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Guest Blog – Sarah Outen: "let’s raise a glass to not knowing which path to take, to exploring the options"

‘To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom’ – Gide

Sarah Outen is the youngest woman to row across any ocean. She is only the eighth woman to have rowed across an ocean solo. Of nine previous solo attempts to cross the Indian Ocean, only three have been successful, and all of those were made by men. She is the first woman to have rowed the Indian Ocean solo.
So I am chuffed that she has written this month’s guest blog post.

But first, here are her Guest Blogger stock questions:

– What expedition or journey has inspired you the most (apart from your own!)?
Ellen Macarthur’s success as a round the world yachtswoman back in my teenage years was a really powerful message that young women were out there leading the cavalry. All of the early exploration, both in the mountains, in the oceans, at the poles, in the deserts have also been really formative in my ideas and philosophies.

– What’s your favourite travel or adventure book?
Tricky question. The Kon Tiki is brilliant and was very apt for the ocean. Seven years in Tibet is fantastic in all senses of the word. So is Scott’s diaries, Cherry Garrard’s ‘Worst Journey in the world’…Shackleton’s ‘South’…’Into the void’… Nathanial Philbrick’s ‘The heart of the sea’ and Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ are also big favourites.

– What luxury item do you carry on your expeditions?
I had a few treats on my boat. A bottle of perfume (entirely necessary to spruce up spirit and cabin after a rubbish day!); a tin of peaches and a pair of socks, knitted by my Mum – they are called ‘happy socks’ and bring deep joy into the life of anyone who looks at them.

– What do you miss the most when you are away?
On the ocean I was really limited for fresh food, so I dreamed of fresh stuff. And I missed my dog – you can’t tell a dog that you’ll be home in six months!

– What advice do you have for someone contemplating an adventure of their own?
Stop dreaming and go for it! Take the first step and you’re on your way.

‘To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom’ – Gide

For me, the veritable Monsieur Gide hits the nail right on the head with this little gemlet of wisdom and here is why.

I consider myself free from most things and at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I graduated in 2007, have recently rowed across the Indian Ocean – the culmination of three years planning and prep – and now, without a fixed job, mortgage, family or any major responsibilities I am not entirely sure what to do next. I agree, Monsieur Gide, it is arduous to know what to do and where to go and how to get there.

Hmmm… which way ?
Sometimes this is an exciting question, sometimes it is ‘make-your-heartbeat-race’ scary and at others it is just a bit mind-boggling. There is a whole world out there, options aplenty and adventures all over the place, and I have ideas for journeys and expeditions as well, so I think these should be executed before I get sucked into the Real World too seriously. When I say Real World I mean sensible job, mortgage, marriage etc. It’s just a matter of figuring out quite what and how and why it should all happen, in what order and when. Easy, eh?!

From the outside looking in
There are those who say I should settle down and get a sensible job (this would likely be teaching – though I’m not sure if all teachers would agree that this ticks the ‘sensible’ box!); there are others who have already offered me various options; and there are those who have tried to mould me into something I am not. I have jumped at some, recoiled at others and generally muddled my way through the ideas and suggestions, not necessarily any the wiser as to which way I will point and shoot. There is one thing I have decided though – it has to feel right and it should not be careered into, charging headlong at something exciting just because it sounds fun. Then at least, I shall at least give the air of being a semi-responsible adult while also setting myself up not to regret any wrong turns later on.

The plan is to make a plan
I’m buying some time on this one. Having spent 124 days of this year out on the open ocean, living a very simple life and making some very special journeys, I am giving myself 124 days on land to figure out at least a working plan, or an ‘Exploratory Plan’ as my friend called it. (The capital letters make it all the more sensible, at least in my own head). Suddenly, my confused and bemused thoughts started shaping up into something I can deal with – letting the idea of not having a fixed goal grow into a comfortable resting place, where I can look at it from all angles and be happy with it, rather than shifting on my feet and looking a bit uncertain when asked the question, ‘So, what’s next?’. The fallout from having had a plan for so long, reaching the goal, and then being left with a completely blank canvas has been a bit tricky to fathom out and has taken some getting used to. I’m on Day 84 of Land Life, so another 40 days left to make the plan.

It’s OK to sit and wonder which way to go next
Of course, it will most likely be that I will get to Day 126 or 7 and 8, and still not be entirely sure of where I’m headed and that in a few years time, whatever I am doing, I may well be in another similar headspace. For one thing I have discovered during all my indecisive not-quite-sure-which-way-to-turn-next moments, is that many people still don’t know which way they’re headed next, even those with more wisened years to their name than my 24, and even those folks already established as a so-called Sensible in the Real World. How many readers are sitting nodding in agreement at the screens, recognising that this situation is theirs too? So, therefore, I have decided it’s OK to be a bit bemused by it and explore all the options of potential alternatives or new directions – it’s much better to take some time and make the right choice than to trot off down one path and realise that, had you looked a little closer, the other path might have been more rewarding or fulfilling. In fact, I would say that it is a real opportunity, rather than a scary monster – a time to really reflect and explore and be happy with the next phase of whatever that may be.

So, let’s raise a glass to not knowing which path to take, to exploring the options, and to freestyling for a bit until serendipity deals an open invite towards the right idea.

For me, I know that when it arrives, or emerges out of my post-ocean thoughts, and most importantly that it feels right, then it will be the time to welcome it with open arms and get ready for the next chapter, whatever and wherever that may be.

Not necessarily easy waiting for it to hatch, but it is certainly pretty exciting – an adventure in itself, perhaps?


Tales of the ocean are being shared far and wide and Sarah is available for talks. Visit her website for more info:

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  1. Nice one Sarah… an incredible achievement and a great quote from Gide. Good luck with making the next plan – looking forward to hearing what it is.

  2. Well done Sarah, stellar achievement! I was one of those sitting reading the screen and nodding-and I have an “Exploratory Plan” in place. Here’s to not really knowing…



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