Tuesday, June 10, 2014

mid-career break

To be truthful, this is my second career break. I left a well-paying, interesting job in the mid-1980s to raise some kids. By switching gears from maintaining computers to taking kids to the park I was able to dedicate my energy to learning valuable lessons about humanity and guide two new humans in this journey that is life. The beautiful thing about a parental leave is that is has some pretty definite time limits. Elementary school came along just about the time my brain had turned to oatmeal porridge. I was very ready to be back in a technical role.

Fast forward through all the kid years and it was time for another break. I had been at my company 15 years and my husband had been with his for 35. We were worn out. We needed radical change. Selling up and sailing away kind of radical change.

We are lucky to have excellent health and physical fitness enough to embark on an adventurous lifestyle. When we took stock of our situation, taking time off in our mid-50s made more sense than waiting until we retired at 65. Climbing the mast of a sailboat is much easier to contemplate when your muscles are cooperative. We also factored in the unpredictability of life, waiting another 10 years might mean missing the opportunity to take this time and do this thing.

The past two years of career break and radical lifestyle change have exceeded my wildest expectations. We are healthier in all aspects: physical, emotional and spiritual. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We are ready to turn our creativity back into the workforce and try something new. 

Having time to relax is really good for the body. Without the pressure of getting to work in the morning, I wake when my body is ready, which usually coincides with dawn light starting to work its way through my eyelids. I can practice yoga and go for a long walk or run at my own pace. I can eat a good breakfast and catch up on reading. I've used the relaxed time of our days to shop at farmer's markets and prepare simple, vegetarian food for our nourishment. We both lost around 15 pounds and some significant blood pressure points with this lifestyle change. I believe these changes will persist when we return to land/work. I might have to get up earlier, but I realize how necessary a stretch, a walk in the fresh air and healthy food have become to my well-being.

The emotional benefits of taking a career break are huge. Having this adventure has given me a confidence I never had before. I can embrace change. I am no longer as fearful. I can laugh with joy in the face of a fresh wind and a heeling boat. Panic attacks have subsided. I hope to leverage this confidence in building a new chapter in my life journey. 

By leaving my job and taking to the water, I also had the opportunity to get more in touch with my spiritual self. Long, dark nights out in the ocean give one plenty of time to ponder the deeper mysteries of life. Watching the waves change shape and feeling the wind change direction brings home the basic truth of the impermanence of the universe. We got rid of our house, stuff and cars like shedding a snakeskin. In order to grow, one needs to leave stuff behind. And in that void, life and self are exposed for discovery. I've been able to focus on some of the creative aspects of my life that had long been given a low priority.

In that discovery process, I realized how important it is to me to give back to a community. While "sailing away into the sunset" is a stock dream narrative, what does one do upon waking the next morning? Traveling around is fun, relaxing and a fantastic educational experience, but the thing that is missing for me with this lifestyle is engagement with other people. That feeling of sharing I remember from working with a team of volunteers in the summer camp kitchen cooking up a meal for a hundred plus hungry kids. Certainly we met lots of people in our two years of nomadic life and had plenty of potluck dinners and good times, but it isn't the same as doing what the current philosophers call "meaningful work". 

The other thing I miss is problem solving. We've had ample opportunity to apply creative solutions to boat repairs, logistics and storage challenges, but I need more. I want to be solving problems daily, I want to be stretching my mind around tough issues and keep those mental wheels spinning. It's not enough to read about (consume), I want to apply some brain power (produce).

I feel healthy, energetic, confident and creative. It's time for me to get back to embracing the principle of right livelihood and to use my energy and creativity for common good.

We are looking forward to the next adventure.
How Captain Steve spent his winter. Check it out here.