They came into my office at intervals, older colleagues who had heard I was leaving. They stopped in to wish me well, but many expressed a surprisingly consistent sentiment: "I had thought about doing something similar when I was younger, and I often regret that I didn't."
I was 29 at the time and director of publications for the Texas State Teachers Association in Austin. The job was good, but I had been planning from the moment I graduated college to travel around the world, and I had finally saved enough money to do it.
But oddly, even though I had reached a goal I had been intently focused on for years, I hesitated when the time came. I realized I also had enough money for a down payment on a house. Career-wise, I had a path forward. I loved Austin and my circle of friends.
Looking back, I have no regrets, but when I heard that Andy Stuart, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, had decided to relinquish his title at the age of 54, I thought about how difficult it is to leave a secure job, even when what lies ahead looks exciting. There has been much speculation around the "real reason" Stuart is quitting; he simply said that there are other things he wants to do, including spending more time with his family.
But questions persist, and that's not surprising. Stuart's still young enough that he could have gone further up the career ladder, at Norwegian or somewhere else in the cruise industry. And we've all known of instances when there is a rather complicated backstory behind announcements that people are leaving to "pursue other interests" rather than jumping immediately to another position.
From my own experience, I knew his explanation was plausible, but I wanted to fill in a few blanks, so I spoke with him at length to better understand his motivation and timing. Had this been a long-term plan? Was there an event that had triggered the decision? Was he burned out? Running to, or from, something?
"It's really not that interesting," Stuart began. "Let's start with the fact that I've been with the company for 31 years. When I started, there was no plan. At the time, NCL was predominantly cruising the Caribbean, and I was just trying to get away from the dreary U.K. and into the sunshine. I had a short-term view."
As for running from something, he made it clear he felt he was walking away from "the best job in the world."
"I've had an incredible experience and worked with a fantastic team," he said. "There are wonderful travel planners I've worked with my whole career. I love the company, love the brand and have enjoyed working with Frank [Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings], who gave me this great opportunity. It was an extremely difficult decision.
"I feel great about where the business is," he added. The last ship in the Breakaway Plus class, the Norwegian Encore, is soon to be inaugurated, "and the timing seemed right. I wanted to leave on a high note, without an ounce of negativity."
Stuart did say he was deeply impacted by a motivational speech on happiness by Simon Sinek, who asserted that people often connect happiness with a future event: It will come with a home purchase, with a certain make of car, or when they get married. It's always in the future, never in the present. Stuart said that message really resonated. He took notes, and when he got home, he went over them with his kids.
"To always be saying, 'I will be happy when ...' is a horrible way to spend your life," he said.
He and his wife, Allison, are recent empty-nesters -- they have two children in college -- and there are things they want to do now "while I'm still fit enough to do it," he said. A family safari next summer is planned, as is a trip to Spain.
"The list is lengthy," he said. "I haven't had more than a two-week vacation in the past 31 years, and even then I was still connected to the job, always in the fray. It's time for me to take a break."
A "break" suggests he might return to the industry. Is that likely?
"The honest answer is: I don't know," he said. "As of today, I don't see myself in another big corporate role. But never say never; I wouldn't rule anything out. It's a fresh start, a new day. I have lots of short-term plans. We'll see where the road takes us."
Conventional thinking keeps most people within the guardrails of the path they have chosen for their professional lives. For the vast majority, it's difficult to imagine walking away from a job, let alone "the best job in the world."
Even so, most of us have pondered Robert Frost's "road not taken." Midlife, Stuart is choosing the one less traveled.