Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Limbo: The Downside of a Dream on Hold

I studied Dante's Inferno in college. While I don't remember too much about the allegory, I do recall with pretty vivid detail his description of limbo.  It was a place teetering on the outskirts of hell specially reserved for people who didn't accept or deny Christ and "lacked the hope for something greater than rational minds can conceive." In other words, it was a place for people who made no commitment one way or another, an eternal hang-out for folks who failed to make conscious moral choices. It certainly wasn't heaven but it wasn't quite damnation either. Free thinkers like the poets and philosophers of antiquity (along with unbaptised babies) hung out in this limbo. Today, the term "limbo" is used more informally to describe state of being stagnant, that irksome feeling of going from nowhere to nowhere.  A period of uncertainty.

It also happens to be exactly where Scott and I find ourselves these days.
(And, no, Socrates and Homer are not here. Bummer.)

Every day I get emails from people asking questions on how to make their dream of living on a boat come true. They want to know the secret to breaking out of the rat race and find a way to fill the cruising kitty and fund their gypsy lifestyle. "How do you do it?" they want to know.

The truth is: we don't know. We have no answers. We have no magic to share. We're not living our dream. We're not making it happen. Sure, it worked for a while. But now? Not so much.

And herein lies the downside of choosing an alternative lifestyle at relatively young ages: Scott and I have no real fallback plan.

We sold our cars, left our jobs, and all our money went into our boat and our dream. We have no home. We have no significant savings. We are living with my parents for crying out loud (which we are incredibly grateful for because we'd be living in a van by the river otherwise). We have no idea where to go from here and it feels like we're starting from square one, except we're not in our twenties, but in our mid to late thirties with three small children. You can praise our lifestyle all you want, but right now we are hardly "living the dream". In fact from our vantage point (and I'm sure the vantage point of others) - we feel like utter failures.

We left in 2010 with big plans and enough money to float us along for a good while. When that ran out, Scott found work and we were, happily, living check to check while floating along. Bringing one baby into the equation didn't even phase us. It was all good and we kept plugging along. When we found out we were having twins, however, a colossal (and blessed!) monkey wrench was thrown into our life (insert sound of record scratching).

So here we are.  In limbo. Going nowhere. Stuck in a rut. And feeling pretty crappy about it. Wah, wah.

Since we've been home I have been in a fog of multiple motherhood and only now am I reaching a point with the twins that I feel like I can come up for air and take a look around.  Scott has been working really hard to try and make a decent income from various real estate outlets, but they haven't proven viable for the long term. We have no idea what to do. We're not sure where to go from here. We have no real plan (other than this one, for now) and no concrete ideas on how to support ourselves and our dreams moving forward.

I would love to be able to write more, to do freelance work and bring in some income (the blog and various affiliates do bring in a nice chunk of change, but certainly not enough to call "income") - but right now, almost all of my time is spent caring for our children which, mind you, I am very happy to do, but it's not leaving much room for anything else. Scott would love to find a gig that allows for us to live on the boat part time, and land part time but, as most of you know, that's a pretty tall order. Not to mention he has some pretty hefty gaps in his resume now and no real fall-back "career".

Choosing an alternative lifestyle, while it grants us some wonderful adventures and opportunities, has left us feeling a little lost and...for lack of a better word...stuck. We don't own any real land-based possessions to speak of, but we do own our boat, so do we move aboard Asante full-time? Do we look for job-opportunities in the British or US Virgin Islands and commit ourselves to a life aboard abroad? If so - what would we do? Thankfully, the door is always open with Island Windjammers, and Scott was offered a gig to be a captain and take out passengers on our boat - but then what would me and the girls do all day? Surely vacationers aren't interested in days sails with three babies on a boat and that's not really the kind of lifestyle we're looking for either.  Do we come back to land, rent a house and re-enter the working world with the hopes to save enough to take off again in a few years? We don't have the answers to any of these questions right now and that is a pretty unsettling feeling.

