June 1 , 2007
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
41° 37.25 north
071° 16.12 west

Its Off To Work We Go

By Bernadette Bernon

While we were out cruising, and people asked me if there were any similarities between cruising, and my former position at Editor-In-Chief of Cruising World magazine, I used to laugh and say, “Sure! I still swim with sharks every day! Ha, ha, ha…” But the fact of the matter is that cruising was nothing like anything I’d ever done before in my professional life.

On board SV Queen Mary at Lighthouse Reef in Honduras

The adventuring life is full of extremes. You’re either bored or terrified, triumphant or devastated, completely refreshed or absolutely exhausted – all dependent on how the endeavor of the moment is going. My old working life was full and professionally quite rewarding, and Cruising World was successful. But despite the crunch nature of rapid-fire deadlines and getting a behemoth of a magazine to press every month, the work became somewhat predictable, and for me there was something missing about it after I’d worked there for 23 years, and during the final 10 years held the top editorial position. Perhaps it was that Douglas and I felt a little too safe, too comfortable. We both wanted to live on the edge for a while, outside our box. We craved feeling more self-sufficient, we wanted to feel more alive. Well, going voyaging did that!

Bernadette, standing above salt fields in Peru and Douglas, elated with his first lobster ever.

We still have many of the same priorities and goals for our lives as we did before we left cruising, but the experience of living outside our comfort level has enlarged our vision, given us a taste for new experiences, and given us many interesting ideas for things to do next – both professionally and personally. Anything seems possible now. That kind of thinking is both a blessing and burden now that we’re back, and trying to open a new chapter in our lives.

We’ve been home for several months now, living in a house once again. We’ve sold Ithaka, experienced a New England winter, reconnected with friends and family, and began the process of inventing our new selves. We’ve had the invaluable experience of changing so many things about aspects of our lives over the past seven years. We’ve seen many new parts of the world, and been given some insight into how we want to live differently now that we’re back on land. Our feelings have been both inspirational and at the same time immobilizing to Douglas and me, depending on the day of the week. Here is how it’s going, starting with me.

I came home wanting to continue writing – about the more far-flung places in the world, about people who needed a voice. I want to be that voice, to travel to Asia, South Africa, and Europe. I want to spend time working on my writing and building up a rewarding freelance professional life. I came home hoping not to work again in a day-to-day office setting, not because I don’t love the experience of having a peer group – I adore that, actually. Mostly, I don’t want to deal with the administrative pressures I had before – being responsible for employees and their issues, salaries, workload, well being. I really liked that at first – perhaps it spoke to my unrequited maternal tendencies – but over time I found that aspect more and more difficult in my particular work environment, as that environment became less and less nurturing, less and less about people and creativity, and more and more ruthlessly concerned with the bottom line. Fugedaboudit!

When we came home from cruising, we first spent a couple of months getting settled, getting some furniture, and tarting up the house – painting, cutting down overgrown trees and shrubs, cleaning things out. Then we dealt with the holidays and a constant stream of houseguests. When things settled down, and I could focus, I started by creating for myself a dossier – a CV, clippings of past articles, proposals for different kinds of features depending on to which publication I was pitching. Simultaneously, I was doing homework on different national magazines, calling my contacts, and then assembling a tailor-made version of this spiffy folder of information and ideas, and sending it to editors of magazines that I liked to read myself. Each proposal package took hours to create. I got mostly instant email responses from editorial assistants telling me they weren’t hiring, which was demoralizing at first, considering I wasn’t applying for a full-time job. I could see that, normally, no one was really reading what I was proposing. I would have thought a fellow Editor would have sent a quick personal note, as I used to do, but there you are. Everybody is Very Important, very busy, and, it seems, in a bigger hurry these days, in too big a hurry to take a few seconds to let a person down easily. Maybe things were always this impersonal, or maybe I just notice it more now.

