When You Make the Choice

How do you really, really, really want to spend your time? For sure, you don’t have a lot of options some days, because you may be responding to others’ needs, fulfilling on commitments, or earning the next paycheck—all things you probably do willingly as a responsible family member, friend, and fellow human being. But what about the other things you do; how did you choose them?

Consider these three scenarios, which can occur in either a job or a volunteer setting:
1) We take on a new role without a lot of consideration. Maybe there’s nobody else available at the time;
2) Even though we’re not excited about a task, we agree to do it because it’s easier saying yes than figuring out how to say no;
3) We say yes enthusiastically to a request, knowing we have a contribution to make and that we’ll find the work rewarding.  

Each of the above happen to people every day. And #1 and #2 probably happen more often than #3. What’s the cost to us? Well, besides getting bogged down in less-than-exciting work, we crowd out opportunities that fall in the #3 category, opportunities to do what truly expresses who we are and what we care most about.

Last summer, I said yes to a pro-bono project for the Herreshoff Marine Museum’s 50th anniversary that grew into a exploration of a slice of sailing history where I learned to sail—Fishers Island, New York. I interviewed older sailors about their recollections and the sailing adventures they had heard their parents and grandparents describe. I spent a number of hours in the archives of the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol and at Fishers Island’s Ferguson Museum. I explored the internet and reread John Rousmaniere’s book, Sailing at Fishers.

The more I learned, the more nuanced the story became, which made it richer, but that much harder to be sure I was getting it right. Fortunately, I had a hard deadline for Windcheck magazine, so I pushed through the anxiety and completed the project for the September issue.

Youth sailors singlehanding wooden Fishers Island Bullseyes (a.k.a Herreshoff 12 1/2) circa 1940. Photo courtesy Henry L. Ferguson Museum, Fishers Island, N.Y.

Despite the time this volunteer project carved out of the middle of my summer, I’m glad I did the research and wrote the story. Beyond any value the story had to others, it landed me in a world of discovery—wonderful museums and nostalgic phone conversations. Each moment was a chance to find and connect the dots among the sailors of today and those of previous generations.

What made this project extra special is that I made a conscious and whole-hearted choice to take it on rather than drifting into it. I also wrote “Bullseyes, FIS 31s and H-23s: the Herreshoff Legacy Lives On” for myself—knowing it wouldn’t be for everybody. As a result, when someone has thanked me for the story, I can simply say, “You’re welcome! I enjoyed it too!”

Doing something for yourself may seem out of place in the holiday season of giving to others, but making your own choice and giving it your best effort fits into every season.

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