Has living in the "real world" gotten to us? Has our semi-reluctant re-entry into a society that values careers, home ownership and material goods tainted our dreaming minds? Have we been comparing ourselves to our land-lubbing peers and felt the sting that the life we have lead and what we have done is simply not valued here?  Perhaps. I certainly think this is a big part of it.

So when people write us asking how we do it, I am inclined to write back: I'm so sorry, but I just. don't. know. It worked for us for a while, but now that we have a family - and a substantial one at that - suddenly, everything is a little a lot more complicated. We want so much for our girls. We want them to be proud of us, to see what we have accomplished and, in turn, inspire them to work hard to achieve their dreams, whatever those might be. We want them to be happy, confident, strong and kind. We want to teach them to be citizens of the world, and the sort of people who dream big and strive to make the world a better place.

What we don't know is what that life looks like and how to get there. We've been floating along without any real direction or long-term plan for so long, that we've sort of atrophied our ability to steer.


Lucky for us, our "limbo" is less permanent than Dante's.  We are not eternally stuck here. We have the means to get out because our limbo is an intermediate condition, an intermission. We have no idea what lies ahead, but I guess that's what makes life beautiful, right? It's the uncertainty and the mystery of the future, and the lessons we learn along the way, that keep us moving forward toward something (hopefully) bigger and better than before...
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
- Gilda Radner


With Brio said...

So good. So, so, so good. This may not really be helpful to your situation, but I loved this post. Maybe because it so closely echoes our own questions & thoughts.

"Everything will be alright in the end; if it's not alright, it's not the end"

(can't wait to see how you guys figure it out -- because we all know you will :D)


Scott Sanderson said...

Write on! You do it wonderfully.

Genevieve said...

I love this post as it is 100% honest! First time I am posting a comment on your blog that I have been reading for a long time now. Dreaming of doing the same as you guys did, looking at your baby onboard tips for our time on the boat with our 3 months baby.

I think what you are going through is totally normal! You will get it figured out and even with jobs and a house, you would have come to a period of questions about your life and futur.

We are roughly the same age, we have 3 kids, looking for a 4th one and after a 3 months sailing trip on the East Coast last year with our baby, we were SO happy to be back to Lake Champlain, home. Our conclusion of the trip was: elsewhere is not necessarly better!!! We can definitely enjoy ourself, especially with kids, on a quiet anchor at only 1 hour from home and it's FINE! My point is, your time on land is a period of questions for you and Scott about what is going to happen to your family. We did lived the same after 3 months full time onboard. Hope you will find the answer soon. your kids will be happy pretty much anywhere as long as they are with you!

Ocean Irene said...

To me it sounds like a "death" and "rebirth" process!

It happened to me a couple years ago- just after I graduated high school. I felt dead inside. I felt the world didn't need me, that I was such a failure and had no idea where to go in life. I was on the floor- in such a limbo state.

The following year- my 19th year- was the most amazing year of my life. My world was opened up beyond anything I could have dreamed of. I did a lot of travelling and met pretty cool friends.

I'm 22 now. I idolize the idea of sailing and the lifestyle. I read your blog as much as the Bumfuzzles- which I found 5 years ago during my hopeless limbo days- but have stuck with. Thank you- soooo much for your honesty and perspective Brittany.

I feel you guys might be going through a "rebirth" process. And the new side will be just as- if not more- amazing than the last!

All the best!


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke

Unknown said...

A well written and honest post.

We all and perhaps everyone following blogs like these are finding themselves with this mental battle, looking for the place that will bring meaning to our lives.

When those "What if....", moments return new possibilities become day dreams.

Mine: What if I, at the southern tip of Africa, provide labour opportunities by starting to build steel boats for exploration charters to Antarctica..... Somewhere in that thought is a real workable plan. There would be government aid, week currency should make it cheap for people with dollar based income.

We can still dream, there is lots of time, we are only doing a competent crew course in December. Lots of time....

May your "What if" moment arrive soon!


Catherine said...

