES to that made your life more interesting?

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  • Dan N Jaye
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    GREAT article, Carolyn! I’m a HUGE fan of embracing new experiences solely because they’re new; you present an articulate acknowledgement of sane limits. (I’m not going to strap on a parachute and jump out of a perfectly good airplane even though I think the views would be cool.)

  • Fred
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Thanks Carolyn for this and all the great information we have absorbed and will continue to.

    My wife and I just took possessions of a 2004 Leopard 47 in the BVIs, in fact this is our 4 day aboard. Each day is a new challenge when something that worked yesterday doesn’t work today and while you are covered with sweat trying to figure out how to flush the water maker or where this wire that is disconnected goes or went it is easy to ask yourself, “what the hell were we thinking, we cant’ do this,” but then you do it and for a while your world is spinning in greased grooves. All of this and we haven’t left the marina yet! We had planned to have name our boat, Lizards On Ice, because we thought, what is more out of their element than a couple of lizards on ice, but she is aptly named Caribbean Dream which fits and removing all the places and things the name is one to do a proper renaming would have been insane, but we are still a couple of lizards on ice trying to find their footing!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

      What a perfect mental image of what it’s like when you first start cruising — yes, even while you’re still at the dock! And yes, it really does get easier . . . and even after 6 years, we still had some “lizards on ice” days . . .

  • Sue
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    What did I say yes to? Caverneering with candles, rope and hard hats. Untying the ropes of our boat and sailing away from our family and friends. My mum still wants to know when we are going to grow up and settle down. Learning to dive in Indonesia. Carolyn, I felt much the same as you. Very confident in the water except when I have SCUBA gear on. Would I change anything? No way!!! I love that we are having adventures.

  • Linda M Fletcher
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Thanks for another great article! It is the perfect message for today!

  • LaDonna Thomas
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Thanks for articulating my thoughts regarding “saying yes”! Selling just about everything we own to buy a boat and live in the Caribbean was a stretch for this Kentucky girl, but I am so glad we did it! This lifestyle affords the opportunity to try new things on a regular basis and I usually enjoy the new adventures, if not it usually still makes a good story.

  • Jan
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Great post, Carolyn! Carolyn knows I’m a scaredy cat, especially when it comes to water, which is pretty funny as I look back – we’ve been cruising six months a year for 14 years. Until I decided I needed to be scuba certified to go cruising, I couldn’t even swim. No way I could pass the swim test for scuba. So I took swimming lessons at the age of 45, but still couldn’t tread water. A friend taught me to tread water for an hour continuously as we were waiting for weather to leave to sail from the Keys to Isla Mujeres. Whitewater rafting involved scary freezing cold water. Not a comfortable combination for me. But it was a BLAST and yes, I asked Carolyn for more info on their rafting trip from Moab. Cheers!

  • Susan Schmitz
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    This article really makes you think. Thank you so much for posting it!!

  • Diane Cook
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Perfect timing 3 wks before our 1st overnite passage! So true! That’s why I am untying the dock lines & going for it! ⛵️

  • Diane Cook
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Perfect timing 3 wks before our 1st overnite passage! So true! That’s why I am untying the dock lines & going for it! ⛵️

  • Diane Cook
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    Perfect timing 3 wks before our 1st overnite passage! So true! That’s why I am untying the dock lines & going for it! ⛵️

  • Toni Gypsy Borrett
    Posted at 18 August 2014 Reply

    I am a very anxious person & way out of my comfort zone but i said yes to our boat trip & am learning to not anticipate problems (what ifs) & trusting that we can deal with all the challenges. When he gets anxious i can now be encouraging & calm rather than panic. Has done wonders the self confidence. Still hate night sailing tho!

  • Claudia Smyth Gilpin
    Posted at 19 August 2014 Reply

    Perfect! Thank you. I’m always worried we don’t know enough to toss the dock lines & just go! We probably NEVER will. Thank you

    • Dave-Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 19 August 2014 Reply

      None of us do when we leave. The good news is that other cruisers are really helpful – paying it forward from when they were new and everyone helped them.

  • Claudia Smyth Gilpin
    Posted at 19 August 2014 Reply

    And Carolyn, thank you for sharing your Mothers wisdom!

  • Donna Chiappini
    Posted at 21 August 2014 Reply

    Carolyn, my big Yes was to sailing itself. My idea of sailing was sitting on top of the boat, with the wind in my hair, reading a book and/or staring off into the sea in completely calm waters. After 4 years of chartering and not being a very good “first mate”, we bought 40’ sailboat and I soon realized this was my husband’s dream for our future. Considering the investment, I had to get on board with this quick. So, after some sailing lessons, I realized I had retained some of what my husband tried to teach me and I began to fall in love with it. I always had a strong fear of heeling or big waves or big winds but now that pit in my stomach is gone. We are a team and with big plans. My next big yes….overnight sailing.

  • Terry Laybourne
    Posted at 21 August 2014 Reply

    Great stuff. There is a saying that I like to live by -I can’t ,yet!
    Somethings can seem daunting but if you approach it with the attitude that it may take a few steps to get there and each step is in the right direction you will eventually make it.

  • Jessie Mackelprang-Carter
    Posted at 22 August 2014 Reply

    Loved this post – very motivating! You’ve had some damn good adventures!!

  • Stacey Hoopes
    Posted at 22 August 2014 Reply

    Well done! Always pushing ones own boundaries is hard and uncomfortable (!!) but so, so rewarding. Thanks for posting! 🙂

  • Susan - ofeverymoment
    Posted at 23 August 2014 Reply

    I am pinning this to remind myself of the values of saying yes beyond my comfort zone. Like you point out, these are usually the experiences that enrich our lives! I’m glad I found it at the #SITSSharefest today!

