Being The Captain Of Your Life

The weekend before I left for the book tour (to promote What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend -- on shelves now!), my hubby, daughter, and I went canoeing for the first time since I was pregnant with Siena. I love being out on the water, but until now, Siena has just been too little, so this was our first time on the open water to explore life in a canoe. I was over-the-moon excited.

As we climbed into our canoe, our guide said, “Pick a captain. It just doesn’t work if there’s more than one person in charge.” Now, my hubby was on the varsity crew team of his college, and frankly, I’m sick and tired of being in charge of everything else in our life, so I deemed Matt as captain.

But it didn’t work out so easily.

With Matt at the helm, we kept steering into the reeds. We ran aground. We narrowly avoided hitting swimmers in the river. We zigged and zagged until I said, “ENOUGH!” And I took over.

Matt was sitting in the back, playing rutter. But I suddenly took over in the front, steering the boat to my will, veering right, veering left, directing the canoe the way I wanted it to go -- straight and narrow and never veering off course.

Matt was pissed off. He just wanted to coast, to relax, to happily allow the canoe to dip and turn and run aground just for the sheer life of it. Not me. I wanted to be sure we made it to the right beach at 6pm, when we were expected to meet the bus. And so I asserted my will, refusing to just sit back and let our boat hit the rocks, steer left, spin in circles, and narrowly avoid running into swimmers.

At one point, Matt invited me to take over -- to captain the canoe and shut the f-ck up. But I didn’t want to. I captain my life all the time. I’m the primary bread winner. I make most of the major decisions in the family. My husband consults me on everything from paying the bills to how best to drive to Santa Fe to which kindergarten Siena should attend to how to shop for groceries. I love him to pieces, but frankly, I get sick of it. I hate to sound anti-feminist, but sometime I just want him to make the decisions and let me be the girl.

Can't I sit back for a change?

So when we were floating down that river and he suddenly insisted I take the rear seat and take over a captain of our canoe, I rebelled. I got out of the canoe and walked at least ½ mile down river, while my hubby and daughter watched me sulk. I was pissed. I was done. I wanted to say “F-ck this! I’m always in charge. Can’t I please sit back and just coast for a change?”

But hubby wouldn’t let me sulk without confronting me. He said he was just fine with running aground. He didn’t care less if we spun in circles. He didn’t give a flip if we took all day getting down river or narrowly avoided hitting trees or swimmers. He was just in it to have a good time. He wasn’t in it to be “right.”

This is when I stopped and took a deep breath. I know I do this. I like to do everything perfect. I’m good at canoeing -- and after eight years, hubby and I have never canoed together (we’ve always kayaked, so that we are each independent). Today took us both out of our comfort zone. It wasn’t easy.

But it made me think. How much do I really want to captain my own life? I gripe about having to make all the major decisions in my life, but if I micromanage every little stroke, no wonder others step back and let me take over? I don’t want to control my life. I want to allow the river to float me along, guide me in the right direction, and coast me towards where the Universe wants me to be.

So why do I insist on taking over the oar?

I guess, in part, it’s that I don’t trust anyone else to do it like I would. When I let go, we run ashore. We narrowly miss obstacles in the way. We lag behind. I get scared.

But when I get out of the boat and walk alone in the river, I feel awful. I don’t want to be alone. And I don’t want to take over as captain of the ship. I want to trust others to support me. I want to let go.

How do I do this? How do we maintain quality control without clinging to the handle and clipping the wings of those who aim to help us fly? How do we let others captain so we  might rest? How do we trust, relax, and surrender to the Universe? How do we let the flow of the river drift us downstream without paddling like mad to enforce our will? What’s the best way to release the crazy ties that bind us to our own perfectionism? How can I maintain my standards without having to captain the ship the whole time.

Please! Guide me. Take the oar. Let me rest.

Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).

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