Work/Life Hacking

Stuck at Work?

Posted on: Sunday, October 24th, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0512I couldn’t be happier that the career break movement is finally getting legs.

But I’m also acutely aware that many people who used to be racing toward retirement are finding themselves stuck in an increasingly tangled web.

New research shows that small business owners—often called the future of America—are planning to put off retirement in shockingly large numbers.

On one hand, this might suggest that they are feeling more connected to and rewarded by their work–with less need to escape it.

More likely the statistics reflect the sticky economic predicament that so many people now find themselves in–with depleted savings accounts and escalating costs for healthcare.

Here are some highlights from the recent Gallup survey:

  • 47% of small business owners plan to never retire until forced to do so for health reasons—up from 4 in 10 in 2005 and 2007
  • 41% plan to cut back on work but stay involved with their business when they retire.
  • 10% plan to stop working in their business altogether, a drop from nearly twice that level in 2005.

These are sad facts, perhaps, but they support the case for taking some breaks along the way. We’re all likely to be living (and laboring) longer than the generations that preceded us.  Career breaks are one way to ensure that life doesn’t become all work and no play.

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Minneapolis Family Takes Flight

Posted on: Friday, October 1st, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

Woychicks_April2010v2Speaking of career breaks and work/life hacking, here’s a true story about the Woychicks, a Minneapolis family that’s a shining example of the sabbatical mindset.  This intrepid family is embarking on a one-year (or longer) adventure—and new way of life.  I’ve been pleased to meet (dad) Dan via some meetups and speaking gigs and through our intersecting professions.  Now it’s their turn to BreakAway.  Quick—meet them before they take flight! 

  • What inspired you to leap beyond dreaming and actually make a sabbatical happen?

Life is short. This point was tragically brought into focus when my parents were killed in a crosswalk by an impaired motorist as they walked home from church on August 19, 2009. In 2010, we said goodbye to our two good dogs, Buster and Ray. And, before they lose interest, we want our boys to discover the joy of learning and trying new things. We had often talked about a sabbatical year, and the time felt right to make a change.

  • How do you define and describe what you’re doing—year off?  Sabbatical?  Career break?  What do you tell the people in your life and how do they respond? 

Rebecca is taking a year off from her job. Our boys are taking a year off from school. And I plan to continue working wherever the family happens to be – working less often when we’re traveling.

Everyone who hears about it is very interested and excited about it. Common responses include:

That’s great! Good for you guys! I’d love to do that! You’re going to have a great time!”

  • This is a family journey, obviously.  Tell us about the steps you went through to make this happen, and if home schooling is part of the picture.

Rebecca and I have been married for 11 years. We have two bright and imaginative boys, Lucas (9 years old) and Eli (7 years old). I’ve been self-employed as a graphic designer for 20+ years. Rebecca is an experienced elementary school teacher.

We’re both inveterate list-makers and planners. We have saved and inherited money, and share a vision for how we want to live as a family and as individuals.

Rebecca quit her job at a parochial elementary school. They have hired a long-term substitute for the year and would welcome her back (no promises, though).

Home schooling is definitely part of the picture, and another big motivator for embarking on this adventure. Both our boys test in the highly gifted range (top half of the top one percent). They liked their school, but it was increasingly difficult for the school – any school – to meet their needs. We liked the idea of home schooling better than any of our other options.

  • What have been (and will be!) the toughest obstacles—and how are you getting around them?

We feel both excited and scared, but well-suited, to challenge ourselves. While we’ve had far more good fortune than most, some of that comes from a willingness to take calculated risks:

What’s the worst thing that could happen? What are the potential benefits?

Everyone thinks money is the biggest obstacle, but frankly, I’m more concerned about the changes for Rebecca than I am for the kids (or our bank account). The boys may miss some of the day-to-day contact with friends, but they’ll be fine. Rebecca loses contact with work colleagues, and adds the role of teacher to her already established role as mother. I’ll try to help with curriculum ideas and teaching as I’m able, but it’s much less of a change for me.

  • Most important:  What are you and your family planning to do with the time; what are the goals and dreams, missions and visions?

We’ll be traveling more often and for longer periods of time. To start the school year, we’ll be in the Pacific Northwest – Seattle, the San Juan Islands, Olympic National Park, and the Northern Cascade Mountains. In Spring 2011, we’re planning a 2–3 month trip to Europe. Likely destinations include France, Italy, and Spain. In between, we expect more trips to our cabin near Hayward, Wisconsin.

