Tango Lessons from an Icelandic Tugboat Captain

Have you ever met a stranger who spoke your truth to you right when you needed to hear it the most?

As so many of my stories start, a girl walked into a bar.


In Iceland.

I was in the country to celebrate my 35th birthday. Iceland had been my dream destination for years, and, after exploring Canada for my last five birthdays, it was time to go beyond the Great White North into the Land of Fire and Ice.

As usual, I was traveling alone. I find it much more fun to meet people during my travels, rather than bring them with me.

And, in this bar, I met Peter, an Icelandic tugboat captain.

He tried to teach me to tango, but what he actually taught me was even more important.

After he approached me and we started talking, he asked that standard get to know you question, “what do you do?” When I replied that I was working for a travel startup, his follow-up question was unexpected. “Is it your dream job?”

And I immediately had clarity that the answer was no. I wanted it to be, since I had left what used to be my dream job as a videographer for the Chicago Bulls to move on to a new adventure and chase new dreams, but I had to face the fact that where I was now was not where I wanted to be.

But that was okay.

Peter told me how much he loved his job as a tugboat captain, and insisted on the importance of finding my own dream job. Now that I could acknowledge that I wasn’t actually in my dream job, I was free to redefine my dream.

And the key was that I had to go after my dream. Peter made it very clear that he believed in being kind – and the whole crew on his boat loved him – but he didn’t do things to please other people. The pursuit of kindness should guide you in life, but you shouldn’t make choices based on what other people want you to be.

Peter also shared how being friendly and open to new and unplanned experiences can lead to amazing adventures. This I already knew to be true – that’s why I was exploring Iceland alone and how I ended up talking to Peter at the bar, after all.

Then Peter declared that I needed to learn how to tango. He tried to teach me right there, and though there wasn’t space to actually give dance lessons, he did share that the key to the tango is confidence – something that I definitely needed a lesson in.

Soon after my return from Iceland, I discovered climbing, and I’m pretty sure that is my version of the tango. I have never been a person who feels graceful in movement, but climbing is slowly starting to change that. When I’m on the wall or rock, I have moments where I move fluidly – and I have even been told a few times that I look like a dancer. While I feel like I spend most of my time struggling up routes and problems, I love the fleeting feeling of gracefulness, and I hope that as I continue to climb, I will be able to turn climbing into a dance.

Finally, as the night was ending, Peter thanked me for being me. And that is what stuck with me the most.

I have been trying for years now to really make my life congruent with what is important to me, and this felt like a guidepost to keep going down this path. Being me brought me to Iceland and into that bar, where Peter reminded me who I am and what I believe life is all about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *