As the salt and rain water whipped my face, the 39-foot sailboat keeled hard, and I braced my bare feet against the stanchion, the waterline danced with the deck and an epiphany hit me: the gunwale’s top plank of wood, guard rail, and the lifeline wire were the only thing holding me back from one of my biggest fears: death by ocean stranding.
If I slipped or let go, or stumbled, I’d be in complete liquid darkness, with invisible sharks circling underneath me, no life jacket, and no way to say goodbye to my lovely mom (sorry mom, I’ll wear a life jacket next time).
The captain’s words are still with me, “If you fall out of the boat at night, you’re dead.”
So I did what any novice sailor would do on his first watch. I tightened my grip and squinted my eyes. See, the darkness, the night sailing, it was all a first for me. And what started as a bucket-list-try-something-new-travel-adventure, became a very uncomfortable sailing trip through third world countries and ten-foot vomit-inducing swells. And there was no turning back now. I gripped the wooden wheel harder as 25 knots of Caribbean Easterlies swept through the cockpit, hitting me and our boat, the Lady Slipper, right in the face.
Seconds felt like hours. Minutes felt like days. And the terror spread. My quadriceps were quivering uncontrollably. My hands were greasy and cold. Blood was flowing away from my extremities and my mind raced with uncontrollable thoughts.
Was I going crazy?
And as the boat rocked and smashed into the next wave, it sprayed sheets of water across me, the bow pulpit, and companionway, I realized this type of panic wasn’t new to me. It was the same feeling I had felt before I had left. Fear of the unknown. We had hundreds of miles to go, were somewhere outside Belize and Mexico, and I was alone at the helm of a boat I’d never sailed before, facing this panic and fear one second at a time.
I glanced down at my hands, my knuckles couldn’t get any whiter. I looked at the compass. I was off course by 50 degrees.
Shit. Get your shit together, Huffman.
Then the worst happened. As I jerked the wheel hard to get back on course, I lost my balance, dislodged my foot, and tumbled towards the dark sea.
One of the three superpowers I learned on this trip started in this moment.
I want to live. I don’t want to die.
I reached and grabbed air. There was nothing to stop me. My momentum was taking me overboard. My arms splayed out, thrashing out for the guard rail, for anything to stop my fall. There was no way I was going into the black sink without taking something with me. A halyard. A line. My Redbull can.
Just as my chest rocked towards the water, my arm, like a hook, caught the steel cockpit stanchion that connected our solar panel roof and guard rail. My momentum swung me around in a do-si-do like fashion, and I was completely horizontal, my face just inches from the water. I snorted in a deep breath, took in a sting of salt water spray and held on, my biceps clenching around the railing.
I waited, gathering my strength as the dark abyss of water glided by me, innocently making a swooshing sound against the port stern. Mother Nature, her skies, the wind, the endless dark mass of water, was constant and silently unforgiving. She didn’t care if I fell in. The black water would welcome me, just as it did our boat.
Paul and Andy were still asleep in their cabins, resting before their next watch. I swung myself back to the helm, the wind and rain still splattering the deck like nothing happened.
After I got my footing, I took a deep breath. Relieved, I remembered this was my damn idea. I wanted this adventure. I did this trip to face my own damn fears. To get out of my own depression. To slap myself in the face and get moving again.
You’ll be okay, just stay on course. Steer and don’t let go.
I had heard that inner voice before, the same one that told me to face my fears and chase my dream of becoming a division one college and pro athlete, the voice that when I shut my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and listened, told me to go for what I knew I should. This voice, my steam of consciousness told me to play the game. To show up. To stop thinking and compete. To breathe.
Just as my heart rate came down, the dinghy suddenly broke loose and started swinging behind me on the davits. I had to act again. I let go of the wheel, turned, and titled half my body over the guard rail and yanked the rubber boat into its locked position. I tied the lines quickly and spun around to pilot again, slowly, methodically balancing my feet on the gunwale with water spraying over them.
