Interview with Keynote Speaker Laura Dekker

14.08.2019 | Agnes Uhereczky

Laura Dekker
Source: Laura Dekker

A 14-year-old girl set sail on the 21st of August 2010 from Gibraltar to attempt the world record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe on her own. After 518 days, Laura Dekker completed her Maiden trip when she was 16, and in September she will share her experience and the life lessons she learnt during the trip with the audience of Zukunft Personal Europe in Cologne.
Laura joined the WorkLife HUB podcast to talk about her life now, her plans for the future, and most importantly, what we all can learn from her about life, authenticity and courage. Laura wrote her account of the trip in her book “One Girl One Dream” and the trip is also the subject of the award-winning documentary “Maiden Trip”. She is now a professional captain and motivational speaker. She will be delivering her keynote presentation on 19 September, 1.00 pm, at the Startup Stage.

Listen to the podcast conversation to get an insight into Laura’s journey and experience and a foretaste of her talk, and read here a few excerpts from our conversation with Laura, edited for length and clarity.

Interview with Laura Dekker, motivational speaker, author, world traveller, professional skipper

1) It is an absolute privilege to have you on the podcast, Laura. May I ask you to tell listeners a little bit about where you are now in your life and what are your current projects?

After the world voyage I continued sailing to New Zealand and made that my home. I did a lot of various things like presentations and travelling, after which I slowly came to realize how much I have learned from that trip. It gave me possibilities to do things that other kids at my age weren’t able to do because they hadn’t had these experiences yet. I worked with some schools in New Zealand as well, after which I decided that I’d like to teach life lessons. I realized that the boat is such a perfect place to learn because it draws you into situations very quickly, that you probably don’t get into on land. These can be really hard moments where you have to just fight through. It is not always fun. There are a lot of moments when you think “why did I want to do this”. On the other hand, you come out stronger and have learnt so much about yourself and strengths and limits, that I think are really valuable things to know especially at a young age because knowing those limits gives you a lot of options

"I realized that the boat is such a perfect place to learn because it draws you into situations very quickly, that you probably don’t get into on land. These can be really hard moments where you have to just fight through."

2) Were there moments in your trip when you were near giving up or thinking of packing in?

I never seriously thought about giving up. There were moments when I just thought “why am I here, why can’t I be sitting at home on the couch?”. It is not always fun. Coming through these difficulties make you realize that there were great experiences and it’s often the hard moments that you remember the most. By now I have gone through so many of them, that when something similar happens, I can remind myself of those experiences. I could tell myself that this is only temporarily and in a few days it will pass and in the end, actually, you will be happy it happened with you. But of course, the first times on the trip when that happened I thought: “This is hard, I don’t like this”.

3) What were such moments? What were some of the moments when you needed to dig deeper to power through?

I found no wind periods very frustrating because you don’t go anywhere. In these times the sails are flapping and stuff is breaking on the boat. I couldn’t do anything about it except trying to keep everything on the boat in one piece and get through it. Especially long windless periods were hard to get through. Also, moments can be difficult when something breaks on the boat and you have to be out there on the front deck while it is the middle of the night and it rains and blows a lot. Those are moments when you think you don’t want to do this. But when you are back in the cockpit after fixing the problem, then, that is a really good feeling.

4) What were some of the moments when you felt really happy? What were some of the positive feelings that you have experienced and what were they triggered by?

I have to say this trip was like a rollercoaster of extreme emotions and to every side. Going from a super happy state and complete fulfilment to challenging moments, which, I think, made it so special because it pushes your boundaries to every edge and you get to know yourself so well and so intimately. I loved leaving the land. It was like starting a trip which was always exciting even though it was also often sad because I was leaving friends that I made, or leaving a very nice place or island. Arriving was also super exciting. When I first saw land after a long time I just started jumping around the boat happily.
But then there are also single moments at sea, for instance, when dolphins jump around the boat. Or, on nights when there were no winds at all the night’s sky is beautiful at sea. There is no light pollution on the ocean so you can see so many stars. Because there was no wind the see was like the perfect mirror and all those stars were just reflected in the ocean. I felt like floating through the sky with stars everywhere. Those things are so amazing that I tried to describe but it’s hard to give over the feeling the moment gave you. So few people get to experience those things. I did realize this when I was on my trip. These things are really special and I could enjoy them and be happy with them and take them in. Something my dad always accused me of is that I didn’t take a lot of photos or film. I am the person who just wants to take special moments in right at the place and I feel that taking a photo or filming is taking me away from the experience. Now, I think, yeah, maybe I should have, but because of it, I do have it clear in my mind when I was just at that moment. So in my head, it’s all there.