Our goals for the year include:
–      Giving more time to things that are important – family, rest, exercise, food.
–      We want our boys to discover the joy of learning and trying new things.
–      Rebecca would like to spend more time doing photography.

–      I’d like to spend more time writing.

We often enjoy time at our cabin because it’s simpler. Less to do. Less stress. We’d like to find more ways to make that the rule rather than the exception. By stripping away conventional ideas about how one is supposed to do things, I’m hoping we find that this way of living is not only healthier and preferable, but sustainable.

What an inspirational story—full of adventure and dreams, but practical thoughtfulness too—and it’s only beginning.  We’d love to check in later and hear how home schooling, road working, and Euro dining, is going (even if it makes us green jello).  Have fun and godspeed!  

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TrendMaster Robyn Waters Tells Her Story

Posted on: Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

Robyn WatersRobyn Waters has done it all—and she’s not done yet!  That’s why this month she’s off to Spain and Morocco.  But not until she’s made a speech at a major New York design show.  Taken some “test drives” to explore where she might want to live next.  And enjoyed shifting more of her time and energy into the “give-back” mode. 

Indeed, when it comes to energy—and generosity—Robyn is rich.  First, she gave a powerful, 80-minute presentation to my Advertising class at St. Paul’s College of Visual Arts.  Then, we met over lunch to talk life and leisure.  And finally, she promptly penned these wonderful insights to my Sabbatical questions. 

We are so grateful!  In fact, countless people are—since Robyn’s career in trend and design has filled the world with tasteful goods, and her appearances and books have moved and educated countless professionals. 

It would take a book, frankly, to properly introduce Robyn.  But here’s just a snapshot…

  • Her 30+ year career includes a long stint as VP of Trend, Design and Product Development at Target.
  • During that time, Target became a major fashion and home-goods destination—introducing products from many revered designers. 
  • As blog star Seth Godin states it, she “revolutionized what Target sells and helped them trounce K-Mart.” 
  • She’s written two successful books, “The TrendMaster’s Guide,” and “The Hummer and the Mini.” 
  • Today, she makes appearances and runs a consultancy, RWTrend, while admittedly also relishing some downtime, giving back, and sneaking away on Sabbaticals. 

 So it’s no wonder Seth Godin featured Robyn in his uber-viral manifesto, “What Matters Now.”  As you will see, that’s a question Robyn is ruminating, with inspiring and thoughtful results.  

As the original TrendMaster, you stated in your 2002 book, “The Hummer and the Mini,” that sabbaticals may be a growing trend; has that trend grown—or how do you view the state of Sabbaticals today? 

The sabbatical trend has perhaps grown in a back-handed (and mostly unhappy) way, as the result of forced lay-offs in the workplace.  I would seriously doubt that there are many companies offering or encouraging sabbaticals to their employees, especially in this economic crisis.  I’m sure there are some exceptions, but they are probably rare.   Given that scenario, one could always choose to make lemons out of lemonade.  If you’ve been laid off and aren’t sure of your next step, it may be a good time to create your own version of a sabbatical—either physical or ‘mental.’  

Physical might be that trip you’ve always wanted to take that you never had time for, provided of course that your financial situation allows for that.  (I’ve been a saver all my life….you never know what opportunities may present themselves in inopportune times.) 

You can also take a sabbatical and go inward, and take what I call a ‘mental’ sabbatical.  You don’t even have to pack a suitcase.  There are a lot of local places (a yoga studio, meditation center, nature preserve, library, life coaching centers) that you can take advantage of with the time you find on your hands.

Our world moves so fast—it’s important to take time occasionally to slow down.  I am a student of paradox and one of the ultimate ironies I’ve discovered is that we don’t get our energy from going faster, multi-tasking, and doing MORE.   Rather, we find our energy in slowing down, taking time to think and to breathe. 

It’s also important to occasionally take time off to ‘get healthy.’  Eat better.  Work out.  Sleep more. Get fit.  Lose weight.  Mostly to FEEL better, but also to LOOK better.  It’s a great confidence builder, but it also sets you on a healthier course for the rest of your life.  It gives you back a sense of being in control of your own destiny.  Most professionals I know put ENORMOUS effort and energy into their jobs—but nothing close to equal measure of effort into their non-work lives and personal relationships.  I think that’s a formula for unhappiness.