This is kind of fun, I laughed. That’s the OCEAN! I’M SAILING THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN!
I felt a smile unfurl on my face. My course was right in front me. Zero degrees, true North. Little did I know, the three superpowers I gained on the trip would be retroactive.
To be honest, I didn’t go on this trip to acquire superpowers. I went on this trip because I needed a change and felt stuck in middle America after playing professional basketball for 12 years.
Just a few months earlier, I had been anxiously procrastinating in my studio bedroom, stooped in a depression over the direction of my life. No big goals, no big dreams, no big anything. I was living with my brother and my dad (which was actually a highlight after 12 years of living in Europe), but a big part of me had no passion. No team. I was lost, not wanting to go to Home Depot to buy another round of supplies for another renovation project by myself, for the real estate company I had started at 23. I had just moved back from New York City after trying a 9–5 job, which wasn’t for me.
I felt like I was chasing two rabbits and couldn’t catch either — my happiness and a life of meaningful work.
But being in Flint, I was like a sailboat floating listlessly adrift, no sail raised, no true North, and no rudder. I knew something had to change. I had to challenge my beliefs, my values, my situation, and my attitude. And that’s exactly when my first cousin, captain Andy, emailed me about buying the boat.
“I’ll sell it to you for a dollar,” he said. “And I’ll teach you whatever I can in a month. Help get you going.”
“Wait, what? You serious?”
I called Paul and April. They said they’d think about it and get back to me. And so it started. Serendipity, or the Universe, or just blind luck, answered my prayers. Everything was in motion.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield
Being on the water, living off a few dollars a day, and being radically self-reliant for five months changed me. Showering on a deck at sunset, anchoring next to deserted Caribbean cays, splicing halyard lines, maneuvering past sprawling orange-pink sunrises, watching dolphins and flying fish glide and jump next to our bow pulpit unleashed a new perspective on life.
I was just a tiny speck of existence in an endless world, yet witness to the most powerful anti-depressant the Universe has to offer— being surrounded by and living in Mother Nature.
To be honest, the sailboat and being on the Caribbean for five months taught me things I didn’t know about myself; that we all hold superpowers and are capable of discovering them, as I’ll explain below.
Wrappers of Oreos and Red Bull cans were hanging like trophies in my forward cabin netting next to my bed when we pulled into Isla Mujeres’s port after our 450-mile sail. I screamed into my phone, I hugged Paul and Andy, did a few shots of Flor de Cana, and tried to document one of the craziest trips of my life, and yet it was just the beginning.
Looking back, I had done something many people had already done. Sailing wasn’t new. But what mattered was I challenged myself in the best way I knew how. Most of my family and friends thought I would die trying to sail with no experience, yet, here I stood, feeling like a superhero, victorious and humbled by an experience, much like winning a National Championship in basketball.
SUPERPOWER # 1:
The boat just floats on top of a moving mass of water, regardless of weather or waves or direction. The boat is stable. Its personality, mood, and attitude don’t change, even as Mother Nature’s fury, foam, and ferocity do. I learned to act like the boat, to choose my reaction to something I had no control over, like the weather, or being alone with my fears, or something breaking.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor Frankl
As the days and nights passed on the boat, I realized the water doesn’t care, the boat doesn’t care, the weather doesn’t care, only I cared. I cared to choose if I should quit, or find the hilarity of being alone in the dark, or if I should even keep on sailing. Just like in sports, when my anxiety got the best of me, I had to play the game, be in the moment, and choose my reactions to what was happening in the game. Even in the most dire circumstances, you can choose. Even when you are faced with your biggest fear, you can choose. Even if I had fallen into the black ocean abyss, I could have chosen my reaction then as well.
Swim Trevor, swim towards shore. There is hope.