Then, slowly, a ray of sunshine came thought the cracks here and there, and over a few of these chilly winter months, I landed a few nice assignments from national magazines – to go to Vietnam and Cambodia for Cruising World, to do a story on the sculptor Howard Newman for The Boston Globe’s home magazine Design New England, to go to Italy for ForbesLife magazine to do a feature story on the Costa Smeralda Yacht Club. These are publications where I had personal connections, and that’s usually how these things work best. I have a couple of other irons in the fire now, and I’m stoking that fire gently, hoping they’ll heat up. Happily, I’m also grateful to be a contributing editor to ForbesLife, the lifestyle magazine that goes to readers of the financial magazine Forbes. I do a boating column for ForbesLife, and love it. Meanwhile, I also picked up a few consulting projects. The bottom line is that I’ve got several plates spinning at once, but I’m able to work at my desk at home, looking out at the water, and the only person looking over my shoulder is Douglas, wondering where I hid whatever it is he happens to be looking for at any given moment. Not bad at all.

Bernadette with fresh bread from a Peruvian bakery

Now, to keep this in perspective, I must be clear that I’m not making the money I once did – those days are gone for me if I want to work as a freelancer — but I no longer have dry cleaning bills, either. I’m not yet earning the money I hope and need to be making by this time next year. But that’s fine. I think I’ll get there if I just keep plugging away. Sometimes, as I see how this freelance life is playing out, I find that I miss having close-at-hand colleagues with whom I can bounce ideas around, debate together, inspire one another – I love that, and hope to find a way to experience it again, perhaps in a part-time magazine position, or in a volunteer setting. It’s a small observation, but now that I’m home again – and, this is such a girl thing, I know -- but I’m missing having a reason to get a little dressed up for something. Silly, isn’t it?

Douglas, pointing out the obvious.

Douglas is doing well. He’s seeing patients again, on a limited basis, in a home office. His goal is to build his practice with interesting, motivated patients, as well as with psychologists to whom he can serve as mentor/supervisor – this latter activity being one of his favorite aspects of his work. When he’s with someone in his office downstairs, I need to be out of the house, so they have complete privacy. This means that Thursdays and Tuesdays – so far, these are his full days -- I go to the gym, and do all my errands and shopping and running around. It’s not an ideal arrangement, but it’s fine for now. We’ll work something else out when we know how our lives are going, and how busy Douglas wants to make his practice.

Douglas ’s private passion since coming home is that he’s working on finding a professional position with an overseas relief agency, working with a refugee population – particularly with traumatized children. He’s interviewed in Washington, and New York, and hasn’t found just the right position yet. But he says that he can tell by how the process and interviews are going that it’s only a matter of time before the right fit comes along. He’s looking for connections, so if any readers have affiliations in that field, he’d love to hear from you. When he finds the right fit, we’ll both become involved in the project, and spend extended time in whatever country to which he’s assigned. We’ll see how this goes. Fingers are crossed.

Happily, neither of us has had any negative repercussions whatsoever that we’ve been out of the full-time workforce for six years. If anything, people with whom we are dealing on a professional basis seem to consider our cruising years to be an enhancement to our outlook, and to our level of experience. This is a relief, as we’d thought this was a risk of going cruising in the “middle” of our careers. It turns out not to be the case. Most people are curious and supportive of what we’ve done, and appreciate that our experience living in international settings is an enhancement to what we can bring to the party.

Bernadette, elated with her first queen conch, plucked from the waters off the north shore of Cuba, seven years ago.

A few acquaintances we talk to, though, do seem to take a bit of perverse pleasure in the idea that we’re going back to work after our “six-year vacation.” When this happens, we just smile and say, “I know, I know. Time to get back to the grind. We’ll be working till we’re 80!” This seems to close the subject to their satisfaction.

What no one knows but Douglas and me is what it really feels like to be back home, with one foot in our new lives, one foot waiting to come down we know not where, and our heads sometimes still back on the boat. Transitions are difficult, but they’re also part of the adventure.


Now that Bernadette and Douglas are back in the United States, any groups or corporations interested in booking their inspirational slideshow, The Radical Sabbatical, can reach them at SV_Ithaka@hotmail.com.