  • Leslie
    Posted at 23 August 2014 Reply

    I’m terrified of flying, which makes no sense because I love sky diving. I’d pass out if I saw a snake, doesn’t matter what size. I’m stopping by from SITS & I hope your having a great Saturday!

  • Kate Wodash Catlow
    Posted at 01 January 2015 Reply

    Love this! I am reading a new book called The Yes Book edited by Jill Cooper. Its a compilation of stories and poems about the word yes. This article should appear in the next book! Thank you to all of you Inspiring woman who sail women who

  • Kate Wodash Catlow
    Posted at 01 January 2015 Reply

    Dang! Typing on a rocking boat and hit the send button by mistake:). Any way happy new year! This year I plan on saying yes way more often!!

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 02 January 2015 Reply

    Back on the boat after a long break. V busy and well out of my comfort zone. On the hard in 35 degrees C. Antifoul etc. Andcso much to do inside… eeewwww. Looking forward to spending a few days sailing to Langkawi.

  • Katrina
    Posted at 06 August 2015 Reply

    Said yes to my husband about living aboard a motor cruiser and I love it! Took swimming lessons last year, not afraid of water anymore.
    Saying yes has turned out to be a plus so far!

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    Congratulations. I enjoy following you and learned a lot from the experiences and adventures you post.

  • Nita Haas
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    Just what I needed today…I’m about your age and used to try anything: class 5&6 rapids , lost on a mountain in Switzerland,

  • Nita Haas
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    Took 2 boys under 10 to the BWCA canoeing, traveled alone in Europe when my husband couldn’t, no fears on a sailboat…granted it was Lake Michigan, I lived, truly lived. Somehow too many years in an office I lost it..you’ve reminded me I can “push” to get myself back and have amazing experiences.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

      Yep, you can! And you’re right — it does take pushing yourself!

  • Lucy Wilcox Claiborne
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    I love this so much! Thanks for sharing.

  • Patti Giese
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    Congratulations on 5 years. We have enjoyed your articles as well as the cookbook!

  • Catamaran Guru
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply

    Congratulations Carolyn! We love the website.

  • April Spiller
    Posted at 17 August 2015 Reply


  • Susan Poor
    Posted at 18 August 2015 Reply

    The Boat Galley has been an immeasurable resource for me with all its information regarding living on a boat. Thank you!! And here’s to many many more years of newsy articles! Sincerely!!

  • Kimberly Fain Ward
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Oh, Carolyn, this was a great article!! I spent the past two years living aboard, girly out of my comfort zone in every direction…and would not trade those experiences for the world. We are now home, and I am giddy to be back, but so so glad I said “YES!!!”

  • Diane Mercaldo
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Very inspiring. I’m learning to get past my fears and push on. I’m the only one in my way

  • Janet
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Yes is a scary word at times but worth it! We went from sailboats to a older 40′ trawler last year and I was terrified by the thought of driving this monster. Glad I have taken the wheel. Our first trip was up the coast of Maine weaving in and out of all those lobster traps. Everyone said we would see whales and the fog would be bad. It wasn’t. It was a calm and sunny day in June and no whales attacked ? our boat! It’s still quite a learning curve handling this boat but how I love the spacious living conditions.
    Thanks so much for this site. You have helped me SO many times already with equipment suggestions and tips!

  • Julie Strickland
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Love this!

  • Shannon Alexander Doane
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Thanks for writing this, needed to read more than once. Haha!!⚓️⛵️

  • Ricardo Druillet
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Check this out Helena Gurascier

  • Dawn Read
    Posted at 19 September 2016 Reply

    Great POST! It’s part of what we teach our clients. I wrote something about my personal life along these lines TODAY…

    “People who have watched my life over the last few years think I am a fearless risk-taker. LOL

    In fact, there is, many times, a flurry of voices that bounce around in my head when I am faced with a big risk or decision. I even sometimes hear the voices AFTER I make the decision.

    I call it “Flutter-stepping at the Threshold.”

    But, a sigh of relief happens when I take that first STEP. The voices STOP. Just as one stands ready, with parachute on, and takes that step from plane into the sky, all those voices STOP when the parachutist CROSSES THAT THRESHOLD.

    Everything goes sweetly silent in the mind; and the LOVE and excitement and BLISS of the free-fall takes hold. I have felt it over and over in my life. I’m learning to be still, to focus on what I love, and to quiet my mind BEFORE I step over. But, even when I feel the fear, and hear the ego’s chorus asking me, “What if I jump and it all falls apart?” I continue to step.

    Partly, because in me are some ever-nagging questions:
    What will happen if I DON’T step toward this thing I love? What if it all FALLS TOGETHER when I step; and my refusal to step kept me from something I will later regret missing?

    And partly, because Love and fear cannot coexist.

    EVERY TIME I am able to bring my focus around to what I love, and know that LOVE is my reason for the risk or decision or step, my fears subside.

    And, every time I remind myself that any perceived security I may be relinquishing is really only an illusion, my fears subside.

    So I focus on what I love and know; and I TAKE ANOTHER STEP.

    The decision has been made. And we’re taking our steps…

    Life is an AMAZING MIRROR, reflecting who we ARE.

    We’re moving AHEAD…in LOVE, and in FAITH.

    LIFE is GOOD!”

    ~ Dawn Read

  • Gillian Lisa Johnston
    Posted at 20 September 2016 Reply

    Awesome Post!!!

  • Tory Fine
    Posted at 20 September 2016 Reply

    Wow you read my mind. My husband and I were literally just talking about this 10 minutes ago!

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