February 13, 2014

King rat

I know an investment banker who has just started his own venture capitalist outfit, but he really should be a guitar player, as he himself admits. That is what will really make him happy. Both of us know that he will never quit and follow his dream, though. He is too heavily invested- financially and otherwise- in work. Besides, his lifestyle would change drastically, his wife and young children would be affected and his whole existence would turn upside down if he quit his business. The pursuit of happiness will always remain a dream; he really can’t take time off- even a year- to try to be happy; work would go to the dogs.
Imagine if this friend of mine were a seaman. He could take time off- even a year or more- without a significant impact on his profession; a profession that, thanks to a contract system, automatically gives one the flexibility and the time to do whatever one wants. We can take a year off- or two, as I have done once or twice- to do other things and still go back to sea. Or not. We can pursue other passions.
It is so easy, but it is remarkable to me how few of us choose to do so. It is striking that so many of us choose to make a rat race out of a profession that is anything but one. This is despite the fact that most of us live in our own homes, not company owned or rented, and enjoy no other perks, the loss of which would hit our family’s day to day lives. This, despite the fact that many of us have enough savings to last a year or two without any significant changes to our lifestyles. Despite the fact that we spend months at a time anyway at home – for exams and between ships - living off these savings.  Doing something that excites us should be easy. The pursuit of happiness can be easily funded if you are a sailor, because the profession gives you the flexibility you need.
“I have to go back now,” a Captain with twenty years of command experience tells me, worried about his son’s admission to a good college, the interviews for which are next month. “The company is calling me.”
Something that has baffled me all my life- how can a company that does not pay you during your off time have control over it? It does because you let it, is why. Because you are too timid, too scared or too insecure about your abilities and are therefore not confident of yourself, is why. Because they have fooled you into committing to a ‘permanent job’ mind-set while they have the option of chucking you and your next contract into the garbage in a heartbeat, is why. Because you have no spine, is why.
Perhaps I am being harsh, though. Perhaps servitude makes this guy happy.
Perhaps it is a cultural thing too- Perhaps many Asians brought up in feudal societies succumb to authority more easily. Perhaps large populations and the competition they generate lead to greater job insecurities. Perhaps that is why so many choose to surrender, so easily, the one big advantage a seaman’s contractual job gives him- the flexibility of choosing when to work and when not to.
As I have indicated, I have taken a couple of years off a couple of times, and taken long periods off work even otherwise. I am here to tell seamen that it is ok to do so, and that they will not find it difficult- if they are any good- to find a contract in the same or another company. I am here to tell them that it is ok to treat employers with the same mind-set that they treat you- a non-permanent one. I am here to tell you that the system, such as it is, works as well for you as it does for them, if you let it. But you have to choose to exploit it.
Treat every contract as a one-off employment and perform professionally. Then, even if you take a couple of years off, chances are the same guys will want to employ you again. Even if they don’t, there are others who will.
Alternatively, of course, you can always choose to be cowed down and cowering. Just be aware, if you do, that this is all your own doing. Just be aware that the act of cowering may raise some suspicions in some employers’ minds that you are not much of a seaman to begin with. Just be aware of what you are giving up when you abrogate your right to choose when to work and when not to. Just be aware that there is no rat race out at sea, and that your running in one, while oh so convenient for your employer, is all in your mind.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an just an issue on the ocean. My husband has been a. Captain for 35 years on the. Great Lakes here in the states and the "getting called back" always puzzled me. I certainly understand our security measures of shore leave and Ero tolerance for drugs and alcohol; however, the coming back to work before you time off is over remains a mystery.

I have asked him what would happen if we took a vacation to Bali and were gone for 2 weeks. Surely if there was an emergency on the vessel they would find somebody to throw on there.

I think defining terms and phrases such as " freedom at sea or on the lakes" is quite subjective.