Photo provided by Cally Duncan


Six Things I’ve Learned About Embracing Discomfort

Life lessons from a grad who dropped everything to sail halfway around the world

By Jennifer Allford, '84 BA

January 28, 2020 •

Most people celebrate their two-month anniversary with a nice dinner or a weekend away. But Cally Duncan, '11 BCom, isn't most people. In 2018, after a mere nine weeks of dating, she and her partner John Rivett threw caution to the wind, literally, when they bought an 11-metre boat together. The plan? To sail from the United States to Australia.

Nine months and 5,000 nautical miles later, they found themselves in the West Indies selling their boat. While the relationship - along with their funds - dissolved before they reached their final destination, Duncan couldn't be prouder of what they accomplished.

"Sure, we didn't make it back to Australia. But most people don't make it to a boat," she says. "I'd do it all again in a heartbeat."

Lots of people fantasize about tossing their jobs to go on an adventure but few do it. For all those dreamers, here are some lessons Duncan's learned about stepping outside her comfort zone.

  1. It's never the right time: Setting sail was one thing, but heading off into the winds of unemployment was equally unsettling. "Worrying about money and being unemployed for the first time since I had left university was strange," she says. "Not to mention, boats are expensive. The financial insecurity was a huge thing for me." To supplement their savings, the couple crowdfunded and started a YouTube channel. She learned that in life as at sea, you'll never have the perfect conditions, so sometimes you just have to move ahead.

  2. Be willing to learn: Duncan read a lot before she and Rivett, a marine engineer, set out on their trip. But she quickly found that the best way to learn was by doing. She did everything from build a spice rack to change a fuel pump to fix the starter motor. "It's super-fulfilling for me to tackle and succeed at projects like this, and it made me more confident."

  3. Embrace community: Wherever life takes her, Duncan says she has learned to seek out mentors and people she can learn from. "Initially my mentors started out as education or career mentors," says Duncan. "But then the people I met travelling began to impact and mold my lifestyle choices, emotional development and intellectual development outside of work." This approach allows Duncan to trade the stress of being uncomfortable for the benefit of finding like-minded people and discovering new interests.

  4. When plans go awry, don't give up: Getting the boat ready took longer than expected, which meant Duncan and Rivett launched from Rhode Island later than planned. Record cold and storms followed them all the way to Florida. After six weeks of misery, Duncan says, they were ready to sell the boat. But they reconsidered and got back on the water. "If you're uncomfortable, you know you're probably doing something that's exciting and interesting," Duncan says.

  5. Don't take yourself too seriously: Duncan and Rivett called their YouTube channel, "How Not to Sail a Boat." Duncan says they knew they were not experts; they were just happy to have shared their adventures and misadventures with other people to expose them to the beauty of the ocean world. And mostly, she hopes their story spurred people to follow their own dreams.

  6. Getting started is the hardest part: While the adventure and the relationship may have ended before the pair made it back to Australia, Duncan sees the trip far from a failure. "It feels like a success because some people never get off the 'hard' - which is when your boat's on land and in storage," she says. "So, any nautical mile we sailed was still a success."

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