Courage in times of uncertainty
We live in times that require us to draw on our courage. But how do you learn courage? There is no magic formula, and it certainly cannot be learned in school. However, rubbing shoulders with people who have dared greatly, who have pushed the limits of their audacity can inspire us to cultivate courage. It is by listening to real-life stories, such as those from Mylène Paquette, that our minds can open up and find new ways.
Mylène Paquette is the first person from the Americas to have rowed solo across the North Atlantic. She knew how to surpass herself to accomplish a feat that was said to be impossible, emerging from this adventure equipped with nuggets of wisdom to share with the world.
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Crossing the Atlantic Ocean solo… Where did the idea come from?
The first time Mylène stumbled upon a photo of an ocean-rowing boat by pure chance was a real revelation for her. Having always been attracted by the ocean, she already dreamed of being captain of a boat. Discovering ocean rowing, it was as if she met someone for whom she had a sudden crush, a love at first sight. It even kept her up at night!
She saw in this adventure an ocean of possibilities. She perceived it as poetry: leaving with a rowing boat, crossing a stretch of water called the Atlantic, to reach the old continents…
Be the first in something!
She also saw it as an opportunity: to be the first to do something “far-fetched”. There was then no one from the Americas who had managed to row across the North Atlantic (we can agree that it is an arduous and quite frightening journey!). It seduced her to be the first. But the ego is not all! Especially when you’ve been dealing with a fear of diving underwater for over 27 years…
An encounter that changes the course of history
It was a sick child at Sainte-Justine Hospital where Mylène had been working for several years that gave her the motivation to embark on her dream. You know, the words of a child filled with truth and wisdom? “You adults don’t know what it is. You’ve never really encountered anything difficult. You have never had to call on your courage.”
She wasn’t wrong! It was at this moment that Mylène realized that all the difficulties she had encountered so far, she had bypassed them. She was a wimp too often and was burning with desire for that to change.
The crossing then appeared to her as a legacy to leave to these children. A learning she did for herself, but also for her patients and for the community at large. As a sign of courage, to show people that they too can achieve it.
Seeing children leave and young people forfeit their own future, she said to herself: “I am healthly, but what do I have ahead of me?”. At the beginning of her thirties, she felt like she hadn’t accomplished anything. It was there that she felt the full force of the call of the absolute, the urgency to live. It was the beginning of her dream. A few years later, it became concrete: she left for 129 days alone on the Atlantic, from Canada to France.
129 days of rowing is not without obstacles!
Of course, even if Mylène prepared for four and a half years, the crossing was filled with unexpected challenges. First, she had to juggle communication issues with the ground crew. Often, communication would cut, and team members would only receive snippets of information with which they had to complete the puzzle. We must also imagine that the pressure was at its peak! They were constantly told “Well, let’s see, you’re doing this for her, she’s crazy, she’s going to die!” But they continued to believe in her and her touch of madness. And that’s amazing. Mylène generated so much energy and confidence that people were drawn to her, so that, during the crossing, there were 15 of them on the ground supporting her during her saga.
Not to mention the weather issues! Between the 16-meter waves, storms and sea animals that could swallow you in one bite, daily life wouldn’t be too relaxing!
Learning about the ocean, but especially about oneself
Connecting to your inner strengths
We can all be the worst and the best of ourselves. The best comes when you understand that it’s all about attitude and intention. In the case of Mylène, in the early days of the crossing, the weather was not at all on her side. She ruminated and raged at the sky that prevented her from moving forward, until she understood that the only thing she controlled was the attitude she chose to adopt in the face of the weather. It’s not the weather that’s not good, it’s the way you look at it.
The attitude we adopt begins with the questions we ask ourselves. For example, during the pandemic, many people were wondering, “When is this going to end.” Unfortunately, we would never have the answer to this question, and it created unanswered expectations. We can change our attitude of course and rather ask ourselves “How can I reinvent myself through this?”. The situation then becomes an opportunity to grow.
