• Nomadic Paddler

Control the Controllable with Sarah Davis

Updated: May 24, 2020

Whilst doing some research for up and coming adventures I have planned, I happened to cross paths with the inspirational Sarah Davis and I wanted to take the opportunity to ask Sarah some questions about life and obstacles.

Sarah Davis is an adventurer, risk manager, writer and speaker. After decades in risk management in banking she quit work to become the first woman to lead an expedition down the mighty Nile river.

It was an adventure that took two years to plan and then involved 1,100km of rafting and 3,000km of kayaking bringing Sarah challenges on every level. It included being attacked by a hippo, being arrested and detained in Burundi, travelling through a country on the verge of civil war and much more.

She then completed a descent of the Murray River, including over 2,400km of kayaking solo.

IG @sarahpaddles

What does being free and truly living mean to you?

There are so many elements that make up being free and truly living to me.

Here are some:

· Living an adventurous life where I get to travel, explore and on the way challenge and test myself

· Not listening to inner mutterings of self-doubt, not letting fear stop me and getting out of my own way

· Having my health and a body that enables me to do the things I love and that bring me joy

· Challenging myself in the outdoors – whether it’s through sport, adventure or travel

· Being kind to myself – accepting what I can change and accepting what I can’t – accepting my flaws – forgiving my mistakes and learning from them

· Being able to live life on my terms

· Having the space to grow, following my curiosity and seeing what I’m capable of

· Having a future that excites me

What’s the biggest challenge you have ever had to overcome in life?

To break free of societal expectations, to stop conforming and to live a life that’s true to me. I was brought up to follow the well-trodden path – study, get a job, work hard, get married, have kids, because that’s what my family knew and that’s all I’d seen. The thought of that life, having a family, made me feel claustrophobic. It wasn’t for me, but I found extracting myself hard and it’s taking a long time!

How did you overcome this?

In a nutshell, listening to the voice inside saying, ‘this isn’t it’, refusing to settle and wanting a future that excites me. I let myself be driven by a mix of curiosity and listening to that inner voice and believing good enough, wasn’t good enough.

I tried different things – moving, new careers and more. It’s just hard to be what you can’t see. When I saw a couple of ‘ordinary’ people who gone on expeditions and done firsts it fired something in me – it was a visceral response – that’s what I wanted to do. Up until then I’d read books and what docos about adventurers and explorers. It just never occurred to me it was something I could do. These people didn’t just spark my imagination, they made me realise it was something I could do.

So I did some research and came up with the idea I was going to complete an expedition down the Nile. I realised this was a temporary break from the norm, but I knew it had the potential to open my mind to new possibilities and for new opportunities to come up.

That first expedition made me come alive in a way I never had before. Now I’ve been on another expedition down the Murray River here in Australia and have other adventures in the pipeline. I’ve still got one foot in my old life, but I know where I want to go and I’m making my where there.

How do you prepare for life, do you have your own personal quiver of skills that you use?

Big question! My top five are:

1. HAVING GOALS – that’s everything from the goals for the day through to bigger goals like expeditions, career changes, races to train for and everything in between. They make me tick. Without goals I feel directionless, like I’m treading water – I like the feeling of working towards something and it gives me purpose and gives my life meaning.

2. PLANNING – planning the path to what I’m working towards. I love building project plans – taking those goals and breaking them down into bite size chunks and working through them. A goal without a plan will remain a dream.

3. FLEXIBILITY – plans are great, but it’s important to not be too rigid particularly when working towards bigger goals. It’s never a straight line there and what you think is the right way, isn’t always it. It’s also a dance between making and letting it happen. Life never goes to plan, they’ll always be curve balls, roll with it.

4. MANAGE RISK – I’m a risk manager more than I am a project planner. Working out worst case, knowing what I’m getting myself into, how to reduce the risk where necessary and having plans for worst case. Sometime this is a formal process, sometimes it’s informal in the same way we take care crossing a road.

5. GRATITUDE – putting my focus on all I have, the people in my life, the great things each day brings. It helps me stay positivity and deal with challenging times.

How do you deal with adversity?

Depends on the situation. Again, my top five are:

1. I go to my mantra of control the controllables – accept the situation and focus on what is in my control, pull together all the options

2. Having a group of close friends to turn to for support, though I’m not always great at reaching out

3. Try to find humour in the situation and keep a positive mindset

4. Back myself by focusing on my capabilities and looking at what I have dealt with in the past to give me the confidence to keep moving on

5. Break things down – unpack the problem or the situation that may seem overwhelming to work out the actions that needs to be taken. And keep those actions small and achievable.

What inspires you?

Seeing people achieve things they never thought possible, pushing their limits, being scared and doing it anyway.

What would you say to others wanting to step into the unknown to take on their own personal adventures?


You may not know how and have all the answers, but if it’s something you really want, you’ll work out how.

Do you have a favourite quote you could please share that keeps you going through the tough times?

CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES It’s one of my mantras. It’s easy to stress and focus on things out of our control. It wastes valuable time and energy. Instead I try to focus on what I can control – how I respond and how I act.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, is there any last words of wisdom you would like to share with the Nomadic Paddler community?

My message is to keep searching for what it is that makes you come alive, listen to the voice inside and don’t settle.

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