When I talked to Benoit, I was counting on a video conference to make our conversation more lively. Given the limited reception, I had to content myself with a phone call. But this is a call I will never forget. Thinking about it, I can still hear the see’s chop and feel the Mediterranean breeze on my cheeks.
Benoit has been sailing the Mediterranean for 3 months. His trimaran Bravo Romeo (named after his initials) is at anchor, safely nestled in a bay of a small island of the Peloponnese. Which island? He is not sure. He knows he is safe here, alone on his boat, waiting for a weather window to open, so that he can sail about 48 hours the Ionian sea to Athens. From there, Benoit will pursue his route West across the Mediterranean into colder waters of the Atlantic, then up North to his destination Lorient, France. There, he will have some work done on the boat to be ready for the upcoming season.
Since we can’t see each other, I ask Benoit to describe the scene. He is sitting on his deck, facing a beautiful wild cliff. The water is crystal clear. The sunset is ridiculously gorgeous. Earlier today, he fiddled on the boat, read a book, chatted with his family over the phone, checked the weather report, and went for a long swim with his top-of-the-art diving fins. He is trim, tanned, he feels fantastic. He will have crisp fresh fish for dinner. What else? Benoit is not on vacation. He is working actually, or rather, enjoying fully the “why” of an all-but-obvious change of career. Ready to dive in with me?
What did you do before?
I was a leader in the media industry, with an entrepreneur mindset. I was an Executive Director in TV and production groups. I launched more than 12 TV channels. I created 3 companies that I sold. Lately, I was hired by a big media group with a mission to build teams, create content and make units profitable. Then, when I delivered that, new acquisitions happened, again and again. Every time, all the work had to be done again from scratch. In 8 years, I had 5 successive email addresses, without technically changing jobs. I am OK with hard work, I was always fully engaged, and I truly loved being part of these professional adventures. At some point though, it became clear that I was dedicating my life to creating value for shareholders, but I was not actually building anything for myself. When I reached 50 years old, I realized could not do this any longer, even for hefty salaries. I was also aware that, in my age group, it would be difficult to find a new job if I had to. It was brutal, but a salutary wake-up call. I decided to take my destiny in hands.
What triggered the change?
I have been sailing all my life, as a hobby, becoming an instructor at the age of 17, and performing in many competitions. As an amateur skipper, I took family and friends to Corsica, Greece, and other destinations. I thought: “the clock is ticking. Today I can do it, physically and mentally. Make my hobby my work. Earn my autonomy through a job I am passionate about”. I took a year to test the waters, study the market, assess the demand. And to answer questions: Is this what I want to do? Do I enjoy it?
How did it go?
I decided to go full speed and invest.
I got some serious training. I Joined the Royal Yachting Association training at Blue Sailing graduated as a professional skipper.
I bought a boat. I have become a mechanic for maintenance and small repairs. I learn something new every day.
I pay for my professional insurance. I am a company owner in many ways.
Now I feel “in the jaw of launch”. There is no way back.
What did you learn about yourself?
This new adventure put me in a state of fierce challenge, as when I was 30.
At this age, I had a well-paid executive job in the N°1 French media group. The CEO came to my office and asked: Do you want to launch a new TV channel? I said yes, without experience, and before I knew it, I was in charge. At the time I had this fearless confidence, which may have been somewhat carelessness too. Usually, after 50 years old, you are more prudent. You become risk-averse. Instead of that, I am buying a boat. Bam. Now I am experiencing this rage to win again, and it feels good.
What were the hurdles?
I wish I had got more expert advice when I bought my boat. I did not anticipate some problems that I had to fix afterward. If I meet someone in a similar situation, I will offer my competence to help her make educated decisions.
I also find it hard to be away from my family for long periods of time. We communicate a lot, but still, it may be the most difficult aspect of my new life.
And I am uncertain: Will my business be successful in the long term?
Who are you now?
When I sail, my decision takes its full meaning. The wind, the sea spay, setting sail, I knew all of this. But knowing that I am sailing my own boat, which is also my business, I shout for joy, I sing out loud. The reward is proportionate to the effort. I don’t have any regret. I love the adventure. Even though I wish I had done some things differently, like buying my boat, I don’t look back. I adjust my business plan, and I am getting ready during the winter for the beginning of the season in March 2022. I have found again this mindset, which is 100 times better than feeling obsolete and vulnerable in the corporate environment.
Your advice to people who want to change careers?
After a lifetime of challenges, when your career has to shift, you have lost your ability to fight, when you need it most. Nobody is prepared. You must be ready to fail. My choice is to take this risk.
If I fail, it will not harm me.
Because I am grateful for having tried. When I turn 70, I will not say “I could have done it, but I did not”. I am 200% aligned with myself.
Do you want to know more about Benoît Runel? Check his website here.
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