Learning to Say “I Don’t Know”

Lessons from a boat that serve us in the workplace

Piper Hendricks
7 min readMay 15


I really should give engineers more credit. One of my brothers — a talented engineer — jokes about how cameras are always off in his telepresence team meetings (do non-engineers use the word “telepresence?”) and that you know an engineer is an extrovert if they look at your shoes when talking to you instead of their own. So it was I’ve assumed those in the profession pick up emotional cues as well as a hippopotamus can pick up a vase of flowers.

Yet among everyone in the tight-knit retirement community drenched with sunshine and small dogs where I housesat for more than a month last year, it was a former engineer who picked up on the fact that a 40-something extrovert would benefit from more human interaction than four walks a day with two darling pupsters around the friendly neighborhood would yield.

An image the author took onboard the boat. The front of the boat is visible, with a lot of ropes and wires and, um, maybe those are called riggings?
All photos by author. I snapped this one before we headed out. Don’t ask me to name anything beyond “boat, sky, and water.”

And so it came to be during a 2022 housesit that I found myself going sailing one beautiful Friday after work. Sailing! I’d not been on a boat in ages and looked forward to the adventure all day. With images of us peacefully bobbing along the Atlantic coast, I changed out of my work-from-home uniform of professional-on-top-but-yoga-pants-with-pockets-for-empty-poop-bags-on-bottom and into something presentable — and dare I say casually elegant? — from head-to-toe. I reapplied sunscreen and determined what snacks I’d bring to share with the group.

As the owner of the vessel, the engineer and I drove out to the dock a bit earlier than others who would join us. A strong breeze carried the smell of the ocean into the marina as I gingerly stepped from sturdy wooden planks onto the bright flooring of the boat. Holding on for balance with one hand, I began to remove sun-bleached covers from metal knobs and toss them into the galley below as the rest of the group — um, did someone say “crew?” — trickled in.

Each arrival was undoubtedly friendly, even as I sensed some reticence in our initial conversations. Feeling overdressed was my first clue; my flowy top stood in contrast to their well-worn t-shirts and the wardrobe versatility of my slip-on shoes couldn’t complete with the functional versatility of rubber-soled tennis shoes…



Piper Hendricks

Stubborn Optimist. Pondering Nomad. Not-yet-recovered Workaholic, but working hard on that. I write about advocacy, balance, words, being real, and being human.