This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s “This I Believe” with Linda Leinen

Linda moved to Houston in 1973 from Iowa. She was pursuing her career in medical social-work. She enjoyed that work and did it for many years…but knew there needed to be more. In the late 80’s, Linda was introduced to sailing and it literally changed her life. She fell in love with the water and charted a new career. Linda started a specialty company that refinishes and varnishes the woodwork on pleasure craft. She calls herself a “blue-collar laborer” and loves the work and can’t imagine doing anything else. Here’s Linda Leinen with her essay for KUHF’s This I Believe.


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For several years, Linda was a psycho-social worker in The University of Texas’ Department of Surgery. It was a desirable position with plenty of challenges and rewards and she enjoyed it greatly. However, she had a desire for something more. After she and a friend took a cruise from Hawaii to Alaska, Linda found a new interest. It was as if she discovered her “inner adventurer.” Following another pleasure cruise in Galveston Bay, she found her niche’. No more surgical gowns, no more pre-surgery interviews. Her new life would be defined by the sun and the sea. Linda took out a piece of paper and began writing possible jobs associated with sailing. She didn’t want to clean them. She didn’t want to build them. She really didn’t want to own them…she just wanted to be around them…and she then discovered that she could refinish and varnish all the woodwork on sailing vessels. She says it’s a 19th century job in a 21st century world. Linda says she truly found her place. She’s also found time to think and write and enjoy the details of life. All this defines a wonderful chapter in Linda’s life that continues to this day. She has a blog about her world and updates it regularly.

Linda took a writing class in the Clear Lake area that led to her essay for KUHF’s “This I Believe” which explores her basic philosophy of life…a defining lesson learned onboard a sailboat that now defines her life.
“In 1987, a friend invited me to help celebrate her 40th birthday aboard a catamaran on Galveston Bay. I wasn’t a sailor, but I accepted the invitation. Driving to Galveston, I never imagined I was cruising toward a new conviction that in difficult or challenging situations, the best questions always begin, “How can I?”

As we loosed our lines that hot August night, there was a freshening breeze. The sun touched the horizon…stars emerged and I felt a sudden impulse. I asked the captain, “Do you teach people to do this?” “No one’s ever asked.” he said. I asked again. He gazed into the darkness a moment before saying, “Fine. But you’re going to learn it all.”

He was true to his word. No one “learns it all”, but I learned enough to know the joy of competence, and the discipline of the sea. In bays and waterways, offshore swells, we practiced navigation and mended sails.

I learned my most important lesson the first day aboard when Tom asked me to remove the canvas cover from the mainsail. The boom was well above my head. Looking at it, I spoke the first words that came to mind: “I can’t reach it.” Bent over the anchor, Tom spoke and his tone was clear. “Never again will you say, ‘I can’t’. If I tell you to do something which seems difficult or impossible, ask, ‘How can I?’ The answer may be that you ask for help, or find someone else to do it, but that’s not where you start. The only way you’ll succeed is by asking, ‘How can I?'”

Over the months, there were difficulties to spare. Each time I hesitated, Tom would grin and say, “You know the rule.” When difficulties arise, the rule says: relinquish pessimistic “I can’t” for optimistic “How can I?” Then, begin again.

Over the years, Tom’s question convinced me of one thing. No matter how fearful the unknown, no matter how difficult life’s challenges, there always is a way forward.

Today, I believe the satisfaction and joy of discovering that way forward is grounded in the simplest of questions: ‘How can I?'”