Here’s another approach that worked for me at a crossroads in my life.  I had a great job at the time, but the work environment had gotten very toxic and I had become very unhappy.  I couldn’t imagine leaving the corporate world after 28 years, but I knew something would eventually have to change.  I borrowed a page from Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) and, (while still gainfully employed), created a “Personal Board of Directors.” 

It was composed of 8 people (not all close friends—each member had a specific talent or skill that I admired and wanted to try and develop further in myself.)  I invited them to my house for the initial meeting.  The purpose was to creatively brainstorm the next phase of my life.  I hired a facilitator and we conducted the day just like a design brainstorm.  We worked out on my back deck one beautiful Saturday summer day.  It was a festive atmosphere:  I had inspirational thank-yous as gifts and I fed them lobster salad and champagne. 

At one point in the brainstorm session one of the members asked me:  “Robyn, what do you REALLY want to do?”  After all the creative exploration we had just done, I blurted out, without thinking: “I want to write a book.”  I honestly don’t know WHERE that came from…it must have been a latent urge deep inside of me.  I had always admired authors’ presentations at the many business conferences I attended—I loved walking in other worlds and being inspired by their experiences.  Well, everything just took off from there.  Here I am today, a published author and professional speaker, doing what I love, and doing it on MY terms.

By the way—in exchange for their time, I offered each of the board members a ‘give-back’ of my time in equal measure.  Over the years, I have honored my commitment—speaking pro bono at their companies, for their favorite charities, or participating in a similar event of their own.  An interesting side benefit of the day was the networking that resulted from bringing together 8 dynamic people who, for the most part, didn’t know each other beforehand.  Several ended up creating lasting connections and friendships.

In that book’s chapter, “Sabbatical:  Time for a time-out?” you note that some companies were offering semi-paid leaves of absence instead of firing employees.  Given that uncertainty, do you think those individuals are able to make the most their unexpected “time off”? 

I think they would be crazy NOT to make the most of it.  But you must PLAN for it.  Nothing good ‘just happens.’  We make choices every day about how to spend our money, what to buy, when to treat ourselves.  It’s really just a matter of re-prioritizing.  We can all pretty much live on less.  I advocate that, with thought and effort, we can actually do MORE with less.  But it requires planning, and saving ahead of time.

You’ve enjoyed a handful of Sabbaticals, right?  How do you personally define what makes a Sabbatical (versus, say, a vacation) for you? 

A sabbatical is more about ‘what’ than ‘where.’  New learnings are critical.  Also, vacations are “outward.”  They’re about “Look at me—here I am at the Grand Canyon, sailing the Caribbean,” whatever.  Sabbaticals, as I’ve already said, should be more ‘inward.’   They can still involve all of the outward trappings of a vacation, but there is more depth, more reflection, more exploration, and more personal insight involved in a sabbatical. 

Another way to characterize it:  On a vacation, you typically send postcards to others.  On a sabbatical, one should keep a journal, just for yourself. Outward versus inward.

From your vantage, can you list some of the reasons that someone might take a Sabbatical?

Reasons for taking a sabbatical:

  • Adventure
  • Balance
  • Challenge
  • Define next steps
  • Excel at something new
  • Find the courage to leave an unhappy situation
  • Get motivated
  • Heal your mind, your body, and your spirit.
  • Inspire yourself to higher levels of insight
  • Just DO it!
  • Keep growing
  • Leverage your talents in new ways
  • Make new friends
  • New perspectives
  • Open your mind and your heart
  • Push your ‘magic button.’
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • Rest, relax, reflect, rejuvenate, rejoice!
  • Stave off future regrets “If only I had…..”  “If only I could….”
  • Take time for yourself.  Fill your own buckets.
  • Undo the ‘bad’ parts of your life.  (We all fall into habits that we wish we didn’t have.)
  • Vindicate yourself….prove to yourself that you CAN.
  • Why NOT?
  • X-treme learning opportunity
  • Yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your boss.
  • Zen—peace of mind is the ultimate gold standard.

Is there one that’s your favorite—why?—and what did you do? 

Finding the courage to leave an unhappy situation.  (See above.)  All of the other letters fell into place once I found the courage to change what was making me unhappy.

Where are you now—literally—but also in terms of career, Sabbatical, or retirement? 