I love the quote from Rilke in the comment from Ocean Irene. I have it on my fridge and have had for over 20 years.
Life is full of these moments of uncertainty and it is difficult, especially when one has been able to be on exactly the path one wanted, to realize that this detour is not failure but rather a re-purposing of one's life. You may well resume the path you were on...or you may discover another that is even better.
It is easy when surrounded by landlubbers and daily inundated with cultural models of the 'good life' to question whether you have made the right choices. Respect your decisions as the majority of your readers do. There will be a workable plan to return to your previous life or some close version of it. It just hasn't been revealed yet.
Limbo is difficult...I've spent a fair amount of time there but it was never unproductive if I allow myself to learn from it.
Much love to you and your family. Wishing you smooth sailing.

Susan said...

I love this honest post. I think too many people from the outside assume your life is just easy and wonderful, but there are many struggles involved in living the dream - and more so when kids are involved. We are cruising now with our one-year-old and part of me feels guilty for selling everything for a year or two of fun. It seems irresponsible, but so does not following you dream!!!

I would stick with the real estate thing. That is the way to freedom. You will figure it out. And parents are nice to fall back on.

Thanks for letting us know you don't have it all figured out :)

s/v Laurel

Anonymous said...

For us, the ultimate deciding factors against a transient lifestyle had nothing to do with the home ownership or materialism, but were instead things like "access to great medical care," "proximity to family" and allowing our kids to put down roots of their own.

We still travel a ton and I think we always will.

These decisions are best made, I think, not from a point of rejecting what you *believe* to be the values of those around you and instead making a positive choice that reflects what you want. I.e., leave the perceived materialism of others out of the equation, instead of using it to try to push you in a certain direction. That's a highly negative way to make a decision.

And it won't work.

Live abroad (or not) because you love it and feel it's the best situation for your family. From the posts I've read, you seemed quite thrilled living aboard vs. treating it as an escape from a life that didn't "fit."

GL either way.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog by the way. It always comes across as very genuine and not sugar coated. I am an engineer. I even have a Master's degree in engineering, but I can honestly say that the dilemma that you are currently in is not just because you didn't do the traditional school, career, white picket fence thing. I wrestle with the same dilemma constantly. I wandered around a bit too before going back to school at 27. I was convinced that education and career would get me where I wanted to be, but so far, it has only gotten me to a point of realizing that mostly I dream of being outside of an office.
I agree with the people in the other posts. You will figure it out, or you will figure something out. I feel like if you are having doubts and set backs in the first place, it means that you are on your way to something good. You don't run into obstacles unless you are moving forward.
Just keep going, and don't worry too much. Also don't worry about your kids being proud. They are going to love you no matter what. I feel like that is just unnecessary pressure. I think Dory in Finding Nemo says it best... Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
A (

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful written entry. I used it as a perfect example of what we are going through ourselves. WE are liveaboards with four kids in St Thomas. We are also in the what next phase. The only thing we own is the boat. Health issues have put cruising on the back burner for a bit. Thanks again for such a great read.

Jesse B. said...

Great post, and so refreshing to see that you haven't "overcome" real life, but are in fact living the most authentic and real life that you can.

As one of the many, many people who have only dreamed about what you guys have done, I can assure you that you're not alone in not feeling like you have a fall-back plan. There's plenty of us out here who did the university-career-condo-house-family thing, stuck with the program, and still don't have anything to show for it, except a few extra stops on our resume.

My wife and I have been renting for five years now since the financial meltdown, and our (somewhat) luxurious DINK income has been cut in half while my wife stays home with our growing family... trust me, I'd trade our six year old minivan and paltry 401k for the experiences you've had in a heartbeat. Medical bills, credit cards, furniture, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff... long story short: none of the stuff you guys don't have would make you feel any more fulfilled or comfortable than you are. All this junk is quite literally an anchor on a soul that wishes to follow the wind.

Anonymous said...

Strange how after reading this post I was drawn to your post from July 7, 2011.....perhaps it is time to open that hostel in the islands or the marina many other possibilities.
Hugs to you and your family

Tasha | Turf to Surf said...

Hey Brittany,

I have always loved that Gilda Radner quote.

And I absolutely get what you're going through right now. I also think you guys will figure out something that works for you, even if you don't know what that solution looks like right now. Which is not much comfort and is probably nothing more than me saying to have confidence in your varied skills that there is a way to make money and live a life that fulfills you.

