Eternal apprenticeship

Gran Roque - Venezuela
Gran Roque – Venezuela

“Che i sogni siano un rifugio? Una fuga dalla realtà? Può essere, ma non riesco a fare altro, né so che altro fare”

I wrote this sentence in a notepad about five years ago. Soon it’s going to be five years since I left Italy, soon my niece is going to turn five as well. The moment I told my mom I decided to leave is still so clear in my memory. It happened in the waiting room of the hospital, my sister was in labor delivering Melissa, and I cried a little because I felt that my decision was taken. Less than two months later I moved to Venezuela. I was 27 and leaving my former career of psychologist. In that moment I let the dreams rule.

It was a jump in the unknown, an hazardous move. I also tried to sabotage my departure telling my father to drive me to Malpensa airport while instead I was leaving from Linate. Both airports serve the city of Milan but they are quite distant from each other. That morning I forced my dad to a race through highways and traffic, and l took that first plane for a matter of minutes. Not even my unconscious could avoid it.

Along these 5 years I continued to be a moving target, crossing boundaries of different countries. All this happened without a specific strategy. Kate would say this movement is “Planktonic”. Similarly there is not a particular reason why now I am in  Coastal Georgia. If the current pushes towards unpredictable destinations, the fil rouge  of this drifting seems to be the condition of apprenticeship.

When I left for Venezuela my mission was to manage the operation of a charter yacht. I never did such a thing before. For my biased mind sailing was an activity for snob and rich people, and I carefully avoided it. So when I approached this job I was completely unexperienced.  I had to learn everything on the field, find help and learn how to be helped which is not exactly something foregone, expecially when you don’t speak the language.

When you are in such a situation you feel like an idiot most of the times. It is hard to linger in this state of constant awareness of your own deficiency. Sometimes you don’t have a clue and at the same time you have to endure the fatigue of being far from your own comfort zone. It also true that any success it’s worth the double and it’s easy to get enthusiatic. During my first self-taught apprenticeship across the ocean I seeked for the help of a professionl coach in understanding how my role was changing and that was a great support.

After being an apprentice charter manager I had to be an apprentice sailor, then an apprentice captain and now I am an apprentice restorer of old fiberglass boats. Even if it seems the trajectory of this growth belongs to the maritime world, the change of scenarios and tasks keeps me grasping for some prior knowledge to sustain my efforts, and it’s hard to predict what is coming next. I moved so much in the last 5 years but it seems I didn’t get anywhere in terms of seniority.

How long will this condition last? Will I ever master anything? Sometimes I wish I had arrived. If you ask where I probably won’t be able to give an adequate response, but the feeling remains. The narratives of reinvention usually portray people in their second-half of life who distance an established position because it no longer satisfy their needs. It is the broken dream of a corporate life, where too much stability and benefits, and maybe a too narrow task build into a state of boredom and lack of sense. In this case the reinvention pass through a reintegration of a solid knowledge into something more meaningful.

I wonder how to put two and two together, how to reintegrate the constant conflict between the discovery of something new (and being unprepared) and just do what you know and be firmly attached to something valuable. Maybe it has something to do with becoming middle-aged and this eternal apprenticeship it is a social trend that affects my generation.

But there is also some active research for new objects thst propels the movement. This dilemma was well described by Michael Balint, a psychoanalist who defined two personality types, the “Philobat” and the “Ocnophil” in his theory of Object Relations. In simple terms the Philobat enjoys thrills, adventure and the unknown, avoiding to get trapped by a specific object. The Ocnophil has to get a firm grip on something, or a situation to avoid possible danger and the fear of getting lost in the void. It seems that I qualify as a Philobat and I keep looking for something new to leanr and experience, even though there is a certain grade of Ocnophilia that protest against this chaotic wandering. In life there is not such thing as pure Ocnophil and Philobat, they will be chained in some asylum.

 A long apprenticeship brings together the ghosts of never grow up, the persistance of a state of deficiency and the difficulty of accepting the gap between what you are and what you are going to be. It surely has a positive side, expecially because it allows to be receptive to new ideas and knowledge and to discover things I like and I do not like, which usually come after trials and errors. I feel that the challenge now is to balance and weave together experience and new knowledge and to  find continuity in change, which translated in a simple language sounds like “sit down, relax and enjoy the journey”