Editor’s note: When I came across Bruce Swabb’s introduction in the AoM Community, I took note of the fact that he had quit his accounting job to live on a sailboat. Duly intrigued by what had brought him to this decision, I invited him to share his journey to finding his vocation with AoM ‘s readers. The result is this article; thanks Bruce.
My father had a tremendous collection of National Geographic magazines. So many, in fact, that he had them bound in volumes, each containing six monthly magazines. Within these heavy leather bound treasures, I traveled the world.
I was particularly interested in any article related in some way to sailing. Typically, the sailboat was simply the author’s mode of exploratory transportation to faraway islands. I loved to study the boats and to imagine what it was like to travel great distances by sailboat.
Many of you may have been following, along with me, the chronicles of Robin Lee Graham, the kid who set out in the late 1960’s to circle the world in a small sailboat. He in fact did become the youngest person to single-handedly circumnavigate the earth. Robin’s journey totally captivated me as a young boy of eleven years. I anxiously awaited the monthly arrival of National Geographic in hopes that there would be another installment of his travel diary. His adventure was recounted in the book Dove.
I have to credit this childhood wanderlust for planting the seeds that would shape the direction of my life. Growing up in dusty Oklahoma might seem to be an obstacle to a young sailor, but the local lakes provided plenty of opportunities to learn basic sailing.
After high school I pointed the compass toward the ocean by enlisting in the US Coast Guard for a four year hitch. Finally, I was totally immersed in all things nautical. It proved to be a rich experience, and of course it forced me to grow in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. I certainly recommend such an experience for any kid who feels that he’s not ready for college.
After my time was up, I went back to Oklahoma to college, and began the process of “conformation.” It was time to sort out my spot among the masses who make this big wheel of our culture and economy turn. Many things interested me in college, and I found that economics and accounting were not nearly as distasteful as I expected. And accounting graduates were certainly getting high paying jobs, along with the engineering grads. So it was – go out and get the jobs most in demand that pay the highest salaries. Good, solid decision.
Now, twenty three years later, I have awakened from what I consider a long slow nightmare. Not so much different from the dreams in which we realize we went to class in our underwear. Those years were spent attempting (sometimes desperately) to succeed in our complex little capitalistic culture. I love capitalism and the freedom we have to choose our careers. We are blessed to be able to start a business from scratch if that is what we desire. You can be a bus driver, a doctor, or the owner of a tattoo parlor. Go for it!
My epiphany was that I was working extremely hard at a career in which I had very little genuine interest. Zero curiosity. When was the last time I stayed up late at night reading the latest developments in my profession? And in a business in which the rules are constantly changing – that is a problem. It was doubly exhausting to summon the energy required to be excellent at my profession (and to be perfectly candid with myself, I never did achieve this).
Every minute of the day behind my desk was one in which I wasn’t where I truly needed to be. Resentment started to grow unconsciously, deep within me. As much as I truly love people (and many of my clients and coworkers were very dear to me) I think the bitterness was somehow apparent to others, even though I thought I could suppress it.
As you already know, it is impossible to be the best in such a circumstance. I have a tremendous amount of strength and work ethic. But I realized I was never going to succeed. The money was always very good, but no matter how much I made, there was a need for ten percent more. So much energy was required to pull myself to work, and to stay abreast of this dismal work (I worked with many who truly loved the work, and they were the successful ones), there was nothing left for company politics, or for sustaining relationships outside of work. Keeping my marriage afloat was just about all I could manage, and it was beginning to take on water.
Something had to give, no matter the financial consequence (isn’t it usually the fear of the financial unknowns that shackle us to a job we shouldn’t be in?). It was time to pull the plug and let the chips fall where they may. I garnered the faith to overcome fear. To have faith that I could heal myself and my most important relationships, and that I could find a path that would enable me to work with joy and provide for my family.
So I had a new litmus test: this next thing you do must be so interesting to you that you will stay up all night learning about it.
I am writing this message to my fellow travelers on a rainy morning at anchor in Newport, Rhode Island aboard my 46 foot sailboat, Airielle. I decided that I could get passionate about taking people sailing and exploring. I knew I could teach them about sailing and navigation and weather. I knew that I would relish getting to know these people as well – free of politics and title. I decided to start a sailing charter company this past winter. Each charter has been so unique, which is wonderful. And rewarding! What a pleasure to get to know the people who’ve come aboard my boat. The energy is there. The litmus test passed.
A good friend of mine mentioned a philosophy he had read which generally stated that the world wants you to follow your passion and dream, and that when you do, the world will flow to your doorstep to support you. This same buddy also reminded me of the saying that one should “leap and the net will appear.” To which I would retort “I’m still waiting for the damn net to appear!” I can report at this juncture that as I have awakened from my bad dream, I feel that the world has its arms around me, as if it had been patiently waiting for me. Old connections and new have blossomed as if to say “welcome back old friend.”
So to whom am I writing today? I suppose I am writing to two people. To the young man who is searching for a career path, I would say find your passion first, regardless of the financial prospects. And I’m writing to the man who may have followed a similar path to mine, and finds himself a bit lost and spiritually broken. To this man I would say that the world is waiting with loving arms for you to awaken. To him I extend a hand to join me on my sailing ship – to breathe and explore.