I believe I am somewhere between the 3rd and 4th level as the Buddhists define life stages:

  • 1st stage = childhood (we play, we learn)
  • 2nd stage = Householder (we accumulate things and build our families)
  • 3rd stage = Freedom seeker (we seek to free ourselves from ‘things’—we concentrate more on ‘inner’ growth.)
  • 4th stage = Preacher-hood (we seek to inspire others by sharing our wisdom.)

Career:  I have had 2 marvelous careers.  I think I may have yet another one—but at this point I have no idea what it will be, or when it will happen!

Retirement: I’m not planning to write a 3rd book at this point, so I would say I am about 80% retired.  I work whenever the opportunity presents itself.  My husband and I are enjoying a life of more leisure, more learning, and more giveback. 

I call it a “portfolio” life.  If you divide a circle into thirds….a balanced portfolio life would be 1/3 work, 1/3 leisure, 1/3 giveback.  At this stage in my life I am probably 20% work, 20% giveback, 60% leisure.  The proportions are always in flux.  At some point I anticipate it moving more heavily weighted to work and giveback.

 When we last talked, you mentioned you are enjoying taking “test drives.”  Can you explain what that means and share some examples of your excursions?

“Test drives” are short, time-intensive experiments that take you out of your box and your comfort zone. After leaving the corporate world, and before writing my books, I did some consulting test drives consisting of a wide-range of freelance projects and a short stint as a contract trend consultant for a design agency.  I learned a lot during those months—as much about what I DIDN’T want to do as what I DID want to do. 

The test-drive concept also applies to my personal life.  My husband and I are sure that we want to eventually live in a warmer climate.  We’ve spent the last 5 winters trying out different locations; going to live in other parts of the country for anywhere from 1 to 3 months, to ‘test-drive’ what our lifestyles would look and feel like if we were to move to a different location.  We’ve been to the desert, the mountains, the beaches, and on the road everywhere in between.  We ideally want to craft a life of being 70 to 80% ‘set down’ and 20% to 30% roving, sabbatical, travel, exchange.

If I may, your career in Trend was phenomenal; your writing and speaking skills are remarkable; do you have any suggestions for people who have a Big Idea that they’d love to turn into something “trendy?”

Why not create a “Personal Board of Directors” and stage your own creativity summit for your Big Idea?  No matter who we are, we all have tunnel vision in some aspect of our lives.  It’s important to get additional perspectives and to generate ideas around and beyond your original Big Idea.  My advice:  choose your members carefully, make the day fun, and take good notes.  You many not act on everything immediately, but down the road, some event may spark a reminder of that day and that may just be the creative push you need to head in a new direction.

Any other parting thoughts? 

A quote from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor; catch the wind in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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The Opt-Out Revolution–are you in?

Posted on: Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment
Opt Out Pho

photo by Kirk Horsted

Married With Children families are no longer the norm in this country, but they still command attention and fill the portrait of the American Dream.  A few generations ago, two incomes became the norm.  But now, that norm may be shifting—due to sour economic conditions, mounting workplace burdens and the growing “Opt-out Phenomenon.”

Women have always gotten the short end of the career ladder; they’re paid less and rise to leadership slower. That’s still improving—and I might argue that women now enjoy bigger strides than men in the areas of entrepreneurship and solidarity.  Moreover, they often benefit from quotas and other protections.

  • Is work worth it?

But a new book by an economist and anthropologist asserts that a feminine backlash is happening:  Many women are choosing to stay home.  At least for a while—and for the family.

“Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples:  What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family” takes a close look, and is worth a look.  After all, this downturn has made employers demand ever-more while workers cling fearfully to their cubicles and assembly lines.

  • “It’s not a financial decision.”

Here at BreakAway, we believe that life’s most important decisions are rarely about money first.  And as for having and raising a family, well, there will likely be very few decisions as important—or long-lasting—in the typical parent’s time on earth.  Yet, the average liver will only actively parent only about 25% of their lifetime.

Why have children if you’re going to spend most of those precious years prioritizing a career?  Oh sure, you may have to cut corners and live more simply.  But most kids would rather have more quality time with their kinfolk than more plasma TVs.

It pays to BreakAway from the career for a while.  Work–like chores when your child says “Can you read me a story?” –can wait.

  • What about Opt-Out men?

A standing O goes to Dianna Shandy and Karine Moe for writing this book.  I personally hope, though, that they or someone else will write the follow-up about men—for whom society often views opting out as dropping out.  The stigmas about men being bread-earners instead of bread-bakers are changing way more slowly than women’s roles.

