Smashing Eggs and Sailing Boats
By Hannah Tjoflat, Youth Frontiers Retreat Director
This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel across the world and live in Norway for a couple months. While there, I experienced its unbelievable landscape and natural resources: fjords, feet and feet of snow, waterfalls, rolling hills scattered with fluffy sheep, clear blue water and whales… real, live whales!
I also competed in the sixth season of the Norwegian reality TV show, “Alt for Norge” (Everything for Norway).
On the show, 12 Norwegian-Americans who have never set foot on the “Motherland” learn about their Norwegian roots while competing in team and individual competitions. (For example, for one challenge, we had to race 1960s tractors with spoons attached holding fresh eggs. Every egg that fell off was a 30-second penalty. You know – normal stuff.)
Each week, someone went home based on the individual competition that loomed on the last day of filming. (To clear the air, I didn’t win, but I did take second place.) While we were there, we were not allowed to be in contact with anyone from home – not our family, friends, significant others or coworkers. Each of us was “cut off” and thrown into the world of reality TV, our focus solely on trying to stay on the show another week longer.
I am very aware of the bizarre nature of a trip like this. It was not something I was searching for, it wasn’t in the plan and when I mention it, I usually have to repeat myself a handful of times for people to understand I’m telling the truth.
Now, I could tell you about my adventures – the challenges we had, the places we visited, the people I met, the weird food I ate. But as I reflect on my time, what continues to stand out to me is this: for two months I figured out how it felt to be “Hannah without a phone, Hannah without her community around her, Hannah taken out of her everyday context, Hannah putting her trust into a group of people whom she’d only known a day.” Ultimately, I had to let go, trust and dig into more of who I am most authentically.
On our Respect Retreats with ninth and 10th graders, we talk about respect as taking another look at how we see ourselves and the people around us. While I was on this show, I felt like my eyes were opened up, they were dusted off and my vision was clearer than ever.
Two things I saw very clearly along this journey happened while smashing eggs and sailing boats.
1. We love to look like we know what we’re doing. I think we all enjoy the feeling of knowing we will be awesome at something right away. On the show, I was NOT awesome at a lot of things. I realized I needed help and there were plenty of times when I literally fell on my face (skiing isn’t my strong suit) and had to get up and try again. During the final competition which decided if I would win the show or not, I felt this pressure in a big way. It was a tough competition, which combined everything we had learned over the past 10 weeks. There were six phases to the competition. One phase required you to smash an egg on your head and if it was hard boiled it was correct and if not… well, you get it. It was timed and I competed alone, alongside cameramen, sound guys, assistants, directors, producers and photographers watching my every move. In this context, I had two choices: 1. Worry about how I looked and give up when it got tough OR 2. Try really hard and give it my all, while possibly looking like an idiot.
I chose option two. And though, in the end, it was my final day on the show, I remember feeling thankful that it hurt so much to lose because it meant I was fully invested and present. I was in… egg yolk and all.
2. We are more capable than we know. In episode seven, we had the chance to sail on a ship called the Mohawk II. If I’m remembering my facts, it was built in the early 1900s for royalty and is now run by a wonderful group of sailors who take students out on week-long sailing trips. Mohawk II was our home for a week. I didn’t know anything about sailing, but the moment we stepped onto the ship we were expected to do our part. “Grab that rope and pull!” someone yelled. So I did. I pulled and pulled. The next few days my hands went from bleeding to calloused, I learned to sleep in the bowels of the boat, I made dinner in a tiny kitchen with a crew member while we rocked back and forth, I gained my sea legs and I didn’t fall off the boat. There is something so powerful in being taken out of your “normal” and thrown into someone else’s – not just to observe but to learn. That week, I felt more powerful and capable than I had in a long time.
Coming back to Minneapolis has been a really great transition. Being connected with my people again and back in the rhythm of “real life” feels wonderful. I sense a shift in me. I have a greater awareness of my need for help and encouragement. I understand that for things to be great, we must try (and sometimes fail) greatly. I can’t say I’ve mastered this in any way – old habits die hard.
But often I’m reminded of the open sea, the moonlit waves at 2 a.m., how hard I slept after hours of work on the deck, how proud of myself I felt when I finally tied the correct knot to dock the boat. I think if we could see ourselves in this light more often, as brave and able, then maybe we could start facing those things we know we want but have been too afraid to pursue.
You are braver than you think, you are stronger than you know and egg yolk is super easy to wash off.