"I am the person who just wants to take special moments in right at the place and I feel that taking a photo or filming is taking me away from the experience."

5) When I am in a place that I find very beautiful I instantly want to share it with somebody. How was that for you? You had these wonderful but also the difficult moments. Were you able to phone somebody? Or was that something that you feel developed as a skill not having to rely on other people in those moments but experience it personally?

I do think that this is something that changes over time and probably this is different to everybody. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to contact anybody. I did have a satellite phone but it was only for an emergency so I wasn’t gonna call my dad and say “wow, I have been to a beautiful place”. He would be very angry because it would have been a very expensive statement. Very definitely there were moments when I thought that I wanted to channel it to somebody or tell it. So I wrote down a lot. I expressed most of those experiences in my blog, sharing what I saw, and what I felt. So that way I felt I could share it with the world and with my family and friends. But on the other hand, I also did find it pretty special to experience it on my own, because I do think you experience it very differently in some magical way. Yes, you are right, it has two sides as you would like to share these experiences with somebody but on the other hand, it was magical to see it on my own.

6) What were some of these skills that you feel you learnt and developed during these trips that you now find in retrospect great tools that you have and share with others?

I think the most important thing for anyone is to know yourselves, your boundaries and limits and how far you can push yourself. Something that I think most people have is that they don’t know how much they are capable of doing. They often think that they are not able to do that, or this is too hard or they shouldn’t do that, so they decide to not to do it. On this trip, I was pushed to my limits often, but coping with these situations made me realize that I am capable of doing this because I had to do it, I did not have any other choice. But I came out thinking: “I am capable of doing that so what else I am capable of doing”. It helped a lot to build up my self-confidence and just knowing where my limits are. This is a really important thing. But it also opened my eyes to the rest of the world.

Of course, I have travelled along with my parents but I was really little. All I had seen when I left was Europe and Holland and the Western mentality of living where a lot of things revolve around money. Going out to islands where there was just nothing but fruit trees and little huts – and where locals live so differently, and they are happy in their way – was eye-opening. It made me realize that happiness does not come from cluttering things or having a lot of stuff, it is something that is within yourself. It also made me see that it’s okay to be me. If you always grow up in living in one place you automatically start to act and behave like everybody else around you because that’s the norm. When you travel you see different ways of life and suddenly you can just be you and that is very important.

"I think the most important thing for anyone is to know yourselves, your boundaries and limits and how far you can push yourself. Something that I think most people have is that they don’t know how much they are capable of doing."

7) If I understand correctly your ambition is now to work with young people to take them on sailing trips and support them through sharing your experiences

Exactly. At the moment we are fundraising to build a ship and on that ship, we want to take out youth and take them on trips and teach them life skills that are not taught in school. There is a lot of fairies and sitting inside boxes in schools, which I do think – in a certain way – we need, at the same time I consider that there is not a lot of room for self-development, and seeing who are you really, and that’s the part that I wish to teach and give.

8) One question that I had when I watched your documentary and also preparing for this podcast is that you had this goal that you wanted to do the solo circumnavigation and be the youngest person to do this and prove yourself and your parents that you can do it, but many people have smaller life goals or goals that they reach later in life. It is only a handful of people we know of who can fulfil these big hairy goals in life. How was it then for you after you have completed it. Did you feel kind of a whiplash that now you have done it what’s next and how easy was it to build up a new goal?

Not really, because I feel I just kept going even afterwards. In some ways, it gave me energy and encouragement. I have so many ideas and dreams I could not possibly do them at all. So I needed to sit down and try to focus on just a few things and do those. I rather felt that this trip was the building blocks that I needed to start my life.

About Laura Dekker

Laura Dekker

In 2010, Laura Dekker set out to sail around the world – on her own. At the age of 16 she became the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe alone. In her keynote Laura Dekker talks about the obstacles she had to overcome during and what she is doing with that now.