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Lifehacker & Harvard Promote Creative Breaks

Posted on: Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

photo by Kirk Horsted

We are not alone. Word is getting ‘round! In Burned Out? Take a Creative Sabbatical,”’s founder, Gina Trapani, preaches about the importance of down time for’s readers. After all, even the guys on Mad Men do it—while those who don’t may slowly go mad.  Or worse…burn out.

She also features that now-viral video of designer Stefan Sagmeister telling TED conference attendees about his personal (and professional) Sabbatical program.
She mentions that Bill Gates takes two “Think Week” breaks annually to catch up on his reading.
And she inspires many comments from readers when she asks,
How do you use time off to refresh, rejuvenate, and yes, even make yourself more productive?”

The Usual Suspects check in. The executive coaches endorse life/work balance while gently promoting their services. A few of the Overworked & Underpaids complain that only the rich and lucky can afford a career break. And of course, BreakAwayGuy (me!) rebuts that “the folks that I know who have done the most exploring and traveling just tend to be stubborn, non-conformist types.”  In other words (as I point out in the 5 5-word mantras), sometimes it’s not a financial decision.

Trapani posts a powerful blog with a lot of good links—and that 17-minute video by Mr. Sagmeister. When you can make or take some free time, check it out–or burn out.
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Working Dads Crave A Break

Posted on: Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

The job world keeps getting more co-ed with every passing year.  Oh sure, some fields are still a Boys Club—politics, money, more.  But others are becoming Girls Clubs.  And many employers prefer hiring women over men, if only to meet quotas.  Women are making great gains in the workplace, yet are still free to opt out and stay home.  Why can’t men enjoy such equality?

As this survey points out, nearly one-third of working men would make significant sacrifices to quit working or spend more time with their kids.

Survey Sez: 

  • 31%. Percentage of working dads who said they would leave their jobs if their spouse or significant other’s income could comfortably support the entire familly. 
  • 30%.  Despite a tough economy, percentage of working dads who said they are willing to take a pay cut to spend more time with their children.  

Those stats are sad, really, because the child-raising phase of one’s life is short.  Since kids are largely independent by, say, 12, most families only “need” ongoing parenting for 15 years or so.  That’s about one-fifth of a typical lifetime.  What a bummer to miss most of those sweet years, slaving away instead—especially if he would prefer not to. 

So then, why are home-dads still such a rare breed?  Here are some of my best guesses…

  • Stigma.  Society still fails to embrace the notion. 
  • Dishonor.  Many men fear society’s judgement—and a possible loss of pride. 
  • Income.  Men still make more, on average (though that’s changing fast). 
  • Double income.  Many families think they can’t make it without two revenue streams. 
  • Divorce.  If you’re a single dad, staying home with your kids may be impossible. 
  • Re-entry.  Leaving a career is risky business, and can result in countless compromises. 
  • Training.  Unfortunately, women still do more housework—and have learned how.
  • Mom Power.  If both parents wish to be home more, the woman usually wins. 

This is serious stuff.  After all, it’s an ageless American legend:  Dad didn’t get to spend enough time with his kids—he realizes at age 55.  He regrets it.  He realizes his career was relatively meaningless, and that he is dispensable.  Even his own kids may feel that way. 

But it’s too late to do anything about it.  So…what?  He lives out his final years with a sense of disappointment and failure?  He tries to bond with his kids in their adulthood?  He vows to be a great grand-dad?  Or he just accepts it and moves on—with any luck. 

Please pardon my predictable conclusion:  BreakAways are not just for the rich and self-actualized.  They’re also for dads who simply want to change diapers, cook healthy food for their family, and above all:  Hug their kids.  Any time, on any day. 

What’s wrong with that? 

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Busy…or Lazy!?!

Posted on: Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment
Check out this funny, smart WashPost column that dares to ask:  Am I busy?  Or am I lazy? Why, exactly, don’t I get those new eyeglasses, pay that insurance bill, and master my iPod?

My advice:  Take a 3-month sabbatical and ponder those very questions.  The ones you don’t have time–or energy–to deal with right now.  You just might…
  • Get past the annoyances of such unsolved mysteries.  
  • Find new profundities (and annoyances) to clog your brain.
  • Relax, and realize that’s the best solution to most anything.
  • Find time to get new eyeglasses.  
  • Come back with a (slightly) more cosmic view about the little shtuff…for now.  
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Success Secret: Practice!

