22 December 2014


I know that I owe all of you posts on Beijing and Dubai, among others. I have five unfinished pieces drafted at the moment, but each time I begin a post, I find myself in a mental state that precludes me from finishing. I have written quite a few other pieces that have gone unpublished – private writing for my own life notes and a bit of therapy. I will publish all of those pieces in due time but I feel compelled to share the ugly truth of what has really been going on inside my mind before I can illustrate the greatness of my travels.

In 2011 I found myself facing Everest’s peak, at least as far as my career was concerned. I have been very blessed in the working world, a career-driven woman with sights set high, escalating quickly within companies. I was promoted twice by my first employer in the two years I worked in marketing and was promoted three times in the three years that I worked in corporate communications for my second employer. I did very well for a woman in her late 20s.

When scaling mountains and escalating quickly, hikers face many challenges the higher they climb: unpredictable weather, unstable ground, the risk of an avalanche burying pack members, depleting oxygen levels that inhibit breathing, maintaining a healthy pace, fading support as team members give up or die trying. In my last few months at work, I faced every one of those challenges.

I had my sights set on becoming a vice president by 30 and emerging as one of the city’s “40 Under 40,” but somewhere along the way, I found myself dodging storms, attempting to unbury myself from the work piling, becoming a die-trying team leader when the people around me left and unable to breathe because of the pressure I felt I was under.

I endured a lot of emotions when we left the country: I felt remorse and guilt for leaving a few work projects unfinished, I felt sick wondering how my teammates would perceive me once I was no longer a member of the team and I felt relief knowing that my work was done.

Starting over was what I did best. My family moved quite a lot when I was younger and I developed a mentality to run away and start fresh. Any time I felt that I acted wrongly or disappointed someone or failed somehow, I was compelled to leave everything behind, go somewhere new and start a new life. A fresh start in Singapore was just what I desired.

Because I experienced full-blown burnout in my last position, I gave myself three months of relaxation and reflection before searching the local job boards and fishing for employment opportunities. When I entered the playing field, applied for roles and contacted employment agencies, I received one of two replies: either something along the lines of “you do not meet our requirements,” or nothing at all, the latter being the predominant response.

Six months or a year into my unemployment – not counting my unpaid, full-time work (I was volunteering) – my mind began to wander. I have a degree in communications. Does that mean that I absolutely have to work in communications? I run a mentor program for public relations students. Doesn’t that responsibility require me to be in a PR role? What are my other interests? And then the big question emerged….If I could do it all over again, what would I really want to be doing right now?

From there my mind spun out of control. My career scenarios spawned from ideas of actual positions to seemingly fictitious ones. What about all the careers that I didn’t even know existed? I could have been Dr. Brennan from Bones or a character now popularized as Olivia Pope who manages high-profile crises. Those television characters are highly successful and powerful women!

Should I go back to school? Obtain another degree? Apply for a master’s or PhD program? Why does everyone around me seem to be finding success – or at least jobs – and I feel like I am stagnant?

I found valuable work in Singapore, the kind of work that consumed hours of my time with an emotional reward in lieu of financial compensation. The work I did in the non-profit sector demonstrated local professional experience in my field, gave me a sense of purpose and landed a place on my résumé. I did find an available PR position at a top global firm but only weeks before we left the country.

Nearly two years ago we left Singapore for Papua New Guinea and my career enigma was further exposed with my abundance of free time. In Singapore I had friends and organizations to fill my social calendar. I had work to fill my days. I had meetings and lunches and events to plan, dinner parties to host and celebrations to attend. In PNG I had nothing. No friends. No organizations to join. No clubs boasting social activities. I had my husband, a television and a red leather loveseat.

The career thoughts crept back into my cognizance. If I had a hard time planning my future – heck, my present – in a thriving first-world nation, what the heck was I going to do in the land of no opportunity? My visa had the words “WORK PROHIBITED” boldly displayed. I lived in a place where illiteracy and unemployment were unbelievably high so available jobs needed to go to the local people.

At that point the absence took over. I was again face to face with an identity crisis. Where I come from, a person’s identity is tied to his or her profession. I once read an article that depicted identity roles based on U.S. regions – basically, how conversations flow in various parts of the U.S. People in the South identify with family name; people in the Northeast identify with educational institutions; people in the Midwest are defined by their careers, as evidenced by one of the first questions asked during an introduction: what do you do?

When I could no longer answer that question, either in response to a person or a piece of paper requesting some form of an answer in an otherwise blank box next to the word “occupation,” I began to freak out a little bit at a time. I did not have any negative thoughts about the word “housewife” or the duties associated – my mom was a great housewife in between her careers – I simply did not identify with the title.

I found myself sitting around a lot, watching television. I began purchasing ebooks like someone binging on sweets – I would buy six books at once and then go three weeks without any, then I would buy four books in one sitting. I read a lot. I began working out, using the gym and occasionally swimming (wading) in the pool. I spent a few months reveling in crossword puzzles.

Then, I panicked. Earlier this year I signed up for online courses in order to further my education; none of the courses were related to one another. I enrolled in a year-long interior design diploma program with the intent on learning technical terminology and understanding that I could apply to writing and my travels. I enrolled in a financial accounting course because my former boss told me that instead of earning a master’s degree in a field in which I am already skilled, I should choose something challenging and unfamiliar, like business accounting. I also enrolled in a constitutional law course because I felt that I needed to better understand my own government while residing under someone else’s. I spent a few weeks attempting to learn French but found myself so consumed with the other courses that I lost momentum. I did everything I could to fill the void of empty, unproductive time, all short-term solutions that appeared to me to be of long-term benefit, none which were actually relevant to my actual career.

This time last month I broke down when I realized what I was doing, what I was feeling and finally put together all of the pieces of the puzzle that I had been forming over the last 15 years.

Before the creation of TLC and the network’s incredibly popular home improvement show, Trading Spaces, I was a high school student who wanted to become an interior designer. My mother had other aspirations. With no interest in writing, no understanding of history, a love of math and a hatred of science, I enrolled in pharmacy school. In my second year when I could take no more, I changed my major and, on a whim, fell into communications. I knew nothing about public relations except that a friend of mine seemed to be enjoying the curricula and that I would be required to take an intriguing art class. That was enough.

I considered changing my major again before graduating but I did not want to seem like a complete unfocused failure, so I completed my coursework and entered the working world with my communications degree. Since I had the degree and the university-level knowledge, I began working in the field. From there I excelled and progressed within the field. Had I remained in the U.S. I would likely still be in the field.

However, we left. And I broke.

You see, when I was 17, I had a life plan. I knew what I wanted to be (did you catch that – what I wanted to be, not who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do) and I had planned to pursue that avenue. But life happened and I changed directions. I eventually found a new career path – one that worked well, actually. And then my career stopped and I crashed into the absence – the absence of a career, the absence of an identity, the absence of a plan or a clear future, the nothing I have to show for myself, the nothing I have to do in PNG, the nothing my career amounts to…I suddenly realized that I had been bouncing around in a thousand different directions, searching for something, anything on which to grasp, something productive, something that holds value.

And then God told me to write. And Nicola told me that I matter. Since I was crying gallons of tears on her guest bed, I unloaded on her after speaking with Paul. The next day I received a call. “Hey dude. I was just at work thinking about you and I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to worry about your career path or your life path. You are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing – helping people and being a blessing to everyone you know. I just thought you should know that because I don’t think you do.”

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