Murphy: To work or not to work, that is the question

Murphy Edit 9e58dfa0

I have finally reached one of those milestones in life, a place that I thought unimaginable only a few short years ago. Yes — I am now an official “senior citizen”! How could that have happened? And turning 65 slipped in so softly, with no fanfare or excitement. In fact, I worked that day.

For those of you that have missed my past articles, I am a longtime ship captain who mostly teaches these days at a maritime school in Seattle, Wash. I would love to still be shipping out if I still had the strength and stamina that it takes. But times change, and so did my body.

Teaching at the school affords me an opportunity to give back a little bit of my experience and knowledge to an industry that has been so good to me for so long. There aren’t many people from the general population that have traveled so far and done as many things as a mariner has.

About now you might be wondering what the subject of this little ramble down “memory lane” might be. Well, at turning 65 I have started looking at things a bit differently. But allow me to back up some and fill this story out.

I have been teaching at the Seattle maritime school as a part-time instructor splitting my time between classes and the simulator for about five years now. When I use the term “part time," what I mean is some months I work as many as 24 days, and other months it’s more like five. And every summer I chase after some adventure or other, always returning to the school in the fall.

Over this period of my school employment, the maritime world has changed a great deal. In fact, the school has grown bunches in both classes and industry status. It’s really a world-class place to take your training now. And why should this be of concern to me? Because as times change, so do the rules.

Over the past six or eight months, the school has hired three new full-time instructors/simulator operators. And as the roster of first-class instructors grows, they need to be kept busy. So being that they are full-timers, they always get first crack at the instructor slots for the classes that come up. So, where does that leave a little part-time guy like me to fit into the matrix?

I have seen my available classes dwindle way down, giving new meaning to the term “part time." I don’t really care for this newfound time off, but it might be a blessing rather than a curse. I am a firm believer that everything happens exactly as it’s supposed to, whether you like it or not. As a buddy of mine said the other day: When one door closes, another one always opens.

So what should an official senior citizen do with all of his time? I have every intention to teach as many classes at the school that they toss my way. I just love working with mariners who are out there doing what I have done so long. And if those of us who have the experience don’t take the time and effort to give back to this maritime industry, where will it be headed?

I mentioned those adventures I take every summer. Some years they involve ships and boats, and other years they involve … railroads! And the best adventure would involve both.

As a side note, besides being a maritime professional, I am also a certified railroad conductor and locomotive engineer. I have worked a number of tourist railroads around the country, and this year I hit the jackpot. I landed a seasonal job with the Grand Canyon Railroad in Arizona. Life is good!

Recently on one of my trips down to Arizona for training with the railroad, I had a couple of days off. I needed to fill the time, so I drove almost three hours over to Lake Powell. Wow — what a drive, and what a lake! To my surprise, there are boats in the desert. Lots of boats. And there are a number of larger tour boats that run all over the lake.

I wondered if I could pick up some part-time boat driving on my days off from the railroad — very cool place, very cool boats, not too far away. So I started asking around about jobs, and to my surprise there are boat driver jobs available.

If I had been working tons at the school, I never would have been able to chase after this adventure. All things seem to happen the way they are supposed to. It’s simply amazing how there are so many opportunities waiting just over the horizon if you just take the time to look for them.

So if all works out, I just might be working for both a railroad and a vessel this year. Doesn’t that sound fun? To me it does, but to many of my boating buddies it sounds like torture. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked why I’m working so hard (at my age).

Well, I have given that question quite a bit of thought. And what I have come up with is the idea that I’m just not ready to be in that rocking chair on the porch eating bon-bons and drinking beer. In fact, I have tried retirement and just hated it. Just not for me — I like to get up and have a job to go to. And I feel I definitely have something left to contribute to society.

So what about you? With the graying of the pilothouse, I know I am talking directly to many of you out there. Will you go quietly into the sunset, or will you go out kicking and screaming? Do you still have anything to give back to the maritime community (or any other community for that matter)?

This certainly is a personal decision for each of you. But what I have found with my friends is if they didn’t fill their lives with “whatever” when they retired, they died within one year — yes, one year! And mowing the lawn and taking out the trash really does not fill the bill for most of the people I know.

What this ramble is all about is planting the seed in your mind of what you will do with the rest of your life when you retire from the maritime industry. Will you rot away in obscurity, or will you keep going at a full run as long as you can?

We mariners joined (and stayed) in this industry for a reason. We like going places and doing things and being busy. If you don’t keep this aspect of your life alive, not much else will stay alive either. At least give it some thought. Find something you can be passionate about, and then chase after it. It can be almost anything as long as it fits you.

I plan on being in a “full run” mode as long as I physically can. Life is short, so make the most of it you can. And have a little fun along the way.

Capt. Dennis Murphy of Olympia, Wash., is a longtime shipmaster and is an instructor at Pacific Maritime Institute, where he splits his time between teaching classes and working in the simulation department. He also teaches at Fremont Maritime.

By Professional Mariner Staff