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I Live on a Boat. Here are 7 Lessons I've Learned for the Workplace.

I Live on a Boat. Here are 7 Lessons I've Learned for the Workplace.

When 2020 shook things up, my husband and I left our jobs and embarked on the Great Loop, a 6,000 mile circumnavigation around U.S. waterways. In our 30s, this meant we chose to spend a year of adventure at the potential expense of advancing our careers. We questioned if this was the best use of our time.

It was.

Partly because we had a blast exploring the country. But also because this adventure reaffirmed how life experiences can provide just as much value toward developing skills to be successful in the workplace.

Here are seven lessons I learned on the water to take to the workplace.

1) Know how and when to use different communication styles.

When I’m working the lines while docking, I have to quickly communicate how many feet my husband has before he is going to hit something. This may sound easy, but for someone who is used to processing information first before sharing, this was hard.

I found myself communicating when he was about to hit something versus sharing information throughout the process. I consider my tendency to observe-process-share a strength, but sometimes that’s not the best way to communicate.

[Related: Building Resilience and Embracing True Learning: Silver Linings in the Midst of the Pandemic]

2) Build a network of authentic, valuable relationships.

We didn’t know a lot about boating, which meant we needed a ton of help to get our boat ready. We couldn’t do it without the people that helped us along the way and the relationships we were able to build.

Treating people with respect, taking the extra time to learn about someone, and showing appreciation for help received can make a huge difference toward building meaningful connections instead of transactional relationships. Not to mention simple acts of kindness and generosity can have incredible impact, challenging me to lend a helping hand whenever I’m in a position to do so.

3) Know when to ask for help.

Sometimes we needed help, and we weren’t afraid to ask for it. But other times, we just didn’t want to – especially while docking.

But in times when docking was especially challenging, we ended up having to get help or someone realized we were having issues and assisted anyway. The experience was humbling. But it reaffirmed there are times when asking for assistance is necessary to accomplish a goal.

4) Address problems directly.

When something on our boat stopped working, it never fixed itself (even though we tried that strategy several times). Many times a problem forced us to drop everything and focus on fixing the boat.

We rented cars, walked miles to marine shops, worked through the night, called every mechanic in an area, and more to get a problem resolved. It was daunting. But unless we took action, the problem wasn’t going to get fixed and it was our responsibility to keep our boat running. Not only for the sake of being able to complete our trip, but there was no option to abandon an inoperable boat. We had to dig in and find the diligence to keep at it until the problem was solved.

[Related: Harnessing Courage to Overcome Fear]

5) Have a plan, yet know when to adapt.

When cruising, it's pretty important to have a plan for where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. If something happens unexpectedly – a storm appears or the marina is full – you have to have a back-up plan ready. Having a plan and knowing how to quickly adapt when needed can mitigate a lot of risks on the water.

This is easier said than done, especially if you are trying to keep a schedule that may require you to try to go those extra miles at the risk of cruising into a storm. Sometimes the risk is worth it, but other times, you have to adjust. Just like in the workplace, there's a lot that can happen outside of your control, and knowing when to alter course, deploy a new strategy, or move the benchmarks can make a smoother ride for all involved.

6) Be confident in your decision making.

Maneuvering a boat in tight quarters is one of the hardest parts of driving a boat. You have to consider the wind, tides, current, natural steerage of the boat, size of the slip, what’s happening around you, and more. There often is no time to ask for a second opinion, leaving you to make quick decisions to safely get the boat where you want to go.

This is hard and I don’t always get it right, but learning how to rebound from a mistake, trust myself, and make quick decisions on the go has been invaluable.

7) Be creative with what you have.

This rang true anywhere from cooking a meal to fixing a mechanical issue to sourcing parts. More times than expected, we were nowhere near a place to grab food, meaning we had to work with what was on our boat.

When trying to fix a mechanical issue, we rarely could find a mechanic to come help. This meant we had to use the resources we had (internet, books, our network) to fix it ourselves. The natural limitations of cruising required us to flex and stretch our creative problem-solving skills in ways that hadn’t been done before.

Our experiences in and out of the workplace and how we grow from them undoubtedly shape who we are as people and professionals. A growing desire for work-life balance and an increase in companies encouraging their employees to take extended time off are hopeful signs that the value in these types of experiences are being recognized.

If a potential career break is in your future, I encourage you to consider the opportunity. Or if you are on one, or spending significant time on an activity outside of work, take the time to reflect on how it's impacted you. Being able to understand that impact will not only make the experience that much more enriching, but also help you stand out in the workplace.

[Related: Seven Business Takeaways From a Roman Holiday]

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Kate Carney is rounding out her year-long career break cruising around the U.S. with her husband on their 31-foot trawler, Sweet Day. You can follow their adventure and learnings on www.lifeonsweetday.com or instagram @lifeonsweetday.com.


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