Almost a year ago, I found myself in possession of an invitation to the ship's monthly service awards luncheon. I was a bit confused - it wasn't my birthday, and I certainly hadn't been nominated for employee of the month. But as I thought about it, it dawned on me: I had been with the company for five years.
I'm honestly not entirely sure how it happened. When I started applying for cruise ship jobs in the fall of 2010, my main motivation was simply a job wherein I would not default on my student loans while simultaneously not needing to live at home with my parents. Throw in the added bonus of worldwide travel (something that had always appealed to me), and cruise ships seemed like a sensible choice. But I'm sure that back in 2010 when those resumes and cover letters were being emailed to every company in possession of a cruise ship, that I thought this would be a temporary thing. One contract, maybe two. Ships were supposed to be a placeholder - a momentary distraction while I figured out what I wanted to do when I "grew up".
What I've realized now is that there doesn't come a day where you suddenly wake up and feel like a grown-up. You just stop and minute and look around at your life and realize that you're grown. You still feel like a little kid on the inside, but you're an adult - even if you don't feel like one. And somehow, against the odds, that happened out here at sea.
Sea. It's the kind of thing you really can't explain to people on the outside, no matter how hard you try. People on the outside only see the glamour - the beautiful ships, the exotic ports of call, dolphins leaping beneath South African sunsets, whales in Alaska, the breathtaking scenery of the fjords. People on the inside tend to only speak of the decidedly non-glamorous - the long hours, no days off, military-style ranking, tiny living space. In reality of course ships are a conglomeration of the good and the bad, and the good usually does win out - otherwise we wouldn't stick around for so long.
I didn't think I'd stay out here for five years, but I also couldn't tell you what I'd be doing now if I hadn't. I told myself a number times that I was embarking onto my last and final contract - something that everyone out here knows is one of the two biggest lies told on cruise ships.*
I do wonder what I would be doing if I weren't here. Would I have taken the Foreign Service Officer Test, like I planned for so long? Would my overwhelming love of the theatre have pulled me back into the limelight? Would I be living in New York City with my brothers? Would I still be in China? I have no idea.
I don't regret having stayed out here for so long, though. It's been an adventure both exhilarating and exhausting. I have been to an amazing number of places. I've met a person I hope to spend my days with for the foreseeable future. And I think, just maybe, I do now know what I want to be when I grow up.
So thanks, ships. Thanks for somehow turning me into a real adult while chauffeuring me around the globe.
*The other biggest lie told on ships is "Oh, I'm not drinking tonight", which we all know isn't true.