reflections of a journey

by john

reflections of a journey

There are so many moments. Where to start…?

I arrived early in the morning, eager to start the day. I arrived at around 8:45am. I tend to look at my watch a lot. It’s two minutes fast.

Apparently, the personalities of people fall into several different types. I tend to focus on the tasks at hand, the progress we can make, the amount of time we do it in, how long it will take. I think this is training left over from my previous studies. I flew planes before and hiked hills. I have rarely been lost.

During our stay at Tai O, which was next to the seaside (one of many, I’ve slept in the most beautiful places around Hong Kong during this journey), Dan and Yaz conducted an exercise. We first did some daily review of our trip about our mental and physical challenges during the day. Then the discussion turned to team dynamics. If there is a team involved, there is a triangle that we need to consider. The three points of the triangle are: Team, Individual (Needs) and Task.

We were each given different scenarios, such as a family vacation, a school project, our current journey. We were asked to stand at the point on which we felt about these scenarios. For example, in the case of the school project (a team project involving multiple parties), I felt that the Task was most important. After all, we need to get good grades, right??

Other people answered differently. One team member emphasised the Team (meaning the group as a whole) during the aforementioned case. Why? She said that as long as the Team was functioning properly, the Task and Individual Needs would come together naturally.

Another answered that Individual Needs were the most important. His reasoning was that individual needs must be met before any person could be a fully functioning team member.

Awareness of my own personality and strengths and the place I take in a team has helped me think about how I can best contribute to the team.

However, I seem to have skipped ahead in time. The first day we arrived we were to set up the ketch we were to sail. The winds were light and the weather was hot. I was asked to demonstrate some basic skills on rigging boats and to lead our team in rigging the boat. I had had some experience before in sailing, so it was just a matter of familiarising myself with the peculiarities of this particular boat. At this point, I think I still felt nervous about leading so many people, but I tried not to show it. I was not particularly confident, but I didn’t know why. I think I have never had much opportunity to lead people, so I never had much practice.

We set off soon after to find that the wind had died down and we had start rowing towards our destination. RT said that it would be faster rowing if we brought down the sails, but I persisted in keeping the sails up (I was skipper at this moment) until we reached the destination as the destination was close and I felt that it would be easier to bring the sails down once we had moored at the pier (near Yim Tin Tsai). I’m not sure whether it was the best choice, but I now understand we have to live with the decisions we make. I also thought about how being a leader requires you to act – not just in the sense that the leader must do things, but also that the leader must act like a leader, in terms of expression, tone of voice and conviction.

After camping at Yim Tim Tsai, we sailed in the morning towards Tung A. The winds were light. I chose to stand back a bit and let others try helming (helping is fun!), so I was the lookout instead. Lookout duty is fun, but is also tiring at the same time. Lookouts, I feel, should be changed every half hour so that they don’t fall asleep. Perhaps on longer journeys or with more experienced crew, the lookout can switch less.

Around Jin Island I took the opportunity to be skipper. Resolute (The name of the ketch we sailed on) was different to the boats I had handled before. I have sailed Lasers and Magics, both of which handled very lightly, meaning that they were responsive to small tiller movements. Resolute was a big and heavy boat, which RT (the name of the Ketch Skipper aboard with us) described as “State of the art, fifty years ago”. It had a main mast and a mizzen mast. Fully rigged, there was a genoa, a main and a mizzen sail. The boat wouldn’t win any races, but it could have done a solid five knots at force four winds with competent crew.

I wasn’t used to this configuration as I had only sailed single mast boats before, but it was an interesting challenge to manoeuvre a big and heavy boat. I would have to use small movements and try to anticipate what the boat would do. To tack I had to use full tiller, and only after three seconds would the boat start to move towards the wind. I would also have to start straightening out the tiller just a bit after the boat faced the no go zone so that we wouldn’t face away from the wind too much.

