Step into the Abyss

Pip Hare of Pip Hare Racing | Image Courtesy of Pip Hare Racing
BY GAYLE JO CARTER 28 October 2019

In 2020, British solo skipper Pip Hare will strike out alone to compete in the Vendee Globe Campaign, the world’s toughest yacht race. Fewer than 100 people have ever managed to sail non-stop, solo and unassisted around the globe. Of those 100 or so sailors, fewer than 10 have been women.

In the midst of her final year of training and fundraising, we caught up with Hare, who will be a speaker at Aspire’s Trailblazing Leadership Conference, Dec. 12 and 13 in London, to find out how she got here and how we can all find that confidence to live out our dreams.

Q. You said in an earlier interview that you have wanted to do this race your entire life but lacked the confidence to put yourself forward as a solo ocean racer prior. What changed to give you that confidence?

It was finally realising that it all had to come from me and there was no point in waiting for somebody to open a door for me or give me permission to take the first step or give me a break. It had to do with my age and looking around at what I’ve got in my life. I  suddenly realised that actually,  I have got everything I need to make the first step. I had such a terrible lack of confidence to promote myself that actually no one else was going to believe in me because I didn’t project in a way that would allow that to happen.

Q. What is the first step in embarking on something so challenging?

You can aspire for the first step to be this fantastic, amazing thing and the right step but actually the first step should be what you’re physically capable of doing in that moment. I realised I actually had a boat I lived on and there were races out there I could do. So my first step was just to take a deep breath and just force myself into giving it a go.

Q. It was like stepping off into the Abyss?

It completely was. It’s a really difficult thing but deep down I always, always, always knew that I did have the right skills and I knew it was the right thing. It’s just that I was absolutely terrified that I might be wrong. The only way I was ever going to find out is by doing it. Since taking that first step, I’ve developed a strategy that has enabled me to keep going and going. The first step is always proving to myself.

Q.  How can others grow their own confidence – prove to themselves as you say –  to embark on their own dreams?

    1. Give yourself time and space and the permission to try things. I do it without fanfare. I often do it in complete privacy. I don’t need validation from anyone else. It’s just about me. Then once I’ve proved to myself that I am right then my next step is going out and being seen. I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes not giving myself the space that I need to really feel strong and prepared. 
    2. Go out and be seen doing it. Then my next step is going out and being seen and letting other people know this is what I’m doing. This is the race I’m participating in. By first of all proving to myself I can do it, that then gives me the confidence to stand up in front of other people and tell them what my intentions are.  
    3. Build your confidence, like you would build your physical strength. Particularly in this society that’s rapidly developing around us, people expect instant results, they expect things to happen tomorrow. It’s all about quick fixes. Now I see confidence exactly in the same way that I see actual physical strength. You need to build physical strength in quite a strategic way. You need to have a good programme, you need to give yourself time to push, time to rest. You don’t push too hard in some aspects of training because you might injure yourself. Building confidence is exactly the same thing. If you want to build a really secure long term confidence, then you need to lock yourself into a long term programme of building that in gentle steps. By doing that you’re going to make sure, to extend the metaphor, that you don’t injure yourself along the way by jumping too fast, too soon and by also giving yourself time to recover in between missions.
    4. Know what you’re good at and exploit that. I think people naturally expect me to be someone that I’m not. I have a huge amount of confidence when I’m at sea. You have to have a huge amount of confidence, right? I’m in command of a 60 foot boat that goes at 40 mph on my own in the middle of an ocean. Of course, I’ve got confidence, but that confidence is built on a lifetime of miles and miles and miles at sea; of problem solving; of going through terrible situations; of coming out the other side; of training; of incrementally building my experience. So, in the middle of the ocean, I feel like I have the right to feel that confident. If you take me away from that situation and then, for example, put me in a room full of people and expect me to talk about something I don’t know a lot about, I’m not confident. I would actually struggle to say a word because I don’t feel I have the background or the right to be there, to have an opinion on things. I think sometimes people naturally expect you to take this level of expertise and confidence and scatter it liberally all over life. That’s not how it works.

Pip Hare of Pip Hare Racing | Image Courtesy of Pip Hare Racing

Q.  How do you not give up when the going gets tough?

I always need to know why I’m doing it. It comes enormously into everything I need to do. I need to be in it for the right reasons. If I’m met with a challenge and the end objective is really clear to me then the challenge gets absorbed by everything else around it and it’s just a moment in time. You break it down into tiny, tiny, tiny little pieces and you hack away at each tiny bit, one bit at a time but you always know why you’re there and why you’re doing it. If it’s the middle of the night and I’m in the middle of the ocean and I’m trying to fix something in the dark; I’m really tired; my fingers don’t work, but I never even consider not moving forward because if I don’t fix it then I’m not going to finish my race. 

I’ve found I’m needing to employ the same mindset for the challenges around building my current campaign because at the moment I’m having to go into boardrooms and pitch, which is something I hate doing. I’m being taken into all these environments where naturally I would run a mile from them but this for me now is part of the race. This is my middle-of-the night moment. With each new challenge, I’m literally doing exactly the same thing I’m breaking it down and understanding which bits I can do. I’m being very focused on the fact that I need to get through it. It’s not necessarily focusing on the challenge itself but it’s focusing on what’s on the other side of it. 