We are experiencing the opposite kind of problem in that we have more work than we know what to do with, and it seems impossible to escape work, as a result. We spent our youths working up to the dream company we've built ourselves - and yet all we want to do is go sailing and do less work. Which is hard when so many people depend on us and our companies now. So we keep struggling with that and keep getting pulled back to land because of it.

I keep my chin up when I'm feeling down and off-track when it comes to my dreams by remembering that the things you truly want in life are worth fighting hard for...and that they aren't going to come easy. They never do. As long as I expect it to be hard, I can keep on fighting for it.

And you can, too - you guys will figure it out. You're a great team and it's always easier to tag-team the fight for your dreams than it is to go it alone :-)

Ben said...


Now that you've busted this can into the open why not take the next step and ask your audience?

Scott has skills. You have skills. Don't sell yourself short. Leverage your readers by asking them if anyone has any remote job openings for skills x,y,z.

I'd be surprised if no one came to support you two.


Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog for the last couple of years, why, because I am a sailor who bought a 34 foot boat when I was in my late 20's (in Lake Erie) before I was married, before kids. I am now in my mid 30's with a 3 and 2 year old. We "sail" weekends and I read about the "dream". You know why I didn't toss in the towel and sail away back in my 20' was the dream of stability and family. I would love to applaud you on your choices, but I can't. I am not a supporter of "live your dreams today and forget about the future". You made choices, just like I did, you are now in a place you don't really want to be. I hope your new dreams are those of 3 happy kiddos and less about me me me and your dream of sailing. Sorry to harsh your mellow, but I know people who have done the sailing thing for a couple of years in there 20's and all I hear is the bitching about how hard it is now to get life back on track. I wish you luck on your new dreams.

Ken said...

I'm not a parent, so my comments aren't worth a whole lot. But, with regards to making your children proud, I cannot imagine that any child would not be proud of parents that gave a childhood of learning, the outdoors, exposure to the rest of the world, etc. Most parents these days shelter the kids and teach them pretty shallow values. Best of luck in whatever you decide!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Windtraveler said...

WOW!! I am so shocked and humbled by the response this post elicited. Thank you all so much! Okay...
@Brio - thanks, so glad to know we are not alone and that other young cruisers struggle with this too. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
@Scott - thank you!
@Genevieve - I am 100% with you, our kids - as long as they are with us - will be fine, and I'm so happy for you that you found that you can be happy right in your own back yard! That is awesome. And, yes, elsewhere is not always better for sure.
@Ocean Irene - thank you. I also originally had that very quote for this post - I love it. But I thought the Gilda Radner was more succinct. Great minds think alike ;)
@ Anon - thank you. I agree, proximity to medical care, and - most important - family are biggies. Luckily we've been able to come home a lot - but we shall see where our next path leads, these things, however, will be a part of that decision making process for sure.
@Anon - so awesome - "if you reach obstacles it means you are moving forward" - I'm holding on to that one and running with it, thank you.
@Tasha - thanks chica, and congrats on your biz going so well! You guys will figure it out -no doubt, you have no shortage of adventures on your horizon, I am certain!
@Ben - haha - we've already gotten some emails with ideas and what not, we shall see! We have some plans too - we will see what pans out :) Thank you
@Anon - thanks for your perspective. I appreciate it. But we in NO WAY regret what we have done and we are going to do *everything* in our power to ensure that we can continue to live a life of adventure FOR our girls. You stayed your course, we chose a different path. Our stories and experiences have provided us (and, most of all, Isla) with an incredible richness that no money could ever buy. So, you might have chosen to stay back, we chose the path less taken and, to quote Robert Frost, "it has made all the difference". To us, that is a good thing.

KS said...

Wind traveler
A very honest post Brittany! My husband & I follow your blog fairly regularly, and having a new baby (just 1, and in a house no less) I was wondering how you guys were managing it all! In regards to the comments by "Anonymous," I think there are valid points on both sides. But I do think it wise for him to consider that there are MANY ways of existing on this earth, and just because one path is the more "prescribed" one, does not necessarily make it the "best" one for any particular individual, or set of individuals (ie family).