I was given a challenge, which was to helm the boat around a small island (the name of which I forgot) which was to east side of Jin Island. I was given the choice to either do a port rounding or a starboard rounding. I decided to do a port rounding (the island to the left side of boat). Each option had its advantages and disadvantages. I decided that I wanted to do a port rounding because I did it before in a small boat. I didn’t anticipate that it would take at least five tacks in a large heavy boat from the 1960s. We managed to do it, but not without coming pretty close to the island. The skipper started up the outboard just in case.

Coming into Tung A, I had the task of steering the boat into mooring position. This is hard enough in a small boat. In a big heavy boat with 12 people aboard, this was my first time that I felt so much responsibility. I have a bad habit of trying to do everything myself. I had RT on my side saying “Delegate, delegate!”. I was trying to steer the boat and control the mizzen sail at the same time. I think sometimes I have a problem of trusting people to do things. Perhaps it’s a bit of laziness, it seems like it would be faster and easier to do it myself. Reflecting on this however, I think that it’s true that it’s more difficult in the short term to delegate and trying, but easier in the long term. I think it’s a balance. To be a better leader I must train people more and believe in their potential.

We eventually landed and started to set up camp. I am not the best at sorting out logistics and cooking, so I leave it to the other team members to sort cooking out. I take charge of setting up the tarp on the boat. We eventually finish and we go and eat.

I forget now, but I think we played a game where we had different sized balls. We were asked to pass the ball around in a certain order. We tried to pass the ball around as fast as we could. We found that we got better with practice. Yaz gave us even more balls (which were differently sized), and we were given the task of passing them around as fast as we could. We found that changing the order that we passed the balls around disrupted our rhythm and we ended up passing them around slower than we did when we followed our previous random order. Even if the whole team agrees on a new way of doing things, it may be a period of time before we get used to it and improve. This shows that teams may get stuck in “old” ways of doing things, which may not be the best or most efficient, but are the most familiar to the team, which makes it most efficient for the team.

The next day we sailed to Kiu Tsui. The wind was around force three in the middle of the day, dying down to force two in the afternoon. We sailed slowly and arrived at our destination to find the weekend people on the beach. It was shocking how many people left rubbish on the beach. From a Leave No Trace perspective, Kiu Tsui is an absolute nightmare. Also people were fishing, smoking, snorkelling and disturbing wildlife on the beach. I don’t know how much longer it can survive this abuse. I hope the people change their perspectives on wildlife and nature. There was a person dangling a sea cucumber around on a fishing line taking pictures with it. That was uncomfortable to watch.

We set up camp. In the morning we were to report to the instructors by a certain time. I tried to make sure that the whole team arrived and finished on time. I found that our team were quite slow to wake up. However we finished everything on time. Dan and Yaz brought us (me and Justin) to them and talked to us. They talked to us about how we did certain things very well, but were weaker in others. They pointed out to us that we took on tasks on our own for the team when no one in the team was doing them. This is good in a way but not so good in others. The fact is, is that if we are concentrated on the small tasks, we are unable to look at the bigger picture and make decisions. As before, it is a balance that must be achieved, between doing things for the team and stepping back and looking at the larger picture and situation of any team. As leaders, we must train and delegate duties.

We did our warm up session after. Dan led a kayak paddle familiarisation and we ran around the beach pretending to be motorcycles. That was fun. I’m stealing it for my own kayak sessions. We then did our kayak capsize drills. It was scary the first time we did it. I’ve never been trapped under a boat (thankfully) and this was the first time. The conditions were heavy and windy. We learned about weather-cocking, currents and ocean conditions. We paddled to Tung Lung Chau. I was the leader and navigator and had the responsibility of getting our team to the destination on time and safely. Luckily I am not too bad with maps and time, so we got to our destination on time with a bit of luck (the currents and winds were on our side).

