Getting “the job call”

“The Military Guide” blog has reached 100 posts! 

Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented over the last eight months.  I think my military skills & discipline will keep this going for another year or five, so tell your friends!

On with today’s post:

One of my shipmates mentioned a few weeks ago that instructor duty was the best tour we’d ever had. Unfortunately, no matter how skilled or valued we were at the training command, to the assignment officer we were just a bunch of fungibles to be rotated back to sea duty and hammered down into our little round holes again. It became a retention issue. The shipmate eventually left active duty and returned to the Mainland to start his civilian career.

He said that he wouldn’t mind teaching at our training command again. It reminded me of the second chance I was offered there after I’d retired, and maybe he could do the same:

My final tour at the submarine training command was in a gigantic building which was only half-full after the 1990s drawdown. Several classrooms hosted a self-study program of nuclear junior officers preparing for their Engineer qualification exam at Naval Reactors.

One day we got an unusual request from the shipyard. They needed space for their training program to teach civilian engineers how to supervise submarine reactor overhauls. Although their focus was a little different from the officer’s studies, both programs shared the same reference materials and basic subjects. The best part about shipyard’s request was that their instructors were experts in areas that our instructors weren’t so familiar with, and vice versa. Our military instructors were relative short-timers with only 2-3 years on shore duty while their civilian instructors might stay for a decade. The students in our two programs would someday meet again during a submarine overhaul, so it seemed like a great idea for them to start working together now. Soon a half-dozen shipyard staff moved in with us to start teaching their own students.

Their supervisor and I share a common background– we’re college alumni and we’ve had similar submarine careers. He’d left active duty for the Reserves and was drilling on weekends in my spouse’s unit. We all knew the same social circle and became friends. He knew I was retiring soon but I never talked about my early-retirement plans at work.

Many military “retirees” start bridge careers as civil servants. (It’s one of the reasons we wrote the book.) Changing from one government uniform to the other is subject to a huge stack of ethics guidelines. One of the basic rules is that you can’t retire from your military billet one day and then return the next day to the same billet as a civil servant. You’re supposed to find a different job or else wait at least six months before returning to that billet, presumably allowing someone else to compete for it first.

I was eager to retire and I wasn’t looking for a job. (I didn’t even write a résumé.) I left our building about a year after the shipyard school moved in and I didn’t keep in touch with coworkers. Retired life was better than I’d ever believed possible, our finances were recovering from the 2002 bear market, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to start a bridge career.

Six months and one day after I’d formally retired, the phone rang. My friend said he was short-handed at the shipyard school, and would I like to teach there?

I was flattered that he’d kept me in mind all these months for the proverbial dream job. I’d teach 3-4 hours/day and then spend another 3-4 hours at a desk helping the students with their studies. No other duties. Low stress, great coworkers & students, shared camaraderie, plenty of time for lunches & workouts. In a few years I’d be earning $90K/year. I could start as soon as I’d picked up a few more aloha shirts and some comfy teaching sneakers at Goodwill.

Confusion immediately set in as my internal dialogue lurched back & forth:
“I could SO do that job.” “What’s wrong with retired life? Why would you want a job?”
“$90K/year to enjoy teaching again?” “What would you do with more money?”
“Only eight hours, no weekend duty!” “What if the surf’s up on a Tuesday morning?”
“I can’t let this chance slip away!!” “Dude, you’ve only been retired for six months.”

The vision of being a nuclear expert (again) was doing impressive things for my ego. But two years ago at the retirement seminar, I thought I’d had enough of that. One of the shipyard instructors mentioned a submarine drydock midwatch a few times a year to help out with testing. So I’d get paid to hang out with submariners again, drinking engineroom coffee and telling sea stories? Cool.  However, I’d be at work after dark and chatting with grumpy watchstanders to stay awake while swilling day-old coffee.

Of course I’d have to punch a clock at the same times every weekday.  I’d be doing rush hour again twice a day, sweating out the traffic jams and possibly even trapped at work by accidents every few months. Ugh.

My 10-year-old daughter wasn’t much help. She’d be sorry that I couldn’t be home to greet her after school. However, she felt she was getting a little old for that and she wanted to spend more time with her friends. But would my new salary mean that we could buy a horse?

My spouse finally nailed me:
Would I want to keep improving at my instructor job? Well, sure.
Would I want to go through the entire shipyard training course? You bet.
How about advanced qualifications for more classroom credibility? Absolutely.
Would I want to be the lead instructor? Hey, I’m good at that.
Would I spend more time on submarines to learn how our classroom training was applied at shipyard? Uh, OK.
Would I want to fill in for my boss while he was on travel or vacation? Um, possibly.
Would I start climbing the career ladder all over again for no particular reason other than the sheer joy of self-imposed hyperactive testosterone-fueled competition? Busted.

The work would be complex, somewhat autonomous, and quite fulfilling– but I wouldn’t have complete control over my schedule. It was 50 weeks/year of work. I didn’t want to get swept up in the career climb again. As I mulled over the possibilities, I realized that I didn’t really have an exit strategy. This was not a temp job. If I chafed at the schedule and the career issues (let alone the commute), then there was no easy way to resolve them other than by quitting. Yet my friend truly needed help, and he wasn’t running a sociology lab for me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was supposed to help him solve his problems, not the other way around. It just didn’t feel right.

A couple days later I turned down the offer. I eventually found a creative outlet to suit my flexible hours, and I’ve never regretted “missing” the job opportunity. In fact I hadn’t thought of it in years… until my shipmate mentioned how much we’d enjoyed teaching. Ironically that seems to be exactly what I’m doing right now!

Related articles:
During retirement: The inevitable job offers
Retirement: don’t recreate your old environment
During retirement: Back to school?
RetiredSyd: The Perfect Time in Hawaii

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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