What to do when your dream job is a nightmare

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Q: Katie, Stewardess, 24:

“I saved up for so long to come to Antibes and get a stewardess position, but now I have one I’m not enjoying it at all! It feels bad even admitting it because everyone makes you feel like you should love it, and like I should be so grateful I even got a job in the first place—but I can’t bear the lack of freedom onboard and I just feel like a subservient toilet-cleaner. It doesn’t help that it’s a really strict boat with tough owners— the vibe is a massive downer and I feel like I’m losing myself. Am I the only person that thinks being a stewardess is massively overrated? Does everyone have this feeling at first but grow to love it later? How do people actually like this job?!”

The Crew Coach

Well firstly, a HUGE thank you for your honesty. I’d love to know how many other new stews are out there right now feeling a bit relieved that someone else has admitted that being a stew can be a very steep learning curve and that it’s not for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, lots of interior crew love their jobs, and consider the toilet cleaning a fair trade-off for the great pay, travel, and brilliant friends they make during a yachting career. But it’s not for everyone, so don’t feel bad about not loving it so far—and certainly don’t feel like a failure! We all have our talents and passions, and they can’t all be the same.

I know it was a pretty big shock to the system for me when I started out in yachting – I had no idea people could be so obsessive about rules and cleaning, and I thought they were all off their rockers for quite some time until I somehow began to notice what they noticed and started to see they had a point. (Even the cleanest 5 star hotel room will always look grotty to me now!)

The angst you are feeling is quite common in life, because it touches on some fundamental human needs that make or break overall job satisfaction. Your situation can be understood a little better if we look at the three major drivers of human motivation: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. This may be the answer to how you can turn your yachting experience around!

Mastery: Lots of us are driven by wanting to master new skills. This is definitely the case for stews who love learning new table decorations, service skills, and ways to do their jobs better. There’s so much to learn to become a great stewardess! However, the thing about mastery as a motivator is that you have to value the skills that you’re learning: it’s no good if you’re constantly belittling the job in your head. Try to reframe your experience to appreciate all the valuable skills you can learn, rather than just focusing on the negative aspects. (As for your feelings of subservience, maybe you could consider whether you’re allowing yourself to feel like that? It might be helpful to remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ Even with the toughest, rudest guests, you’re still in control of your reaction. Just a thought!)

Autonomy: For those who rate autonomy as a key requirement of job satisfaction, the transition to yachting’s strict hierarchy and many everyday rules can be really difficult to navigate. It can get easier with time, but if autonomy is what drives you then it might help to actively consider the financial freedom this job will offer you in your future. And remember, as you work your way up the yachting ladder then you will have more autonomy in your role. I can’t promise you’ll ever have full autonomy in the crew mess as that’s not really the way yachting works, but it does improve with seniority.

Purpose. Finding greater meaning in what we do is an important part of remaining motivated and engaged in our jobs. You say you’ve got tough owners, and when things are going badly on board the ‘I clean toilets for a living’ negative mindset can easily sneak in and take hold. And it’s a tricky one to dislodge once you’ve allowed yourself to ‘stew’ on it for a while! To break this way of thinking you’ll need to reframe your yachting job in a way that responds to your other deep desires—whether that’s buying a house, volunteering in Asia on your holidays, or helping out your family. In the day-to-day, perhaps reframe your yachting experience to be about helping the crew that you like, and being part of a team. You could even create a higher purpose for your work by ‘tithing’ some of your income to a great cause – see www.b1g1.com for more inspiration on this – you could even inspire your full crew to join in and then all of you would be contributing to a greater purpose as you work.

I do believe that most people can learn to like interior work after a rough start, as long as they focus on the valuable skills they can learn, the financial freedom the job can lead to, and the greater purpose a yachting career can play in their lives. You could definitely try a different yacht to see if you like it more—but just promise yourself you’ll give it your absolute best shot and stick it out for at least a season, as it’s not fair on the other crew or Captain otherwise. You might also consider a land-based job in yachting where you might have more autonomy. Try not to rush your decision though— we see so many stews returning to yachting for a second go (and third and fourth) despite not enjoying it the first time.

However, there’s no shame whatsoever in ultimately deciding that yachting’s not for you. Please don’t feel like you’ve failed in not enjoying it. What you should do though, is analyse your motivations, see if you can reframe it to enjoy it more, consider your other options, and then manage your exit gracefully and with no regrets, and hopefully at a minimum some small return on investment for the time and money you have put into it so far.

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The Crew Coach

The Crew Coach

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