I’ve done a load of endurance running as well and I read a book about the psychology of running up hills actually. One of the key things from that was that you don’t ever run up the hill, you run over the hill. It’s very important that you are very thoroughly completely locked into what’s on the other side of that hill  because otherwise the danger is you stop just short of the top because you’re so focused on only running up it that actually if you run over it, then the hill actually decreases in size because there’s something on the other side.

Q. Eyes on the prize?


Q. What is your advice for women who want to do something extraordinary with their life and career?  How do they start?

    1. Step back and take a look at where you are. From there, think about one thing that you can do. From that one thing, what’s the next thing? Don’t assume that you have to deliver the whole package in one go. There are elements that you can do; elements you can learn to do.
    2. Give yourself time. Don’t assume you have to deliver the package in a time frame. One of the amazing things about human beings is that we can and we will carry on to improving ourselves in our entire lifetime. It’s just that what you do changes. I don’t ever believe I’m going to ever stop wanting to know more; to be better; to find out what I as a person can do. We need to – and it’s a nice thing to do – to give ourselves time to train, to learn new things, to get better at things.
    3. Find a safe space. It’s important to find an environment where you feel safe learning new things.  For me, that environment is entirely in isolation, on my own, where I can practice and practice and practice and make mistakes on my own. Then when I feel I’m ready, I line up with other people. But for someone else, that might be finding a group or a mentor or somebody who will give them that permission to develop, to learn and allow them to feel safe while they’re doing it.  Women, particularly, we are very worried about making mistakes. I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes not giving myself the space I need to really feel strong and prepared.
    4. Be authentic. 100%: Fundraising for me has been a massive learning experience because I started out saying the things I thought people were expecting me to say. It felt terrible and it came across badly because in order for me to present I, 100% have to believe and be passionate about what I’m saying. So I did some work with a communication coach and he basically enabled me to find the things I can genuinely communicate well about, to use those tools to get across my key messages. Essentially when I’m in the boardroom,  I’m always talking about the things I’m most passionate about which is my sailing and my competition. Then I use that as a tool to talk about other things. You have to be 100% authentic.
    5. Play the long game. There’s nothing wrong with baby steps. If there’s something that you’re really driven to do then don’t hold yourself back on it. I also think there has to be a practical model. I don’t subscribe to the ‘anyone can do anything’ model. There are some limitations around what we as people can do. You have to have aptitude for some things. I do believe you can learn things though. There are many things you can learn and you can develop aptitude for but don’t expect it to be there in the first place. I don’t think It’s ever too late to start on a journey. You don’t know where that further step is going to take you. It might not take you where you thought you were going to go. The worst thing is not allowing yourself to take a step in any direction.

"One of the amazing things about human beings is that we can and we will carry on to improving ourselves in our entire lifetime. It’s just that what you do changes. I don’t ever believe I’m going to ever stop wanting to know more; to be better; to find out what I as a person can do. We need to - and it’s a nice thing to do - to give ourselves time to train, to learn new things, to get better at things"

Q. Have there been challenges in reaching your goals because you are a woman?

Definitely, a lack of support. What I’ve been doing for the last 10 years has been entirely alone, without support. There has been a kind of support network in the U.K. for the sailors who want to do what I’m doing but almost exclusively that support has been for young men. I am 45 years old and started doing this when I was 35. I don’t think anybody really looks at a woman in her 40s and looks at her as an elite endurance athlete especially not somebody just coming into it.  Although nobody has been overly negative to my face, I pretty quickly learned there just hasn’t been support. 

In a way that has been quite empowering. It made me really focus. It would have been so easy to give up and nobody would have blamed me because I am seriously doing this against the odds. Yet this is something I have wanted to do my whole life and now have given myself the genuine opportunity to try. Now I genuinely believe I am really good at it. For me to say that, it doesn’t come lightly. I now realise I have to back myself to make this work. Every single step of the way, I have made happen. Now what is happening, in my 10th year, and with the Vendee on the horizon, I am starting to get quite a bit – still not support from conventional sources – more support now because  people are really latching onto that story. I’m running my programme with volunteers, other competitors have staff. It’s hard work. It’s really amazing people that believe in what I’m doing enough to give up their time to come help me it’s humbling.

Q. In these 10 years, where did you find support/advice to go on? 

Initially, I figured it out myself because I felt stupid talking about my ambition to anyone. I figured everything else myself and then I did reach a bit of a pause in about 2015 and that was when actually, I attended the Aspire conference in London. On the first day we had to sit down in groups and answer a load of questions about why we were there and what we were hoping to gain from it. That was definitely a pivotal moment that got me moving again because I was definitely suffering from inertia.  Being a part of that conference and really being forced to think about what it was that I really wanted to achieve was one part of it. 

At that Aspire conference there was a person who absolutely blew me away: Linda Cruse. She was talking about her relief work but her point was just do something. Don’t wait for someone to tell you the right way to do something; don’t believe that you’ve got nothing to add. Just get on a plane and do something. That is so obvious yet so powerful. You always think you need permission but it’s actually the only person you need permission from is yourself.

Q. Are you ready? 

I’ve got a year to go. I need that year without a doubt. I am really looking forward to it. It’s actually hard to describe just how I dreamed of this as a kid. It was a dream and now it’s real. It’s a big thing to come to terms with. I absolutely cannot wait. It’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be terrifying. It’s a huge mix of emotions but without a doubt it’s going to be the greatest thing I have ever achieved in my life.

Q. After that, you’ll be done or will you find something else to do?

Oh no, there will be something else. I’m never done, ever.


 *Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

Pip Hare of Pip Hare Racing | Image Courtesy of Pip Hare Racing


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