Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thoughts and Whatnot (Optimism and Reflection)

In the last few weeks I’ve been in touch with some of my mates from grad school. Each has chosen a distinct path and none are really utilizing their degrees. Smooth Like Butta is selling real estate in Miami. The Marine is selling stocks on Wall Street. Eurotrash is publishing and selling books in St. Louis. Real World is living off her lawyer boyfriend in Australia (no judgment here) and will be moving back to London in the fall (high skilled visa !!!). The Princess is working as a receptionist in DC and pursuing a career in business. Another girl is working for a large multinational in logistics in New York while another is in DC splitting time between an internship on the hill and a support role in a lobbying firm.

I, however, live in a conflict rife developing country with daily challenges of culture, language, and comfort. I have chosen to make my life here for a time and for that I do not complain. It is tempting to be bothered about my circumstances in certain capacities, but for better or worse, the truth is I have selected a path that will continue to involve frustration and try my patience, and that has nothing to do with Colombia. The road to long term success in the policy world is littered with sinkholes of crappy jobs and crappy pay. The hardest part is getting in the door in a place you actually want to work, followed by the constant frustration of salaries that never compensate justly for your expertise and effort.

As I look forward into my future I am constantly reminded of a friend in DC that spent 5 long years toiling away at an arms control association for peanuts before landing a very good and reasonably paid job. In moments like these I wonder if I have the patience, the endurance to make that type of journey. While arms control is not of great interest to me, I am constantly torn between the thought of doing what I want (writing) and what will make me money (program development/management).

My experiences here at my current position have been a mix of ups and downs. While there are things about this organization that are fundamentally broken (communication in particular), I have tried to analyze the basic components of the job from the actual functioning of the company. In that effort, I have come to the conclusion that this particular line of work is not to my liking unless the program I am managing is something that I am interested in and agree with. Sadly, my current program fits neither of my prerequisites.

I am not particularly disheartened at the moment. I have several things going that may spell my exit from this purgatory. And, in the meantime, I improve my Spanish every day through conversation, listening, and translations. I am getting something tangible from this job and not just in the “well, at least you know what you don’t want sense”. I’ve had enough of that reasoning to last a lifetime. And, importantly, I am learning to turn negatives into positives and manage the emotional stress related to an unfavorable work environment.

At the same time I see before me three distinct career paths that hold promise but great uncertainty. On the one hand, I so very much want to write about what I want to write about. And I’m not referring to hastily (and sloppily) written blog posts during the morning coffee. I’m talking about books, fiction and non-fiction, on the topics I find to be of most interest and import – poverty, violence, crisis, politics, and, throughout the morass of misery that our species has created, hope. While never lacking in confidence, I have difficulty with seeing that path unfold before me. And, at times, I lack the inspiration, effort, and discipline necessary to realize that dream.

The second career path is the pursuit of a PhD. This is a path that I have long troubled with. It involves great sacrifice and I’m not sure if I really want to spend 5 more years studying. Then again, it’s more like a lifetime of study as getting a PhD implies a commitment to study and learning for the career. I am confident I could succeed in that world, but I have less certainty that it’s the dream that I want to pursue and give all my passion to.

The last career track is the development of policy, advocacy, and management of humanitarian and development projects which interest me. And by this, I’m not referring to grant provision and small business financing. I’m talking about a global monitoring system to monitor the outbreak of genocide and ethnic conflict. I’m talking about building a public campaign to intervene in crises and stop the killing and raping of innocents. I’m talking about becoming a warrior for what is right, what is just. In some ways, this dream mimics the first in that it taps into my passion to bring awareness and help to those in the worst situations as well as having a road just as foggy.

Throughout all of this runs the vein of my relationship with my wife. It is both a constant source of strength, encouragement, and support as well as a generator of uncertainty. The question of where to live is frequently a difficult topic for married couples but it’s even more complicated for an international couple. Case in point, I’d love to go back to London but given that it’s far from both of our homes and families, it seems logistically and financially infeasible (although, in a strange sense, the distance makes it fair).

In times like these, I come back to the Road Not Taken, probably the most famous American poem ever written. And although I love the sentiment and feel that it accurately describes my choices in some precise ways, the thing that Frost doesn’t really describe accurately about that other path is how hard it can be at times.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe it shouldn’t be too easy. That’s definitely how things played out for my love life and now, being where I am, I would never go back and change the past, no matter how trying certain events proved to be. So, instead of lamenting that which I have not achieved and the lack of clarity of my mission, allow me to continue looking forward to the point at which my career path is more or less established in such a way that I can see a future within my organization or professional development. And, while I am here, I will continue to write both here and on the various book projects that I have going. For I believe that dreams exist to be achieved and by applying my passion, no goal is out of reach.


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