By June 2015, we knew we needed a change. It was already a year since I’d become a certified coach. It was almost a year since Fredrick had become a professional chef. I had built a full-time coaching practice. He had been promoted twice.
We were bored.
We’d been living on our sailboat Jenny for about six months, and loving #liveaboardlife. But we were kinda done with San Diego (for now) and wanted to explore other waters. We picked the Pacific Northwest out of a hat, and decided on a road trip up the coast to find our next port.
After two weeks of camping in the Redwoods, beachside Airbnbs, and family visits all designed around my client schedule, we finally made it to Seattle — where a freakish heatwave stopped us dead (it was 20 degrees cooler in San Diego). We spent the next week driving circles around Puget Sound looking for a spot Jenny would like, but nothing spoke to us.
Discouraged, we left our Jeep with a friend, and flew to the east coast for a romantic birthday weekend in my favorite hippie town, New Paltz. The evening of my 33rd birthday, I arrived at a weeklong Nonviolent Communication intensive (much more on this soon), and Fredrick flew out to Sweden to spend time with his mom. I met him out there a week later, celebrated his mom’s 70th, toured his childhood hiding spots, got to know Stockholm a bit, hosted a fun UX tweetup, and then jaunted off to Monaco to meet up with my folks at the tail end of their vacation. We spent a couple days days driving up and down the Côte d’Azur, followed by an overnight trip to Cinque Terre (dream fulfilled). Stuffed to the gills and in need of a nap, we flew 20 hours back to Seattle, got our truck, and drove the 1,300 miles back to San Diego in two days.
After seven weeks of travel, we found Jenny just as we’d left her, and promised never to leave her that long again. But we did have to say goodbye again soon. We’d been invited to a family reunion in Long Island two weeks before Labor Day weekend, when we were already supposed to be in the NYC area for a friend’s wedding.
Set up in my parents’ spare bedroom, it was business as usual for me. But Fredrick, having quit his chef job back in June, was eager to put some money in his pocket. He figured a two-week gig would be easy to come by. He was quickly hired by a two-Michelin-star chef opening a new Park Avenue restaurant, but ended up falling in love with an oyster bar on a sailboat docked in TriBeCa. And just like that, “two weeks in NYC” turned into two-and-a-half months.
I was pretty much a hermit during that time. I didn’t see many friends or even tell people I was in town. I think I was in denial about the whole thing. My coaching practice kept me plenty busy while Fredrick worked nights and weekends. I worked on a new talk, watched a lot of TV, and generally tried to make believe I was anywhere else.
We’ve been doing the nomad thing since late 2012, and coming back to NYC had never been in our plans. New York and I were very much still “on a break.” The horns, sirens and roaring engines are a far cry from the sea lions, seagulls and creaking docklines I had grown used to. But the money was good and there wasn’t much of a life waiting for us back in San Diego.
Late one night while lying in bed, his gig soon coming to a close, Fredrick and I started planning our next move. We spent hours tossing out international locales with sailing communities, mild weather, and lax visa policies, but nothing was clicking.
Then out of nowhere one of us asked, “What’s the craziest place you can think of?”
“Japan!” the other replied. (We can’t remember who said what.)
Instinctively, we knew it was right. Despite knowing none of the language, none of the customs, not the geography or history or even what weather it would be, we quickly confirmed the visa requirements, and booked two roundtrip tickets for a three-month stay.
(I’m leaving out the part where, a few months earlier, we had booked a six-month trip to Panama, then had a change of heart and had to cancel the flights, the long-term Airbnb, the bread-baking classes, etc etc. That’s a story for another time.)
November 1 was finally here. Fredrick had a great run at the restaurant, and it was now closed for the season. With a big exhale, we flew off for two weeks in South Beach and a quick visit to our old spot in the Keys. Then I flew solo to Argentina for a speaking gig, and Fredrick went back to SD.
A week later, I was back in the cradle of my honey’s arms, Jenny rocking us to sleep. For one night. That’s all I got. The very next morning, we were packed for three months and on a train up to LA for Thanksgiving.
At this point, I didn’t know what world I was in. Even with all the travel, I was still maintaining a coaching roster of a dozen private clients, a group program, and a few teams. I held confidential sessions in my family’s guest room while Fredrick and my teenage cousin Hanna worked on the turkey downstairs. It was all worth it.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my parents dropped us at LAX and 12 nonstop hours later we were in Tokyo. The story of our time in Japan is far too involved and incredible to summarize here, so look out for a series of posts I’ll be writing about that soon. Suffice it to say, it was a life-changing experience. That’s too trite a term to properly convey how much it meant to us. We loved every single minute of it. I would move there permanently in a heartbeat.
