Baby Boomers Pursue New Careers

Odd Jobs, People
on February 3, 2008
Mike Gullett The Murtaughs map a route through Missouri.

Jack and Eileen Murtaugh of Bel Air, Md. (pop. 10,080), don’t know from one day to the next where in the United States they’ll be watching the sunrise or the sunset, and the long-haul truck drivers couldn’t be happier.

“The company basically gives us an assignment and we go,” says Eileen, 58. “We like the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach.”

The Murtaughs, who drive a tractor-trailer for Schneider National Inc., are among a growing number of baby boomers charting a new occupational course, changing careers to pursue work that is more exciting, more meaningful or more financially rewarding.

The Murtaughs left lucrative sales jobs—Jack sold commercial and industrial batteries for 15 years and Eileen sold Volvos, vacuum cleaners and insurance—two years ago because they needed a change and longed to work together.

“We left because of burnout in sales—always meeting quotas and goals,” says Jack, 52. “We were both flying in different directions and seldom saw each other. We wanted the opportunity to do something totally together.”

Eileen researched careers online and at community colleges, “then one day I looked at him and said, ‘Let’s hit the road, Jack.’” The couple signed on with Schneider National, a trucking company based in Green Bay, Wis., so they could drive as a team and match their former combined salaries of $100,000.

In August 2006, after two months of truck-driving school, the Murtaughs began crisscrossing the country in an 18-wheeler hauling canned tomatoes, designer jeans, sugar, paper towels and you-name-it from manufacturers to distribution centers. They’re on the road four to six weeks at a time, then home for five or six days.

“I just love our little cracker box,” Eileen says about their cozy truck cabin with its bunk beds, compact refrigerator and satellite radio tuned to classic rock or Oprah & Friends when she’s at the wheel.

Eileen takes the day shift while Jack sleeps; then they switch. They eat meals together, sometimes grilling at rest stops. In a small 12-volt cooker that plugs into the dashboard, they bake potatoes and cook corn on the cob while rumbling down the highway.

The best part of trucking, say the Murtaughs, is seeing America.

“We’re completely taken by the sights of this country,” Jack says. “We do get off the interstate. We’ve become adept at using secondary routes.” Along the way, they fit visits with their three grown children and other family members into their driving schedule. v “We often see two seasons in one trip,” marvels Eileen, who keeps her camera handy to photograph the changing landscape. “Last December in Texas, it was 70 degrees, and literally the next day, it was snowing in Milwaukee.”

While their new career presents its own challenges and stresses—backing a 53-foot trailer, waiting out blizzards, dealing with road construction—the Murtaughs say they made the right move.

“If I knew that I’d have this much fun, I’d have done this 20 years ago,” says Eileen, who decorated their cab with a bumper sticker that says: “If you lived in your truck, you’d be home by now.”

Crafting a career
Susan Adkins, 46, didn’t have to look far to find her new midlife career. She simply fashioned her lifelong passion for knitting into a business in Sioux City, Iowa (pop. 51,380).

“Knitting is a way to show people how much you love them,” says Adkins, who opened Susan’s Yarn Garden in 2005 after transcribing medical records at her home for 10 years while raising her three children.

With her children grown, Adkins realized she didn’t want to spend the rest of her working life typing operating-room procedures and patient progress reports. So three years ago, Adkins offered knitting classes at local craft and fabric stores and was amazed with a turnout of 75 students.

Knitters were discouraged, though, by the limited selection of yarn and supplies in local stores. That was the push Adkins needed to fulfill her dream of owning a yarn shop and passing along the joy of knitting and crocheting that she learned from—and shared with—her mother and mother-in-law. She visited yarn stores in other cities for advice on starting a business, and with support from her husband, George, opened her own shop where she sells 120 varieties of yarn and offers classes to aspiring knitters. v “It’s what moms and grandmothers used to do. Now I fill that role,” Adkins says. Her second career isn’t about the money; it’s about the quality of living, she says. “It’s the experience and the enjoyment of what you do.”

Colonel in the classroom
With his military-style haircut and perfect posture, retired Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sharrock still looks every bit a U.S. Marine, but today his mission and second career is teaching American history at Wagoner High School in Wagoner, Okla. (pop. 7,669).

“Which part of the country first gave women the right to vote? North, South, East, West?” Sharrock asks a classroom full of sophomores. He hums the final Jeopardy tune while students decide that it’s the West, and specifically the state of Wyoming.

Sharrock, 48, retired from the Marines in 2004 and immediately landed a job through the national Troops to Teachers program. He since has become a favorite with students, parents and fellow teachers. Last year, he was honored with a Rising Star Award given to new Oklahoma teachers. “I see teaching as an extension of leadership,” Sharrock says. “I want to give the students a vision for the future and the tools to reach their goals.”

Sharrock arrives each school day at 6:30 a.m. and often stays until 6 p.m., helping students complete assignments, fill out college and scholarship applications, and communicate via shortwave radio through the Wagoner Windtalkers Amateur Radio Club that he founded.

“Students are our most treasured resource,” he says. “I’m just trying to make a difference, one student at a time.”

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