July 19, 2011
Now is the summer of my discontent. My ideal life and my ideal career are butting heads.
I have never made it a secret that my career is my first priority. I zipped through undergraduate and graduate school with the intent of getting some valuable job experience before continuing on to do my PhD. Upon completing that, I would move to the East Coast and secure a great job designing culturally sensitive, sustainable post-conflict community reconstruction policies. In my spare time I would work as a volunteer excavating mass graves to gather evidence for war crimes prosecutions. Eventually I would get married and have a couple kids. A pretty great life plan if you ask me.
Then the reality of the job market, particularly the non-profit human rights job market, took me down a notch. Over a year after graduating with my Master’s degree I am living with my mother and working as a manager in retail. Somewhere along the way my plan was derailed. I am still career oriented. I want the cool job and the PhD. I keep being told I have to go to where the jobs are. For my field, that means Washington DC or New York. At the immediate level, I find these places exciting but not wholly appealing. Living at home I’m surrounded by kitties and my family and am ten minutes away from my boyfriend. Awesome. What impetus do I have to pick up and move to a major city where I don’t know anyone and have to live with 4 other people in a tiny apartment and work three crappy jobs to pay my rent and deal with the smog and noise of a people-packed, concrete jungle?
I’ve also been thinking a lot about where I want to settle down in the future, and I’m realizing that the places that offer the great job aren’t the places I want to raise a family. I always imagined myself being a cosmopolitan adult, but more and more I find that I like the sound of cicadas and the glow of fireflies. I like grass and trees and having my own space. I like being able to hop in the car and drive to the Badlands of South Dakota or the mountains in Colorado. I want to raise my kids in a nice house with enough property that I can have a garden. I want a small grove of peach and pear and olive trees. I want a pond with water lilies and an arbor with grapes so I can make bad homemade wine. I want to try raising a few chickens and a duck or two. I could never have that kind of lifestyle in the DC or New York areas.
Fortunately, I’m more of an action kind of girl than the brooding kind. My new plan? Keep plugging along until the great job and the PhD are mine. I’ll work for a few years in the “proper” locations, get the experience I need, then move someplace I actually want to live and start my own non-profit. Who says a successful international organization can’t be run from Oregon or Ohio or Tennessee or Maine? I shouldn't have to sacrifice one dream to satisfy another.
After figuring out my new life plan, I am feeling both refreshed and optimistic. As my favorite fictional heroine, Amelia Peabody, would say, “Righteous indignation has that effect on my character.” I want total quality of life, dang it, and if the world isn’t prepared to offer it to me I’ll just have to create it on my own. So there.