Guest Post

A Sailing Sabbatical Marks Bravery

by Barbara Pagano

When the Bahamian store clerk discovered I was on a sailboat alone with my daughter, she said, "You are brave." Three months into our journey on a 43-foot boat, Elizabeth and I still had a daunting learning curve everyday. A confident businesswoman in my land life, I'd succumbed to being a "Nervous Nelly" (my daughter's nickname – I didn't like it) on this trip. "Brave"? No way.

The Bahamian woman came out from behind her counter, stood firmly in front of me, shook her finger and said sternly, "You are two women alone at sea. You are brave."

At that moment, I shrugged my shoulders – appreciative, but not owning the compliment. And then, during plenty of night watches in the months ahead, I pondered whether I really was "brave".

Taking off on a small sailboat after 9/11 when my business slowed wasn't an easy decision. Plenty of people didn't want me to go. It's dangerous. There are pirates. You don't know what you are doing.

All true. But I needed a challenge. I loved my work in leadership development, and I was good at it (still am). But the truth of the matter was that it wasn't that difficult anymore. I didn't have to stretch myself. So, I figured trying to push a small boat through the water for more than 2,000 nautical miles would get me so far out of my comfort zone that I would never be the same. I was right.

Eventually, I agreed with that Bahamian clerk. Realizing it made me want to shout it from the top of the mast: I was brave to set out to sea. In fact, it took courage every time we pulled an anchor, raised a sail, and got underway in portions of the earth where Mother Nature reigns and fish pots wrap around your rudder in the dark of night. Some events took every ounce of bravery I could muster.

When that Bahamian clerk told me I was brave, that was "my moment of greatness" — even though it took me a while to accept her assessment.

All of us carry times when we have met personal and professional challenges. These are our "moments of greatness," according to Robert E. Quinn, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. What makes it possible for us to be "on" and "at the top of our game" is the ability to access that moment of greatness easily.

It's been eight years since I was at sea. In this economy, business and professional situations require that I access my courage on a regular basis.

With a nod toward the Bahamas, that only takes me about a nano-second to do.

Barbara Pagano is co-founder of, a research and consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses implement robust career sabbatical programs for high-performing talent.

  1. I am Barbara’s daughter, and I experienced this sailing sabbatical with her – and beside her. The sabbatical impacted us each deeply and in different ways. The time together also laid the foundation for our business together and our mission to ensure that sabbaticals are a part of every career ladder. To read more about our sailing adventure, go to Thanks for having her as a guest!

    Comment by Elizabeth Pagano — 11/06/2009 @ 10:13 AM

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