It’s been the craziest thing getting to the age of 32 and “retiring” from my career. In some ways, there was no other option, given that whole female ticking body clock thing, but in other ways the time felt right anyway. I am a reflective person and so I guess, the last 7 weeks has been all about closing down that chapter, reflecting on the gifts it has given me and learning from the challenges I faced. And I guess, if you know me by now, this wouldn’t come without a long and well-thought out blog post.
I have to be careful because I am bound by some pretty strict confidentially contracts, but I will try to write as honestly as possible without landing up in a court case.
I had a love/hate relationship with my job. I absolutely loved my actual job – I loved working as hard as I did and I never ever had a boring day. I never watched my clock tick past and I never felt unmotivated to do better. I am not sure many people can say that of their jobs. In yachting it takes years to get to a position of management, and when you do the whole world of it takes on a new meaning. You start managing people, events, interior refits, contractors, budgets, provisions & uniform look books. The responsibilities pile in, the hours add up and the stress climbs higher and higher. But I thrived off all of this.
I thrived off of helping the junior crew set some goals, seeing them get better and better at their jobs on a daily basis and the interior team I had at the end of my career were golden. Although, we basically ran 2 crew members down for the whole season, the 2 girls I had on my team were resilient, fun and a great support to me. It would be some of my favourite moments when I had shown them something and only then to walk around a while later and see them either implementing that thing or showing it to someone else. And one of the biggest lessons I had to learn in managing people, was how sometimes you had to package the same lesson into a different package depending on who you were talking to. And I can quite honestly say that in my first year of being a chief stew, I was an awful manager, my insecurities about my own role were revealed in the way I managed and I constantly felt defensive. As my confidence grew within my role, so did my management style and slowly someone else’s suggestion didn’t pose as a threat, but was rather a great complementary element to my already established way. It was wonderful to witness that and to see the way I grew into the role. Sometimes, I do look back and feel sorry for the first people I managed.
The other parts of my job that I absolutely adored were the project management roles, taking a yacht down to its raw form or structure – having absolutely everything sent off of it, managing that with the removal company, compiling spreadsheet after spreadsheet of absolutely every single item and where it belongs, and then taking the time to rebuild the interior to something that is better and better every time. And luckily the boss I worked for was so appreciative of the effort his crew put into the boat and his recognition was an amazing thing to feel. I loved working with the yard and interacting with them on a daily basis with the works going on the boat, my knowledge base grew incrementally. And before these refits, my knowledge extended only to service, laundry and housekeeping, but by the end of my career, I could speak & know about cladding, varnishing, the wiring of light fittings and the processes of rebuilding deckheads. It was so great to expand my knowledge and to get to work with different people every day. Getting the chance to re-design my work space and acknowledge what was important for our team to run optimally, removing unnecessary items, putting things in to create more space for us to work, I loved it all. I became a space creator/ re-purposer over night. Dishwashers were replaced with cupboards and empty bulkheads became spa bed storage. It was fun.
The travel, of course, is an incomparable bonus, working in the hard to reach destinations that not many people get to go. When I last checked in with “my places i’ve been app”, I had been to “47 countries and 189 cities”. I feel like I have left a few off, but it still blows my mind. But the best part of the way I have been lucky enough to do it, is the boats that I have worked on have stayed in places for a good amount of time, I have done 3 months at a time in some amazing places – New York, Mexico, Fort Lauderdale, Mallorca, Saridinia, Istanbul, Nice, Antibes, Russia, Genova, Amsterdam – and this amount of time really gives you the gift of getting to know a city well, finding a routine within that city and getting to know the way of the locals. Or you could do what a lot of yachties do and just find an Irish bar, but I’m glad that’s not my go to. I have lived in Italy for an accumulated 1.5 years and I am so greatful for that, because I feel like I could go there and feel completely at home. But moments that stick out for me are things like, pulling in to Manhattan,NYC and seeing the Lady Liberty, Docking in Cuba, Swimming with 15 Manta rays in Mexico off the back of our small power boat, Wakeboarding on the Hudson River, Swimming in a freezing cold waterfall in Albania, Being docked opposite the Dolmabace palace in Istanbul and putting my backpack on daily with my ex and walking all night around the tea shops, bars and markets, Going down the Bosphorous river 5 times, crossing the Atlantic ocean 3 times, watching Humpback whales breach on one of those crossings, pulling into Charleston after a machinery failure on a crossing, seeing an underground concert hall in a cave in Gibraltar, docking in one of my boss’ tiny hometown’s in Sweden, the boat almost bigger than the town, exploring Hellsinki and Stockholm, finding my favourite bottle of Georgian wine in a Georgian Restaurant nestled in the Russian mountains, spending many weekends climbing the Russian mountains, Swimming in the lakes in the Caucasian mountains, working in Saudi Arabia, an epic Mangialungo hike in Italy, Cinqueterre many times, a trip to Riomaggiore with my crew for my bday and many, many more. My blog will get to long if I continue my list. But I have made a mental note to myself that I need to write all of these memories down, before I forget them.
And then my all time love was the decor & the personalised touchpoints that we introduced on to the yacht. Hand picking items that would formulate the complicated tablescapes that we made for every single different meal, every day, made my creative juices squeal with delight. Finding ways to surprise the guests at every turn, with a new welcome drink decorated in a new eco-friendly way, a stunning new room drop with a gorgeous flower or themed handwritten note and my favourite, a tablescape designed to wow at every bite. An opera singer at sunset off the cliffs of Bonifacio, A saxophonsit playing to a boat draped in white in Greece, an entire deck turned into an Turkish lounge party in Bodrum. These moment made my heart sing. So much so that by the end of my career, I was asked to compile a decor manual that then became the standard applied across the whole fleet. Such an honour.
