“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” –Grace Hopper
Tania knew something was wrong. Culture creates prisons, and she was trapped inside one.
High school was a struggle, but she managed to stick it out and graduate. Afterwards, Tania felt the pressure to attend college. She was surrounded by friends and classmates who already accepted offer letters to prestigious universities.
But Tania was different. She didn’t care about going to fancy colleges. She wanted to be a writer.
Disheartened but determined — she went to her father for advice.
Tania’s father was a tough man, but he also had a softer side. He viewed the world as a place to explore.
Although her relationship with her father was strained, they managed to reconnect on a family sailing trip. Sailing was the one constant that kept the family together.
So she confided in her father that she didn’t want to go to college. Her father listened but thought she was making a mistake.
At first glance, her father had two choices. He knew Tania needed structure, guidance, and experience. He could try to pressure her into attending college. Or, he could support her.
He heard the passion in his daughter’s voice, the yearning for freedom. Her father thought about it, and knew what she wanted most… to buy a sailboat of her own.
So he presented her with a simple offer.
“I guess you can skip college… And I’ll loan you the money to buy a sailboat…”
A smile spread across the girl’s face.
“But… You have to sail it around the world,” he said.
Her eyebrows slumped, and she took a step back. Was he serious?
“And,” he said, raising a finger, “you’ll have to write about it. Turn the trip into a book.”
The thought of sailing on a small boat in the open ocean, alone, was terrifying.
After a few days of thinking about the proposition, Tania wasn’t sure what to do. But her father was adamant. It would be hard, but she could do it. He believed in her. And that belief rubbed off.
There was a chance in front of her to see the world. In a mixture of fear, elation, and confusion, she spoke before she could think.
“I’ll do it.”
Soon after, Tania and her father headed to a boat show and bought an older, 26-foot sailboat that was built to last. Her father extended her the loan, she signed it and was the new owner.
Tania named the boat Varuna after the Hindu goddess of the cosmos.
In 1984, at 18 years old, with no formal training, no crew, and no means of GPS, Tania set sail…
(Scroll to the bottom to read the rest of The Story!)
“You have to really travel to appreciate the nuanced humiliation that leads to nuanced lessons.”
Rolf Potts is an American travel writer, essayist, and author. He has written multiple books including Vagabonding, Souvenir, and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There. His travel writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Salon.com, Slate.com, The Guardian, and World Hum.
In this episode of The Mission Daily, Rolf shares his thoughts on the peaks and valleys of travel and the value of souvenirs.
“Being overseas give you permission to wrestle with humility. We hold our ego close when we’re at home, because status often hinges on our projected confidence.”
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The Story (continued)
…Two and a half years later, in November 1987, after completing over 27,000 miles, fighting sickness, navigating the open ocean by herself, countless boat repairs, visiting strange places, and saying goodbye to her first mate Dinghy the cat…
Tania Aebi returned to New York Harbor at age 21.
She had left with no credentials.
She returned as the first American woman to circumnavigate the world solo — and the youngest person ever to do so.
Tania Aebi’s story is about shattering norms. It’s about moving out into the chaos of the world and turning it into order.
Tania Aebi isn’t a household name, but she is a successful, unique, and courageous individual.
Her story is a powerful reminder that our names don’t have to become “known.” You don’t have to do what the crowd does. All of us can become free and unique individuals by seeking out the greatest challenges we can find.
Along the way, there will always be safe paths waiting for us.
There will always be safe harbors to dock in. But we can’t remain docked in safe harbors forever.
Leave the safe harbor, but if you find yourself riding tumultuous waves or shipwrecked, revel in it. There are always gifts and lessons for those who take radical agency of their own lives.
It won’t be easy, and it will mean you’ll be painfully isolated from people who choose to remain docked in the harbor their whole life.
But do you want to be like most people?
Tania Aebi’s own words offer a powerful insight into how her voyage around the world transformed her mind.
“It happens rarely, but whenever I do read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch television, on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering, How? How can this happen? How can people be so gullible?
[I’m renewed with] gratitude to my father for having given me the chance to dodge full immersion in the homogenizing machine, and makes me more determined than ever to pass this gift of becoming an individual on to my own children.”
It’s scary to think about leaving the harbor. But ships that don’t leave the harbor never have interesting stories to tell.
To share his stories of adventure, explorer and traveler Rolf Potts joined us on The Mission Daily. Leave the harbor, sail out into the unknown, and come back and dock. You’ll be better for it, and so will the rest of the world.
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Author: The Mission