Posted on: Sunday, May 3rd, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

In this provocative NYT article, David Brooks dives deep into the notion that genes and IQs and things determine profound success, and convinincingly argues that nothing beats good, old-fashioned practice.  That’s not only how musicians get to Carnegie Hall, it’s also what made Mozart and Tiger Woods great. 

As Brooks states,

The mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough.  By practicing slowly, by breaking skills into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.” 

He recommends two “enjoyable” new books:  “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. 

For any of us who feel in a slump, a little background reading on perseverance may in order.  After all, nobody golfs par or launches a new idea without hard work along the way.  At some point, it’s probably even pleasureable.  Bet the pay-off is! 

To stretch the idea a bit further, nobody gets a sabbatical without persistence and patience either.  Gosh, even a week vacation takes ample planning and some sacrifice.  So, if you want a BreakAway, start rehearsing now.  Try weekend escapes.  Serve up (media-free) Sunday Supper.  Sneak away and chill 20 minutes every afternoon. 

Practice may not make perfect.  But it may get you to your desired destination in life.  

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Island Learning: Keeping it Local

Posted on: Friday, February 13th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

Kids pick up a lot by experience and osmosis. But picking up books along the way perks up their sense of place—and increases their vernacular vocabulary. Wandering in little island book stores is a treat, too. The better ones do a fine job of providing local lesson materials, and make book browsing fun. 

Here’s just some of the stuff we’ve stumbled on that even the parents can appreciate…


  • Children’s Stories.  Often written with some dialect and new words, they bring a child’s perspective to the big, old world.  “Away to Bequia” takes a quirky family sailing from St. Vincent to little Bequia.  “The Nutmeg Princess” features three haunting, local legends that make CurlyGirl’s blue eyes go wide open. 
  • Adventures.  AllBoy devours anything with some suspense and sea drama.  An adapted version of “Treasure Island” made him love a book his dad has never finished, while a Hardy Boys saga set on St. John brought new drama to familiar sites. 
  • Reference sources.  Fortunately, the better places you stay have stacks of guidebooks, nature books, maps, atlases, and more.  We thumb through those, plus pick up the likes of “A B Sea” for the little one and “Beneath Tropic Seas” for the tween.
  • Art materials.  Just handing out paper and pens to the kids brings forth some impressive interpretations of fish, plants, and local colors.  A coloring book like “Wet, Wild and Rare” not only provides fun drawings, but brief copy about the wildlife (non-human) of the Caribbean. 
  • Music.  Ears getting filled with song is the most ongoing and obvious proof that we’re far away.  It’s everywhere, all the time.  And although there is surprising variety, most of it is island-centric.  We pay attention in the buses and stores, go to hear it live, buy CDs, and even make our own with guitar and riddim instruments. 
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BreakAway Heroes Sail in from France

Posted on: Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 5 comments
So I have this Big Idea—about retiring now and then instead of waiting until your final years, even if it means working longer at the end or enacting some sacrifices along the way. But just when I’m feeling pretty smug about taking 4 Sabbaticals in 19 years, along come some real experts, my new heroes, this intrepid family from France.

Frank, France, Juliette, Jeanne & Colin, Lifehackers extraordinaire

Frank, France, Juliette, Jeanne & Colin, Lifehackers extraordinaire

My idea is hardly original.  And folks like this prove that advanced actualization is possible.  You see, they are in the middle of executing the unthinkable:  Taking one year to sail; including to and from Europe; while home-schooling their 3 children via a vigorous program; and leaving a 100-employee business behind in the mist. 
Truth is, we’ve met many Euro-families doing this—from Sweden, the Netherlands, and beyond.  You see their flags flying and hear their children playing on vessels throughout the islands.  But we connected for a lovely, long time with these good people. 
They were living on their sailboat in the harbor of our resort when we arrived.  Our children soon found each other, we started sharing meals, and spent many hours relaxing and chatting with them—from which I assemble this collage of quotes, courtesy of Frank and France, with ongoing validation from their children, Colin, Jeanne & Juliette (ages 6, 10, 12).
It Starts with a Dream
At first it was just my dream, but then it got shared by the whole family.  I wanted to show the kids that if you have a dream, it takes time—year after year.  It’s important to keep it, even if you’re not realizing it.  But if you want it bad enough, and work hard, you can usually achieve most of your goals. 
My dream was a big sail.  I’ve had it for 20 years.  The family became part of it 10 years ago, because we had children.  5 years ago, I made it a real project.  And three years ago, I told my business partner and company we need to make this possible.  To not disturb the company was important.  And yet, my customers were actually impressed, not upset. 
I made a deal with my partner:  I do this, and you can also have a year off to use however you wish.  He still has that to look forward to. 
Workaholism Became Big Motivator
I work a lot.  The average week is 60 hours, I’d say.  A big awakening moment for me was realizing that I’d almost missed the births of two out of my three children.  I realized:  These are the big occasions of your life.  You have to be there.  They won’t happen again.  I decided if I wanted to see my children grow up, it was time to recalibrate my priorities. 