But then there is the flip side of the coin, the stuff that makes working on a yacht incredibly hard. And it is only now that I have taken some space from the industry that I realise the toll that those things took on me. I am not going to try and labour the point too much, but these were the main things I struggled with,
The first was being away from my support group. I have grown up with the same unbelievable group of friends and a very supporting and loving family. And so going in to a space where you are expected to work, live and socialise with a group of people with whom you might have nothing in common became a nightmare for me. As a result of feeling constantly disconnected from the people around me and totally misunderstood, I felt myself retreating deeper and deeper into myself. A space I have never had to navigate entirely alone and yet, there I was, for almost 3 years, clawing my way around this pit of loneliness with so many people around me every day. What was wrong with me? Why could I not connect to these people? When had I become so boring? These were questions that went through my head every day. But trying to manage people and live with them in the same space was a really hard concept for me to succeed in! I constantly felt like a nagging mother and I didn’t like it.
The second was working in a industry where I didn’t feel that shared morals and values with mine. Again, I have been raised in a very morally strong environment, where family dynamics and the team are the most important values to uphold and health and well being are a part of a daily practise. Enter an industry where it is every person for themselves, where money is at the forefront of everything and where drinking is the number one past time, I felt incredibly out of my depth. I was confronted daily with a male-dominated approach to leadership and daily life, where woman were constantly reminded of their place and the space that their “look” held within the industry. It drove me mad. I found myself losing my moral compass at times and behaving in ways that on reflection, were so far from the me I knew. However, the lines had become blurred and the norms were constantly tested. This tested me in the worst possible ways. And many times, I failed.
My healthy lifestyle was affected badly and at the end of last year I had a major breakdown. I wasn’t able to keep food down, I stopped eating and my stress levels were at an all time high. We weren’t able to exercise much and I was not a fan of the food we were being served on board. I had had food poisoning a number of times that season and my diet was reduced to dark chocolate, cucumber, carrots, celery and nut butter. For every meal. I eventually introduced a green juice when my body started to crash, but I was exhausted, burnt out and under nourished. This for me was a hard pill to swallow. As someone who has prided themselves on good health and well being, this physical and emotional state was not acceptable for me and this urged me even harder to make the change.
And then finally, the lack of personal space. At 32, sharing a cabin that is 3 x 3, a bathroom, an eating space, a living space and my office space, my brain felt over stimulated at all times. I care a lot for other people and think about their well being over my own a lot of the time. But this becomes exhausting, when you are never able to turn off, when you can’t go back to your cabin and just exist in your space without your cabin mate coming in and you needing to have the “nicety” chat. Sometimes I just needed to be quiet, I just wanted to sit on my floor, put my legs up the wall and let my head unwind from what invariably had been a seriously busy day. But when you share that amount of space with someone you have to be considerate at all times. I had finally come to terms with my introversion about 2 years ago and realised I needed my own space to recharge. This become increasingly more and more difficult as I felt the demands of all the people around me slowly beating me down. Every step you take on a yacht, someone is watching you, what you do, what you say is constantly observed and judged. Well, it was where I was working. I never felt like I could put my guard down. And that, is exhausting.
And so when the questions gets posed to me now, Do you miss it? Will you go back? You can see that the answer is not that simple, as my job satisfaction was at an all time high, but other facets of my life, at an all time low. My dream would be to be able to live at home, with my support structure and do the exact job I have been doing but from home. That would be the absolute dream. But, we are not called the Cape of Storms for nothing. And we have a lack of superyachts for a reason. It obviously makes the onward journey challenging – how to find the same job satisfaction with a third of the salary, a third of the leave and staying in one place 🙂 Ha ha, why leave? Jokes.
But the answer is far from simple and I’m busy figuring it all out. But I know, if I check in with myself this very second. I am feeling so good, so grounded and so content. I have my own space, I am typing this at my own dining room table (half naked cause it’s boiling & not worried about offending my roommate) and I haven’t spoken to another human today. And I feel great. I have made a really delicious lunch and listened to some excellent podcasts. I have done my daily meditation and gratitude practise and gone for some exercise. And these small gifts are groundbreaking for me. I feel like me again.
It feels like the more I have aligned to my truth and listened to what I really want and the hard conversations I have had with myself, the more aligned to a better version of me I find myself living. So, my home fell into place the way it should, as did purchasing my car, I got a surprise bonus from my last job and got some freelance work unexpectedly with a small yachting company. My biggest fear had been feeling alone when I came home. While I was so excited to move back to my friends and family, I couldn’t deny that the dynamic had changed, my family had their own lives going on, my friends were mostly married, mostly with newborns and so I would need to adjust. I was scared (read: petrified) of this. But I needn’t have been, cause I came home and immediately met 2 wonderful woman friends who align with exactly the way I live, I was apart of new trail running groups and bookclubs and finding myself surrounded by good people at every turn. It has been wonderfully enriching. And not without a few wobbles, but mostly good.
The financial side of life definitely freaks me out and I am hating seeing my savings slowly start to dwindle, but I know I need to be patient and slowly establish what it is I want to spend doing in trading my time for money. It might not be conventional. And that’s okay. And hopefully I will find a way to continuing to construct this lifestyle I love with the learning from the challenges I have faced and the gifts of what has come before.