We set up camp. We had an excellent dinner and we were asked to do a self-review of the team. We started talking and we had a very good discussion. It seemed that the team felt like it had achieved a lot, but still had a long way to go. We talked about how the team could be more self-motivated and how we could keep team morale up. We decided that team moral and closeness was something that could not be forced, but would develop organically. We also decided that the expectations of the instructors were interfering with our abilities as we constantly felt like we were being watched and tested. To counter this we agreed to just try our best and be ourselves as much as possible. We also felt that the communication within our team could be improved. This is a very general statement – we meant communication about team choices, food, opinions from the team. We felt that if we all talked more and opened ourselves up we could develop more trust. We were in the “Norming” state of group development, but I felt that we could do with more “Storming”, which is good for the team as well as the quality of decisions we make.

In the evening we did some self review. We were to review our Facts, Feelings, Findings and Future. Facts – everyone’s facts are different. Same for Feelings, Findings and Future. My Fact was that people don’t just wake up and are ready to go. For my team, it seemed that on average it took 20 minutes for people to wake up, brush their teeth and be ready to do things. From then on I added twenty minutes to every morning we needed to do things. My feelings were that I was very task-orientated. This meant that I get quite stressed out about meeting deadlines (or more exactly, not being able to meet deadlines). I am a pessimistic person and believe that if the worst will happen, but if it doesn’t, I’m happy. I think I also need to be able to trust other people more and believe that they can do things. It is physically impossible to do everything myself. I need to develop the ability to separate large tasks into small tasks and be able to delegate the tasks to the team.

For the Future part of the review, I decided to find a style of leadership suited to me. However as Dan said, there is no one “best” leadership style, rather the ability to adapt to the situation as needed is more important.

The next night, after the incident where Antonia and Dan were hit by a king wave and injured, was a subdued one. We cooked dinner and we talked about our different personality styles. Yazid thinks I may have a Diplomatic streak, which means that I think about the feelings of others. While this is sometimes a good trait to have, if done to excess, may lead to me appear to be weak. During our solo, Dan explained to me that there are different ways of being nice to people than not saying anything just because it may offend them. You have to believe that what you are saying is right and that it will help them in the long term, even if in the short term it may cause some conflict. The thing about Diplomats is that sometimes they may hide their true feelings or keep them suppressed. Without a suitable outlet for their emotions, they may kill themselves slowly from emotional pressure. I am aware of this now and I will try to make my feelings and beliefs known more often.

My diplomatic personality was most apparent to me after the incident where our kayaks were hit by typhoon waves and we lost some property. Several spraydecks were lost and at least three large bottles were lost. The previous night Justin had said we only needed to bring one night’s worth of supplies, including water, whereas I had heard Yazid give the instruction to carry everything up to Mr. Wong’s store. Out of avoiding conflict, I agreed with Justin even when I had heard a different instruction. From that moment onwards, I have learned to trust my own judgement and be confident in voicing out my views.

When we did our Solo, I thought about how we all perceive things differently. Every person has their own personality, there are no good or bad personalities, just different takes on the same thing, which is life.

I thought about how I did not love myself fully and how for much of my life I have doubted myself. I have had trouble accepting who I am, but I realised that we can contribute most to the world after we have accepted who we are, the good, the bad. Once we know ourselves we know what direction we need to move towards. For much of my life I have judged myself by external standards such as exams, tests and grades. But the hardest “test” or stick by which you can measure yourself are your own standards.

Solo was a good and eye-opening experience for me. The next day we started our kayak journey towards the gold coast. For me the kayak journey was physically challenging. We were cold and tired and hot and sunburnt. I am happy we made the journey.

When we arrived at Gold Coast I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. In general as I mentioned before I tend to enjoy completing tasks that have been set. If my life were a series of goals I could tick off, I think it would be easier for me. The hard part then, is deciding what those tick boxes are going to be. There are also some things that can’t be “ticked off” since they are so qualitative e.g. be a good musician. Anyway, I slept well that night.

