They say strength lies in adversity. I have certainly had my share of that. If I hadn’t been able to delve deeper into service during some major life events, I don’t think I could have managed.
But as an offshoot of hardship and the growth and development that occurred, I have the pleasure of announcing the completion of a sizeable project: a self-published book called “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”. It’s not a be-all and tell-all book. It is written to provide a framework of service skills that are required for stews on yachts and for high-end hospitality in general. It was inspired by my desire to give back something of lasting value to others.
Some readers may recall the account of my experience in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. As the new chief stew on a yacht based at Chelsea Piers, we were close to Ground Zero and pretty much witnessed the entire tragedy when those planes hit the World Trade Center towers. It was harrowing, to say the least, but I was amazed at how quickly people showed up to help. Many of the volunteers were personally devastated, but still they lined the streets and set up triage stations. It was our duty to get out there, too, and do our part.
The night of the attack I sat on the sundeck and watched the smoldering sky. I couldn’t help but think of all the souls lost that day. The grief was almost palpable. What really hurt me was the image I carried of everyone who worked there and all who rushed to the scene to help: hundreds of firemen climbing up hundreds of steps in full gear; policemen, security guards, all of the shopkeepers, service workers, and so many others working in the many businesses there who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
Amid the devastation and ruin, they answered the call to serve and their legacy remains.
Realizing that the world truly is a better place because of their sacrifice helped me push through those heartbreaking days. We stayed in New York for a while and volunteered for relief projects. The citizens of that great city inspired me and lit a fire in my heart. For the first time in my life I realized that I could give something of value to the world on a daily basis: service.
At Chelsea Piers, there was work to do 24 hours a day. It might not be much, but I felt better when I helped out, even if it was just loading water onto trucks to be taken down to Ground Zero. As Ghandi said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.”
Little did I know that the melancholy surrounding Sept. 11 would be compounded by a more personal blow. Shortly after we arrived in St. Barts for our winter season that year I learned that my nephew had died. His sudden and unexpected death was the first of several in my immediate family. Within the next few years we lost his sister, his father, several aunts, my father, and my mother. I would have to say that during this time I went through my personal “dark night of the soul”. I was lost and sad and terribly worried about my family.
It was service to others that pulled me back. Despite my grief, I found strength I didn’t know I had by focusing on my job. It occurred to me that service is a basic trait of my nature, and part of who I am.
I lost myself in reading and writing about service for at least an hour every day. I devoured books about service, wine, housekeeping — whatever I could find. My efforts to move past sorrow kept me aligned with my true self and helped me organize my thoughts about what I thought a stew should be, and what stews need to know to do our best. I realized that service is my calling.
It is common to find your calling after suffering difficulty. I developed a passion for service, and the energy of that passion pushed me on. I saw that I could channel my knowledge, my skills and my years of experience to define service in a way that would take me in a new direction. When I started my Yacht Stew Solutions education and training business and began writing this column for The Triton, I knew I was on the right track. The timing was right for me to give back by mentoring, educating and supporting others.
A calling carries a duty to serve something greater than the self. I truly believe that the service industry provides the highest calling there is. My vision of service rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of Sept. 11, and I will never forget that, but it is through writing about service and training others that I have found the perfect way to pursue my life’s purpose. This fulfills me and creates lasting significance in my life. How lucky I am to have found this fabulous arena, with such incredible situations and locations to serve in.
As is so often the case in yachting, it was a networking event that put me in the same room as my soon-to-be editor, Lucy Reed. I am eternally grateful to The Triton for the opportunity to reach so many people with my monthly column, and for the platform to explore more service topics. My research, life experiences and passion are summed up in the pages of my book, with the goal of creating a framework, providing insight, making intellectual progress and adding lasting value by organizing what stews need to know once they land that elusive job on a yacht.
Alene Keenan has been a yacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT and offers customized onboard interior training and consulting through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.