After 20 years of staff writing for newspapers, editing, freelance feature writing and finally, God help me, corporate writing, I sensed a change was needed. Perhaps because at every business meeting I could feel individual brain cells jumping to their deaths. So my encore “Yes” began with a big “No.” No more committee-approved emails. No more “hitting the ground running” or “getting on the same page.”
In desperation (actually it was a kind of depressive trance), I wandered into the boating supply store near my house and finally woke up during a conversation with an employee. I had just said I wished I could find a job sailing, and he was saying he could get me one. I came stark awake. I asked him to say it again.
Three months later I was the captain of a boat full of Boy Scouts, doing weeklong voyages on the Chesapeake Bay. Two summers later, I was the commodore of a three-boat Boy Scout flotilla. Two summers after that I volunteered on a tall ship based in Norfolk, which ran outdoor education programs for kids. I had little experience sailing, and none at all on tall ships. But after the first days, I knew I’d be getting a lot.
Sailing tall ships led eventually to Los Angeles, California, where I worked up from deckhand to chief mate to captain aboard a tall ship that does children’s education programs. Somewhere along the line I realized that sailing alone didn’t thrill me. Sailing and working with kids somehow did.
I am now captain of the sailing ship Exy Johnson, a two-masted brigantine, with the The Los Angeles Maritime Institute. I work with people of all ages, mostly young people, many of whom have never even seen the Pacific Ocean. We teach them how to haul lines, trim sails and navigate, but mostly we teach them that they have skills and interests they never suspected.
Kids and people in general are so often told they can’t, I wanted to tell them they can.
I won’t talk about how running a boat gratified my need to have things my way and be the star of the show and an example of enlightened leadership, also occasionally enlightened despotism. But I will say, in my case anyway, sometimes you don’t know what you need until you get it.
And certainly I’d never have known I would do this as a job. Boat grunt was listed nowhere on the career-preference forms I filled out in high school. That’s the funny thing. I often feel my getting here was entirely accidental. But more often, I think I was led by something I didn’t understand and couldn’t describe. The true trend of the spirit? The inner demon?
My advice: Don’t discount any interest. If you sense an urge in some direction, just try it. I don’t have space to talk about the tyranny of fear, but trust me, it’s an illusion. Decide first what you want, then address the fear later. Also, a good coach is extremely valuable. She will hear the babbling of your disordered soul and know exactly what you mean.