Towards the end of our stay in Japan, reality hit and we realized we were going to have to figure out a longer-term game plan. We thought the “adult” thing to do would be to invest in some real estate to have as an asset, earning some passive income while we travel the world. We picked Miami since my parents are there and the market is good, signed a 6-month lease sight unseen (my parents took a quick look), and Fredrick started looking for chef gigs right away.
One Tokyo evening, again while lying in bed (we do our best planning there), Fredrick was updating his résumé and I casually commented that he should include some stats about the NYC sailboat restaurant for color. He pulled up their website, and right on the front page was a list of open positions for the 2016 season. It was only early February, but the restaurant would be re-opening in late April and they were already looking.
“They’re hiring a Sous,” he said, or maybe I said it when I looked over his shoulder at his screen. We had already planned the whole Miami thing, but I teased that he should apply. I have no idea why.
Even though Fredrick had been a server the previous season (read: tips), they know he’s a cook and he’d assisted their celebrity executive chef at a few charity events. They’d kept in touch, and Chef knew Fredrick had been apprenticing in a couple kitchens in Japan. So even though I’d spent 11 weeks in NYC basically pretending I wasn’t there (with no intention to ever return), I egged him on.
Mostly to see if he could get the job.
Not long after, I found myself back in San Diego — while Fredrick flew to New York for an interview and tasting — out-of-my-mind jet-lagged (17-hour difference!), packing up Jenny and shipping everything to Miami. And by everything, I mean everything we considered necessary to live. Our time in Japan was spent in furnished rentals, but now we were talking about a long-term stay. This meant emptying out the boat, emptying out the storage locker, purging most and boxing up the rest. It even meant shipping our Jeep cross-country (a traumatic experience watching the car carrier trailer pull away with my baby).
So you’re wondering, why is Fredrick actually going through with interviewing for a job in NY while we’re literally moving to Miami? Good question. We knew if he got it, he’d have to take it. It was too amazing an opportunity to pass up. We convinced ourselves that if he did, it was best for me to stay in Miami, settle in, go house shopping, continue to grow my business, and we would visit each other every other week or so. It was a ridiculous notion, because anyone who knows us knows we’re pretty much inseparable, but we were trying to be strong for the other. In the end, it was a total lie.
We met up in Miami on a Saturday. That Wednesday-Thursday, I did an overnight trip to San Francisco for a speaking gig. Friday night, Fredrick was formally offered the job. The next day, Saturday, we broke our lease, broke the news to my parents, put everything in a storage locker (all that stuff we deemed to be most important), and put the Jeep in my parents’ garage. A day later, Sunday, we were on a one-way flight back to New York with only our suitcases full of clothes. Fredrick started work the next day.
On March 15, 2016, I woke up in NYC and groaned, “Fuck, not again.”
Again, I didn’t go out of my way to tell people we were back. Again, I stayed holed up in my parents’ guest room. Thank you Seamless and cable TV. By then, I’d grown my private practice to about 20 clients, even with my life turned upside down. Sometimes I think my business is what has kept me sane along the way — getting out of my own stuff for a bit, hearing my clients’ needs, supporting them in their dreams. So I buried myself in it.
Then four weeks in, Fredrick was promoted to General Manager and Head of Sustainability. And I finally realized: this isn’t so temporary.
Now here we are. It’s already late August, and I can say in all honesty, I am SO happy to be back. Never in a million years did I expect to feel this. In a way, I think I created this. I was needing my family, I was needing my friends, I was needing the energy and the resources and the possibility. The familiar. I have fundamentally changed in the last four years — my business, my mentality, my pace, my self-image. And as long as I was avoiding New York (even when I was here), I was preventing closure and the completion of this phase of my life.
In the past five months, I have been reconnecting with old friends, available for my family in tough times, helping my parents’ sell their apartment (40 years!), furnishing and “decorating” a new place of our own (rented, not owned), practicing NVC monthly with my local empathy group, finally getting to the bottom of some chronic health issues, dramatically changing my diet and exercise, and getting super clear on where I want to take my business next.
My latest tagline: Empathy coaching with creative executives. (More on that to come.)
I have learned a lot about empathy this past year plus. Not in the academic, intellectual way I use to study it. I have been living it. I’ve had ample opportunities to practice empathy with my clients, with Fredrick, and most importantly with myself along the way. I can’t wait to share my discoveries with you! And I know, that even with all this, there is so much more to come.
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