Getting the Children on Board
The timing was based largely on the children.  We figured that our oldest, 12, would be harder to remove from her social life at 13 or 14.  During planning, she did think a year would be too long.  But now that we are doing it, she keeps asking if we can keep sailing for another year! 
We had to convince them that this was our big chance for time together.  For exciting exploration—which I think is more important than school. 
The transition was difficult for all of us.  Being on a boat 24/7 with no escapes, well, sometimes that led to big explosions.  It’s easier now.  We’ve found ways to give free space and time.  Navigating.  Photos.  Art and play.  We all work on a website about the trip.  And of course, home schooling eats up a lot of time. 

Home Schooling a la France:  All Hands on Deck! 
As French citizens, to leave for a year, we MUST educate our children through a program called Centre Nationalee D’Enseignement a’ Distance.  There are 200,000 French students all over the world!  It goes as high as Ph.D.  We are registered to two different schools.  We belong to classes with teachers.  It’s very challenging and administrative. 
There are many, many books and supplies on board.  We have to do things like record music lessons on cassette and send it to France.  There, a teacher listens, records comments, and sends it back.  They even expect us to do chemistry experiments!  We’ve gotten bad grades and been scolded in e-mails for being late.  It’s taken much more time and focus than we expected, but we keep at it and do our best. 

Setting Sail on an Ambitious Adventure
The nice thing about life on a boat is that you can go anywhere.  It’s like having a move-able house on water.  We started from France, of course, and have done stops in Spain, the Canary Islands, Senegal, the Capo Verde islands, Barbados, the Grenadines, and Bequia.  We’ll spend some serious time in the French-Caribbean islands and Cuba before crossing the Atlantic to go home again. 
As for rough moments—besides privacy and home schooling.  We did have a medical emergency while crossing in September.  For a few hours, it was very scary.  One daughter got seriously ill, with many symptoms, and we thought it might be appendicitis.  That would NOT be easy to handle alone in stormy seas. 
Another terrible moment was going through customs on one particular island.  We made a simple mistake:  We had a friend on board—who had helped us cross over.  We arrived late, after customs was closed, and he had an early flight out the next morning, so we didn’t declare him.  Bad idea.  Customs figured that out and five agents surrounded, shouted, and grilled me for thirty minutes, like a scene from Midnight Express.
They told me the penalty is $5,000, one year in prison, or both.  Somehow, I kept my cool.  And they eventually backed off.  The calendar helped save me because, in the end, they said, “You’re lucky tomorrow is Christmas and we’re closed, so we’re going to drop the whole matter.”  That is NOT a good memory, though. 

Soon Comes the Hard Part:  Return to Reality
First came planning, and then the trip itself.  But the part that may be most difficult is going home.  We get back in July and school begins in September.  So for the kids, that transition will probably be easier.  But some of their friends may have moved on, so there could be other issues. 
I fear going back to work, I guess.  What if people have taken on too much autonomy and won’t listen to me any more?  I may have to refocus some people, or even ask if the company still needs me at all.  And my partner and I will need to learn to work together again after all this time and change. 
I don’t look forward to the weather, of course.  Where we live in France has a long, gray winter.  Would you believe I prefer this beautiful tropical season? 
  • But more than anything, I worry about ennui—being bored.  After a dream-come-true like this, will routine and work feel worthwhile and satisfying?  We will see. Perhaps to start thinking about the next big dream will be one way to survive the transition…

Thanks for the reminder.  Our Sabbatical ends months before you sail back across the big pond. So yes, it’s time to savor every setting, prepare for the impending re-entry, and start working toward the next big BreakAway.

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