I have been trying and failing at getting a job back onboard cruise ships for a bit now. I have personally adopted the Thomas Edison mentality. I have not failed. I’ve just found a heck of a lot of ways that haven’t worked. Now, I find myself – even when the entire cruise industry and most of the travel industry is shut down – ready to double down, put not just time, but money into it, and keep going until I find the way that works.
I found a job that I am interested in. I finished my first online certification course to beef up my resume for it and today put the money down to take the next course. I mean, I’m in quarantine – why wouldn’t I?
Even as I went to put that money down though I doubted it. I thought, “does this even make sense?”
My first set of doubts are pretty logical for the time we’re living in. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, ships are being sold left and right. Unemployment rates are through the roof. I couldn’t get a job before, so why should now when everything is shut down be any different? I can kick these thoughts to the curb pretty quickly. The worst that can happen in this situation is I am out a few hundred pounds (as in money as it’s through a UK training center), gain some knowledge, and end up disappointed. That seems like a pretty acceptable worst-case scenario.
Then, the next set of doubts set it. These doubts are entirely related to the phrase that I think every woman learns to loathe at some point, “your biological clock is ticking.” This was possibly said by some well-meaning aunt, or perhaps the grandma that changes the phrase to “you aren’t getting any younger!” This is then discussed and lamented with your girlfriends that are also not ready to have kids where inevitably one of them will do a Google search and send you one of the myriad of articles online discussing how women should be thinking about their fertility earlier than they are. TV shows will do whole episodes where women freak out about their declining ability to procreate (New Girl) likely break up with whoever they’re dating as they aren’t “father material” (Friends) and get on some grand plan to get married so that they can have their own biological kids without the reproductive challenges also shown to us over and over throughout the years. (Friends, HIMYM, Sex and the City, This is Us). I know that reproductive and fertility challenges are real and can be emotionally and physically devastating. I am not meaning to belittle that struggle or to diminish it in anyway. Rather to point out that in the TV/movies it’s portrayed as “woman freaks out she’s getting older” and then either her or her friend experience fertility challenges. It feels a bit like a “hey, did you not pay attention a few episodes ago? Here’s a gentle reminder that you are running out of eggs!”
The thing is, I’m already married and we do want to have kids someday. Alas, this should not be anymore than just intelligent adult conversations with my husband and my doctor about our family planning. Nope. The cruise industry is not one where you can show up at work and pump. There are no breastfeeding rooms or pods. On a cruise ship once you’re six months pregnant you can’t sail anymore – and it’s logical – you would potentially be unable to safely perform your work functions and your emergency functions, and you would have limited access to emergency care facilities. I get it. But, I should not be doubting whether or not I should drop a relatively small amount of money to take an online course because of my potential declining fertility due to my age and the potential lack of feasibility for me to continue with the job if I were to even get it. I mean, how can I possibly be past my career prime at the ripe ole age of 31?
Did I mention that I am entirely changing the kind of job I’m applying for? I suppose that’s part of the question and doubt that seeps in, too. Earlier in the year I had found a job that I was excited about and enthusiastic about and then I met the corporate supervisor onboard and he informed me that I didn’t have the right degree for that job. Seriously? Ugh. Frustrating. So, while stuck on board the ship for 18,000 years this spring during the shut-down I went and sat at my husband’s work computer and looked through job descriptions for positions within the company that I might have the right degree for. Obviously these were the pre-COVID, selling 4 ships in the fleet, descriptions, but alas, I sat there and I read and found a job that was basically the closest thing to a shipboard variation of what I went to school for and I met the educational and experience requirements.
Not one to apply for something I don’t think would be a good fit for me I started shadowing the Environmental Officer (job I am interested in) around. Turns out I actually enjoyed it.
While job shadowing I got some fun comments from some of the crew. My favorite was from a cadet – “You can’t be so bored you’re following the E.O. around?”, and when I explained that I was actually planning on applying for the job got the response “well, I don’t think you can, you need to go to college for that kind of job.” My not-so-internal response, “oh, sweetie, I have been to college – maybe you should go.”
There are so many people onboard that figure if you are a Wife-On-Board that is all you are, that you’re career aspirations ended with an engagement ring. It was like when people assumed women only went to college to find a husband. Sad, but I can keep working to dispel that stereotype through my actions.
And, truthfully, what other experience does this cadet have with women onboard? His first cadet-ship ended up being during a pandemic. Statistically there aren’t many women that stay in cruise ship jobs through upper management and the ship we were all stuck on on was no different. While this Conde Nast Traveler article primarily focuses on women on the bridge (Deck Officer positions), my experience is the same. I have never worked on a ship (as in never, this is not an exaggeration) where there was a woman Captain, Staff Captain, Environmental Officer, Chief Engineer, Staff Chief Engineer, Hotel Director, and I think not even Culinary Operations Manager. I know they (in some of those roles) are out there. I’d hear about a Hotel Director on a ship that one time, she was always referred to as a b***h (shocking, not shocking, and maybe she was, but, lest we forget Tina Fey’s forever quote: “Bitches get stuff done.”)…. and, that’s about it.
This is another part of why doubt comes in. This is another part of why my brain goes in all these directions, it’s not just constant societal reminders about my ticking biological clock but that I have never seen women in leadership positions onboard – specifically when they also have children – so it is hard to envision a way that it could happen. I know that there are technically rules in the giant employee handbook that would make these things possible but I’ve never seen it done. When you’ve never seen something done it’s harder to envision yourself doing it. (This is also a mental stop gap for a whole host of other societal issues such as ending the cycle of poverty, first generation college students, and various career and/or political aspirations.)
When the doubt comes in I remember that the worst that can happen is I’ll lose a bit of money but gain a bit of knowledge. I also remember that there is the possibility of the best that could happen happening. The possibility that I could get the job, maybe I love it, maybe I hate it, but maybe I could be the women that shows that is possible to “have it all” – whatever that “all” is. And that maybe, after finding all those ways of it not working, I have ended up on a path towards the one that will.