You are supposed to start with ‘why’

I should have started writing this post 4 months ago when I was trying to figure it out for myself. Now that I’m 3 weeks into this, the question is no longer “why”, but “why not”?

Why exactly did I go from a successful career at an engineering firm to sitting on a sailboat ‪at 1 am riding 4 ft swells on my way to Cabo San Lucas?

This is why.

For years my husband told stories about his time sailing in the Bahamas, the epic camps and one fateful offshore race to Half Moon Bay when he was still too young to drive. Many a road trip he would fantasize what it would be like to one day set sail. It was always elusive. Last year, when he reignited the “wouldn’t it be nice if” conversation, I stopped to wonder, “why not now”? By the time retirement age rolled around, life would be significantly different. The life of a sailor can be rewarding, but is not the most physically comfortable; what if at age 65 I refused a life without a Tempurpedic? I don’t know who we’ll be then, but I know who we are now. If my expat assignment in the Amazons taught me anything, is that I can sleep anywhere and survive on rations of boiled chicken and yucca for a month at a time. Heck, I could sleep at a bench in a train station in India in the name of adventure. My husband wanted to fulfill his dream to sail, and I was itching for an epic adventure. Suddenly pulling this off didn’t seem so far-fetched. So, I nudged him to reconsider the ‘maybe one day’ to a ‘maybe now’.  We looked at our finances, re-invigorated our spreadsheets from 4 years before and it was on.

I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering abroad with a fantastic organization, and I walked away knowing that experiential learning is transformational. That sounds like a tag line for a leadership seminar…. what I’m trying to say is I find value in learning by doing, in how new surroundings or a new context can shape new views. I’ve collected a number of these baby step experiences in the last 14 years, and taking this moonwalk leap seemed exciting. Apparently, it is true that magic happens outside of your comfort zone, and this was a chance for me to dive outside of mine.

The sheer idea of achieving this challenge and life experience it’s bound to offer is reason in itself to take a sabbatical. I’m also wired to be in constant intrigue, so it’s only natural that I would wonder what else I could get from this experience at sea. As a sustainability manager and environmental engineer, I’ve been working to uncover how to make sustainable aspirations real. On our little 35-foot sailboat, we are responsible for our own energy, food, safety, water and waste. We are at the mercy and must learn to understand and work with local and regional weather patterns and are seeking to visit locations impacted by climate change. How’s that for experiential learning in resource efficiency and climate science? Sailing fits. It’s the perfect playground.

On my last 2 months of employment, my mind was riddled with uncertainty and fear. Were we making the right choice? What am I going to do for my next job, what comes after this sabbatical? Anxious thoughts and circular conversations ensued. But, why am I trying to answer this now? Isn’t that the whole point of a sabbatical? To open up something new? To allow your mind to grow, to find inspiration in new experiences? How am I supposed to find an answer when I don’t even know what the question is? I’ve had to learn to surrender what I am leaving behind and accept that it may not be recognizable when I get back, but then again neither might I.

With a resignation behind me, 90% of our possessions sold and our new tiny floating home…there’s no going back, and somehow now that the leap has been made I’m a lot more comfortable with the inherent not-knowingness of my landing.

At the risk of being corny and predictable, and already made popular by nomads and wanderlusters before us (and a Toyota commercial):
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. “ – Mark Twain (maybe?)
Our version is sailing, and this may not be yours, but you have one. Dig in, find it and dust it off. You will be surprised by how much begins to open up as soon as you do.