Few are as pitiable as the person who sets aside his dreams too quickly, acquiescing to anonymous mediocrity with total, if wistful, submission. We all know the type; the big dreamer who, in the face of adversity, merely gives up — surrendering to the life of a normal person in a normal suburb with a normal wife and normal children, looking forward to a drab middle-class existence.
I’ve previously noted the delightfully wicked Demotivator from Despair, Inc., that observes that not everyone gets to be an astronaut when he grows up. This is, in some ways, a commonplace. But what delineates the astronauts from the ground crew is merely vision augmented by a bit of discipline.
For a long time, I’ve sat on the sidelines, watching life’s astronauts climb happily upon their rockets while I remained in the gallery. It seemed that the path to Mission Control was blocked by insurmountable obstacles largely of my own design, so comfortable inaction seemed the only viable approach.
I think people, especially single young males, struggle with whether they’re willing to admit that they’re really nothing special. As kids, and as college students, we believe we’re invincible, with the world at our fingertips. Then we hit the “real world” and have to adjust to living within three standard deviations of the mean along the normal curve. The test of maturity is in how we respond to the realization that we’re not possessed of infinite potential.
Some people just give up. They closet their dreams and opt instead for the safety of a comfortable, if faceless, existence. Others cannot quite achieve greatness, but they also cannot bow their heads; they devolve into unhappiness and despair and emotional instability and find novel ways of refusing to accept responsibility for the disaffection they impose upon themselves.
There is a third path, though — the path I’ve chosen to walk, the path of rejecting the idea that barriers to the launch pad really exist. We actually can be an astronaut, every one of us, if we just identify our dreams and then work to make them a reality.
My dream is to write and to travel. I want to sail the world, paying my way through writing novels and freelance trade-mag articles, while seeing the wonders of this big blue marble for myself, unhurried by airline itineraries or mass-market sightseeing programs.
A pipe dream, one might say. And as I’ve shared this with people, more than one has suggested as much. (Others have been more supportive, and I love them for that. Stacie in particular.) Yet there’s more substance to this than many think — it’s not as if I’ve failed to do my research!
So, how to live this dream? How to move from being a shorebound hospital analyst to living on a 40-foot cutter, sailing the Carribbean and writing from the aft deck?
I have a two-year plan:
- Learn to sail. There are courses that are offered through schools in Holland, Mich., and elsewhere, that provide the requisite certifications. Plus, I may have guidance from my uncle Doug, who has sailed small craft for many years. Between this, and crewing larger vessels over the next two summers, I should be able to develop the skills to handle my own boat between the Great Lakes and the Carribbean. After a few years of experience, I will venture progressively farther out, until I believe I’m ready to tackle a circumnavigation. At some point, captaincy certification by the U.S. Coast Guard will be in order, as well.
UPDATE, 9/08 … I’ve settled on a first-pass goal of starting with weekend and week-long voyages in the Great Lakes, to be augmented at some point by the completion of the Great Loop.
- Learn auxiliary skills. I intend to be certified as a wilderness first responder and as a scuba diver. I also will continue with my karate training, which will be augmented later with some study of kendo (Japanese swordsmanship). I’m also, optionally, considering a simple pilot’s license (single-engine, VFR) and some form of survivalist training next summer — but that depends on funding. It always pays to keep one’s options open.
UPDATE, 9/08 … Open-water diver certification, check. Karate work, check. Kendo has been substituted with escrima, study of which continues at the dojo.
- Manage the money. The goal is to sail away with no debt, owning my boat outright. This will require more income than I presently earn from the hospital, so I’m going to start my own consultancy. In fact, I’ve already registered an LLC with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth and the IRS, and I recently leased office space in downtown Grand Rapids. This consultancy will focus on quality improvement, evaluation, ethics, communications, and systems development — all areas where I have skills sufficient to be a consultant, especially in the local market.
UPDATE, 9/08 … Gillikin Consulting Group LLC formed. Infrastructure work complete. Several near-misses on the acquisition of a boat. A lot of inappropriate spending habits have been curtailed.
- Lay the writing foundation. The consultancy will include ample writing opportunity; I already have signed a contract to contribute a submission to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Survey Research Statistics. Plus, I have professional opportunities to write in the healthcare quality improvement realm, as a new member of the editorial team of the Journal of Healthcare Quality, and as the new publications officer-elect of the Quality and Productivity section of the American Statistical Association. Now, to capitalize on it! One’s clips list is the way into more lucrative writing assignments, and I’m positioned in a fast-growing niche writing market.
UPDATE, 9/08 … Presentation slated at the Fall Technical Conference of the American Statistical Association/American Society for Quality in October. Need to be more aggressive in writing for publication, though.
- Cultivate my personal growth. I very much need to hit the weight bench; I joke, but I’m not far off when I say that I have all the upper-body strength of a six-year-old girl. At least I’m in great shape, cardio-wise. Plus, I want to continue with my singing education and my piano study, because it brings me joy, and to finally hammer out that life-long reading list. And just for fun, I want to dabble in Spanish and German and be certified as a professional parliamentarian, and get the basic A-license in skydiving from the U.S. Parachute Association. On the water, under the water, over the water — a civilian variant of a U.S. Navy SEAL. 🙂
UPDATE, 9/08 … I continue to dabble with piano. Have a plan for strength training, which will commence when I’m satisfied with my body-composition ratio.
This sounds like a fantasy, but it’s more realistic than I imagined when I first began my research. There are already people — including people in my age bracket, not merely retirees — who relish the “liveaboard” lifestyle and do exactly what I am intending: to travel and to work from their boats. With phones and e-mail, a fixed office is increasingly irrelevant. Plus, overall costs of the sailing life can be substantially less than buying a house in the suburbs and have to deal with mortgages, taxes, automobiles, and such. In fact, in purely financial terms, a reasonably prudent person can life much more cost-effectively on a sailboat than in a large house or condo.
I’ve got a little more than two years to make this work; hence the code-word “Project 810” (810 referring to the number of days from idea inception to 12/31/09). It’ll take work, but the prospect of this plan — my private notes are much more detailed than what I’ve outlined above — and the ultimate goal, have filled me with a happiness and a motivation I haven’t felt in a very long time.
Let’s pray for fair winds and calm seas.