To Whom It May Concern
Searching for paid work after a year and a half at sea
This is Clouds Form Over Land, a weekly newsletter about life at sea and going ashore.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am dipping my toes into the job search and getting ready to dive back into United Statesian society.
The impending hurricane season, our desire to be in community, and our financial runway all point toward land after two years of wandering on a 36’ sailboat.
How did I get here?
Living on the boat while working office jobs in San Francisco Bay for five and a half years, and working while sailing to San Diego. The savings on rent and generous opportunities for sailing practice created an opening for a voyage around North America. Many of the folks we’ve met out here are in their retirement years, living out a dream after trading their own mix of time and money. For every “cruiser" out here in the big blue, there are multiple more at home on the dock — working on aligning time, resources, boat readiness, and attitude for departure.
We are soon pointing the bow toward the Yucatan, hooking east and then north on our way to a new dock in Virginia. For the first time, the climate and culture will shift toward the familiar, mile by mile.
Searching for work can activate all sorts of patterns and memories from previous times of searching for work. The “hunt” can be a reminder of how close we live to the edge of being able to afford our lifestyles. Getting reacquainted with our prowess can bring discomfort. Applications and interviews are places to explain our value, describe what work we can hold, and commit our time to further a cause, all the while we may be feeling the crunch to land something and unconfident after being out of the game.
The shift we are making this summer feels as big or bigger than finishing school, moving cross-country, or sailing west under the Golden Gate Bridge. And it feels smaller, easier, more imaginable, and less lonely than those shifts that each felt like falling off the face of the earth. I know this terrain of change and I have more practice here than I do with most things. This voyage has shown me I can find friends and collaborators everywhere I go. My ability to take care of myself, and my dexterity and patience in figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B are at all-time highs.
Is it possible for me to stand in line for this rollercoaster and remain regulated? Can I hang on to the habits and perspective changes I have gained from living this way? Will I remain steady as the less desirable parts of my home culture shock me? What strategies will help me continue to observe, synthesize, and share?
Will I be brave enough to follow my instincts? To go slowly enough that my body keeps up with my new landscapes? Patient enough to wait for a good fit? Can I continue reading fiction, moving my body, creating things, and making friends once paid work captures my excitement, headspace, and desire to be a positive force of change in the world?
Résumé copy tends to drop to the level of our capacity to explain our worth, and this time around I have a better handle than ever on explaining my capacity and value. “Called customers” is different than optimizing a schedule between three parties. “Provided projections” is different than building relationships and data collection methods to decipher and communicate likely outcomes. “Administered payroll” is different from tracking down state tax requirements, ensuring compliance, and interfacing with the most essential task to employees. All of those pale in comparison to how it might feel to collaborate with me, as I turn the transactional into opportunities to create and connect.
There is a tricky balance to describing our expertise. Young-ish office job seekers are told to hype ourselves up, while also having some awareness of the tendency to be promoted to the point of incompetency. We aim to be confident and truthful, while also often lacking feedback on our current performance. We hope to level up to more interesting responsibilities and additional resources, while only possessing the experience of our current rung on the ladder. We may simply want to do a job well and move on with our evenings and weekends.
This time at sea has solidified that I can do so much more than I think I'm capable of and how essential it is to have an identity beyond my job title. Time with the people and practices that have endured my job shifts feels essential, and I've been around long enough to be skeptical of the idea that we can have it all.
In an age when we are told to monetize our hobbies and not monetize our hobbies, it becomes crucial to figure out what’s up for hire. People are paid for all sorts of things. A taste tester, test knitter, and sleep study subject sound awesome and…not awesome.
After a year and a half on what I’ve been calling my “sea-bbatical”, it’s no wonder I’m more dexterous with describing my shipbound capabilities than those of the cubicle.
Will I find a hiring manager that sees how transferable my most powerful skills are to the tasks at hand?
At times, well-meaning people have tried to inject some fear into this transition. Concerns for housing availability and the resume gap are common. The thing is, I have to move along from this place and time regardless of the difficulty, and I’ve gotten quite good at vaulting over or under whatever hurdles stand between me and the next safe harbor. My observation from sea is that so much is already set up for how we live on land in the United States of America. I am accustomed to finding safe harbor on a map and confirming it over VHF radio in my second language. Soon we will have Zillow, AirBNB, Craigslist, and local friends. Soon we won’t be switching it up every week, month, or season.
We have honed the ability to stay grounded, even while seasick, even while sinking.
Our loved ones can drive to help us for the first time in two years, and our families for the first time in over a decade. Steady Wi-Fi and air-conditioning are all but guaranteed. We will speak the primary language and the currency; have driver’s licenses and a mailing address. We will no longer be living and working in a spacecraft in salt water.
We have gotten used to relentlessly pursuing a goal and creating a home in ever-changing circumstances. Support has come from the most unexpected places, often just as we needed it. A security guard in La Cruceita coordinated towing us back into the marina via What’s App while we were miles offshore, and then introduced us to the mechanic who welded our cracked fuel line. A 75-year-old couple from St Louis lent us a specialized propane adaptor and extensive knowledge of the San Blas islands. The indigenous Panamanian family taught us to spot howler monkeys and edible plants, and even more about how they see the world.
Embarking for this trip required dismantling the structures of my life in Alameda, California. I set hobbies aside, quit a team I loved, and put miles between me and people I had seen daily in our junkyard maker space. Living in a vehicle requires packing light and forward progress demands it. Soon, but not yet, I’ll be filling up again.
The other day, we asked ChatGPT about living on land. After clarifying that it had no personal experience on the matter as an AI model, it shared the following:
We’ve met many who scratch their heads at our choice to leave California, leave Mexico, and leave this lifestyle. Communicating my preferences on the road less and less traveled has been a great teacher. I’ve learned that “because I want to” is a complete answer and that more than that can be an opportunity to grow closer.
A few weeks ago, I met a queer, Black Floridian at a salsa class here in Colombia. After a short time comparing histories, she asked me what freedom and fulfillment looked like to me. With a quick clarity that surprised me, I answered that freedom looks a lot like my life at the moment. I have control over my time and am increasingly applying it in life-affirming ways. Fulfillment looks like extending this further beyond my vessel and crew of two to make this planet more liveable for the long haul.
I’m returning to land and the workforce for practical reasons, and also for fulfillment. Climate change and the resulting migrations, resource constraints, and infrastructure demands require my install ops experience and storm-tested captain’s skills. I will require craft circles, family dinners, and some space to spread out to stay balanced while getting it done.
If you or your team are looking for an operations hire for renewable energy or other sustainability work, please be in touch!
Here’s more about what I’m seeking.
Offer support to a friend on the job search, or if that’s you - ask for support!
Journal for 15 minutes about what freedom and fulfillment look like to you.
Add three things you are proud of to your resume, especially if you are not actively searching for a new role.
Written in the spirit of not letting what we can’t do get in the way of what we can.
Did you try any of these? I’d love to hear about it.
With your skills, knowledge, and abilities, I know you'll find a great position! As you note, the key is holding out for one that's right for you.
It's cool to see the route you've taken so far. What route will you take back to the U.S.? Will you always be near land?