Do I think there is wisdom and prudence to planning and providing financial security for your family? Absolutely. Do I think there is wisdom in deviating from convention and raising your children according to your core values, eschewing the sometimes messed-up consumerism-focused western world - in favor of educating them by travel, encounters with Nature and other cultures, and having the closeness of proximity with family that life on a boat provides? Absolutely. Do I think Scott and Brittany realize all of these things? Absolutely. Because if they didn't, they wouldn't be feeling torn between worlds, and the respective values inherent IN each world. So let's encourage them. Let's not judge. Let's support them in figuring out what's best for THEIR family. Because they will. They are both two intelligent, competent people, who obviously love their children a great deal (see you can tell a lot from reading blogs ;) and I have no doubt they will land on their feet.

I can tell you what my extensive travels in both affluent and third-world nations has taught me. It is that money, once basic needs for shelter, food, etc are met, does not have a linear relationship with happiness. Truly, the happiest people I have met in this world have been DIRT poor. And I mean that literally. They slept on dirt. In tin structures, by the Indian Ocean. And they were the damn kindest, most generous people I have ever met. Are their "prospects" bleak by Western standards? You betcha. But I know (and am related to) some ultra high net-worth individuals (read: 8-figure accounts) who are fairly unkind, and perhaps a bit miserable.

So do I think it is rather a philistine view to condemn Scott and Brittany as "selfish" parents for wanting to share their wonderful experiences of life afloat with their children? Yes I do. Granted, by posting deeply personal things in a public forum, one opens oneself up to all sorts of feedback. But do I think "Anonymous" was a little harsh, especially considering what a curveball this family was thrown, to find out they were expecting twins! I'm sure they wouldn't trade their bundles of joy for the WORLD, but to go from one to TWO kids is hard enough. One to THREE? Must feel exponential. So lets give them a little love & room to breathe, shall we?

ps..Brittany, way to rock the gracious, diplomatic response ;)

Tom~Tom said...

In my efforts to "throw off the bowlines", I'm always looking for ways to supplement the income with a portable option. Here's one list of suggestions:

I'm due to be on Sagitta beginning mid January out of Red Hook, STT to SXM. Maybe our paths will cross somewhere in the BVIs.


under30undersail said...

So back when our cruising days were ending, we were in the eastern caribbean brainstorming what to do next (we really wanted to stay on our boat in the caribbean, but I also wanted a garden), my husband suggested that he build a pontoon raft garden to float behind our sailboat at anchor. Yeah. That quickly got me brainstorming other ideas.
We moved back to the states and my husband started medical school/finished/is now in residency.
We're not in limbo inasmuch as we know that he has a job that he loves and is helping people, but I hear where you're coming from. We're trying to figure out how to do everything we want to do we fit it all in? Taking our girls cruising is a big big component. And I find it hard to talk to many people about it b/c the difficulty we have is trying to figure out how to live outside of the box. If we wanted a house and 9-5 job, that'd be easy. It's figuring out how to do something different.
Good luck! I'm sure you guys will find something that clicks.
PS: we liveaboard and I have no garden in sight. And I'm not that bothered by that. Life is good now, as is. It's funny how plans and priorities change.

Craig said...

Wow. Your post resonated really loudly with us, it is a similar journey to the one we are on as well. Fair winds and following seas.

gem said...

Great post......really loved your honesty! I think being in limbo happens a lot as you journey through life, but when you look back at it being in limbo was really a time for reflection, regrouping and learning. No matter how often being in limbo happens it is worthwhile and ultimately fulfilling even if it doesn't feel like that at the time. Your daughters can only ever be proud of you for being who you are, resourceful and adventurous parents who think outside the box and rise to the challenges of everything life throws at them.
Kia Kaha

Becky turner said...

You have done a great job on this article. It’s very readable and highly intelligent. You have even managed to make it understandable and easy to read. You have some real writing talent. Thank you.
3 months baby

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