The next morning we continued our journey. Our team as very talkative at first. I think in the beginning we had a lot of spirit. As we progressed through the hike though, we started to conserve our energy as even talking expended energy, which meant we started to talk less. However there were several things that I felt that I did that helped our team complete our challenge.

I decided that Sama should lead the group. First of all I think that if a group goes hiking we should always go at the pace of the slowest hiker. Sometimes however people are affected by their placement in the group. People who had been lagging behind would suddenly become walking machines when placed at the front of the group. I think it’s to do with confidence. My main role during the entire hiking trip was to make sure we stayed together as a team (Justin, Isaac and Fion seemed to have unlimited reserves of energy, whereas I would feel tired and say that we should rest.), and make sure that we didn’t get lost.

Luckily we only walked down the wrong path once, near Sha Tin Pass. At Sha Tin pass I felt like my leg muscles could move no more. I felt like an old man. But it was because I was expending too much energy going downhill, one step at a time. My fear of falling made going downhill extra hard as I had to be tense all the time. Luckily at Shui Long Wo Johnny gave me a few tips on walking downhill, which were to relax and let yourself fall.

I am glad that I exercised good judgement during our hiking journey. At the very least, no one got seriously injured and we managed to complete our challenge. One thing I feel that I could improve on is the ability to feel the group dynamic, to understand what the team is feeling. Sama and I talked afterwards about how she could feel the team spirit, whereas I could think of nothing but our route, how long it took to get from A to B and whether we were late or not. I hope that this will come with experience.

As I look back on what we achieved, I begin to also analyze our team and the different roles that we each took in the team.

There was a moment during the final review of our journey during which we were asked to stand on a map that we drew together of our journey together. We were to stand on the part of the map which represented our proudest and happiest moment. Each person stood at a different place, for a reason (which reflected their values), and we also drew the map differently since we put different things at the forefront of our minds. For me, the trip consisted of the names different places, how far we travelled and how long it took, how much energy was spent. This was why when I was asked to draw the map, I was focused on the map being to scale and having a properly-dimensioned map of Hong Kong which we could refer to. I also put an emphasis on the route we took. Other team members, for example, Sama and Fion thought of the journey in moments of the team coming together. When we were asked to stand on our proudest moment, I stood on OBHK (Outward Bound, Hong Kong, Base), representing the final moment of our journey, the completion. Other members of Phoenix stood on specific moments in our journey where our team was challenged the most, rather than the moment at which we completed our journey.

These facts were made apparent to me when our team met for dinner after the trip. I then began to understand why the team acted in a certain way. For example, I place timeliness and the completion of tasks as the highest of priorities. As a result I woke up earlier than we planned every morning and placed pressure on myself to perform. I think this is a part of my upbringing and it sometimes places stress/pressure on myself, but I believe it is also a good trait in certain contexts. In other contexts it may not be appropriate.

During the last part of the trip, which was the walk from East Dam to West Dam, I was surprised at how slowly the team was walking. I found out later that it was not because they were tired or that their ability was low, it was because they did not want their journey to end, as they had so much fun during the journey. It was when I found this out that I realized that I have been viewing things through a very specific perspective, when there are many different perspectives. I must try to open up my mind to these different types of perspectives.

I thought today about how I view people as well. I think I have been made aware of the fact that I view people in terms of their ability to accomplish a task, rather than just viewing them as people in themselves. I feel as though I have been trained my whole life to view things in this perspective, where the accomplishment of the goal of the first priority, and peoples feelings and emotions are secondary to the goal. But now I think I understand that sometimes the task is not as important as the people and what happens in between them. The goal and the “achievement” are just abstract ideas that we put in our head so that we may have some sense of direction, but the method and manner in which the goal is completed is also important. The value of people cannot be measured solely in their ability to accomplish an arbitrary task, rather, everyone is of value and each and everybody is valuable in their own unique way.