At one point, Mylène stopped trying to be the fastest. She told herself that at worst, she will be the slowest rower in history and that’s okay! It will have cost her the same price to be on the water longer! That’s the mindset that helped her survive to the end. There are about 16 people from the Americas who have tried to make the crossing of the Atlantic, but all of them have turned back. They were there with the intention of speed, of being the best. Mylène was there with the intention of just doing it. To get to your destination, quite simply.
Mylène has learned to see what can be gained from a difficulty rather than what can be lost. I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to change my mental attitude today!
If the intention allowed her to cultivate courage, visualization was also her best friend during her quest. She constantly wondered: how to do visualization to channel anxiety differently? For her, anxiety is creativity. She always imagined an attack by Jaws under her boat, until the day she started imagining a vegetarian shark!!! This creative way of deflecting anxiety allowed her to decrease her stress response.
Finally, in the vastness of the ocean, she had no choice but to find that we are extremely insignificant and that we can die at any time. When you look in the sky and see the stars that no longer exist, you ask yourself, “Where are we in the time scale? “. She came out of the adventure with greater respect for life and renewed gratitude.
Values that are deeply rooted
- Community: Going to sea to learn about life and tell your story afterwards is essentially generous. Mylène quickly realized that she was not undertaking her adventure only for herself; she did it to leave a positive mark on the community.
- Environment: Mylène has been associated with an environmental cause from the beginning to thank the ocean for having welcomed her and allowed her to experience this. Since the ocean cannot speak, it needs a window of opportunity to make itself known. Jacques-Yves Cousteau said:“We love what amazes us, and we protect what we love.” For Mylène, it makes sense to help make the ocean known, so that people love and protect it more.
- Family: Even though she was always gone, her family stayed there for her, no matter what the pitfalls were. Family is a bit like the invisible engine of a boat, which helps us move forward no matter what.
- Respect: Respect the environment, respect yourself, respect your needs. The ocean reminded her that we are all humans and that we must listen to our needs first and foremost.
Another big bold project: solo motherhood
After rowing across the ocean, nothing could stop her! Mylène is pregnant with a baby, which she decided to conceive on her own. Yes, yes! She went through a fertility clinic, and became pregnant after 7 months of the process. Being a solo mom, you not only have to deal with some men who take it personal (“well, let’s see, one day women will not have been able to need men anymore!”) but above all, with the mental stress, normally shared over two parents.
How to deal with mental stress
By choosing solo motherhood, Mylène is aware of the weight that comes with this magnificent adventure. Luckily, she has a nanny, a neighbour present, a devoted entourage… On the other hand, in these difficult times when everything is going at a crazy speed, when people are overwhelmed by their own mental stress and when the workforce is becoming scarce, she knows that she must take the lead and organize herself in an even more grounded way.
It’s also essential to learn to say no. And sometimes, learning to let it go. Yes, it may be that if you delegate your housework, it will not be done exactly as you want! But you have to accept it, and put your energy on the things that are really important to you.
Vulnerability: a sign of strength
Don’t be afraid to attract and affirm what you need (and what you don’t need!). It can be embarrassing, because when you ask for help, you expose yourself as vulnerable. Let us remember that vulnerability is an inner strength that must be honoured. After all, if there is a good time when you are so strong and vulnerable at the same time, it is when you give life!
If you want to see our entire Red Table event online (and free!), it’s here!
Some tips to get started in your projects
- Knowing that it takes courage to commit: To get started, you have to commit yourself, and courage starts there. By committing ourselves and saying that we want to do this or that project, we are vulnerable. And it is from this vulnerability that the most beautiful adventures are born.
- Visualize yourself doing what you want to become/do: Visualization has immense power. It is also a muscle that must be worked. Visualizing the feeling we will feel inside us when we have reached our goal is an incredible motivation!
Finally, know that we all have some courage deep down. Do not be afraid to draw it and assert yourself in your convictions. Even a project that seems mundane or unachievable has the wonderful potential to inspire the people around you! All human evolutions begin with a person who has once dared!
- Ovo Clinic
- Single moms by choice from Montreal and the surrounding area (Facebook Group)
- Going Beyond the Horizon (Book written by Mylène Paquette)
- Mylène’s crossing (Documentary)