The boat taught me finding the right team can change everything. Living with Paul, April, and their daughter Harper, we coined ourselves Operation Combat Traditional Living. I was so lucky they aligned with my personal values of laughter, teamwork, ideation, adventure, not caring about material gain, and contributing to the success of the boat. The skills of boating were a challenge to learn, but I had the most wonderful team one could ask for. They taught me, influenced me, and worked towards memories together that will last a life time. This was one of the most fulfilling team experiences of my life. It wasn’t about me. It was about we.
There is a common thread with all the amazing teams and memories I’ve had through the years:
The “WE” is always stronger than the “I”. Working, laughing, building, and creating meaningful visions with teams is always more fulfilling than money, or individual accolades and personal success.
The nuances of team building make the process fun. Getting to Guatemala, sailing to Mexico, and making it alive and in one piece wasn’t easy, but I loved contributing and learning new skills with them. Talking out ideas. Gazing into the cosmos and asking questions like, “Hey Paul, what would you do if nothing was impossible?”
“More of this, Trevor. More of this,” he’d say, breaking into a smile.
“What about you April?”
“Oh Trev. I’m happy to support the team and live unconventionally. To be with my family, create passive income streams and do more of this.”
“Me too April. Me too. This was one of the most powerful trips I’ve ever taken. Thank you for doing this with me guys,” I said.
I meant those words, even when the trip ended. Their daughter Harper finished Mexican grade school in April and we closed up the boat for hurricane season, said our goodbyes, and went back to life in America.
Now, as I watch more moments of my life go by, the grayer (and thinner) my hair gets, the more wrinkles I collect on the edges of my eyes, the more my parents forget simple things, the less my friends visit, and the more I see a rat race lifestyle consuming and influencing others to do the same, I wonder, where do I fit into all this? Can I still use my super powers to change my life and others, or should I go back to the boat and sail the world?
The truth is, for me, without being on a compatible team, life isn’t as much fun. So my goal is to continue building teams through start-ups that align with my personal values. I want to do big things in helping others live happier, healthier, fitter, kinder, and free of fear. By continuing to practice my superpowers in my own life, I will live more adventurously and be with the people I love the most in this world.
Listen to your intuition, that inner voice, the one that speaks positively to you with hope. The one that asks more of you. When fears, emotions, and feelings come at you like the weather, the water, the waves, don’t feed the Ego, the whining pessimist, the complaining victim, feed that brain mush to the seagulls. Get back to the wheel and start piloting your boat.
Let go of the tiny stuff and eliminate any of the judgmental friends, peers, critics, or the voices in your head that doubt you being you is the correct path (unless you find yourself in Detroit crack houses with a spoon in your hand, or moving towards a really, really unhealthy place, get rid of the energy suckers outside, or inside your head).
The Lady Slipper let me sit there and be with it, release my inner fears, thoughts, and feelings. It showed me what direction I should move in when I was done. How much magic there is in helping people and aligning your values with work, team, and play.
An ancient Zen proverb says: “If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit; but whatever you do, don’t wobble.
Being on the boat helped me slow down, to act and be deliberate.
It also helped me start tracking what is truly important to me; what fears lay dormant inside my consciousness; what passions and curiosities needed to still be unturned. I realized being in fear of scarcity, only thinking about myself, actually stops us from self-actualization.
Floating in the ocean, I learned the world goes on without us or our actions. We are not omnipotent. All powerful. There is no finish line for happiness. You cannot take your material treasures with you when you go. Peace ensues our actions, our presence, like the wake of a boat rippling towards shore.
I believe constantly living in the past or the future is an insult to our latent superhero powers. We must continue to strive to become what we know we truly are.
The truth is, when I look around, I see people take the cozy job. The easy money. The comfy life. We shelve our superhero powers for some future day that never comes.
In Flint, I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing, so I took the chance to change something. The only way to change was to walk straight into my fears and never look back. Sailing, traveling, doing what we fear, by risking doing something you’ve always wanted, of taking the first small step, you are already becoming a superhero.
Read more stories on being a pro athlete, adventure travels, finding love in your 30’s, and how damn hard it is being an entrepreneur.
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