I have not blogged for aeons. Or at least it feels that way. Fully a month and a half, and I certainly can’t excuse it away with the long hours I’ve been working. The truth is, there are some very good reasons I finished off 2015 in silence…
In the absence of a clear path forward, I decided to focus on the steps. Not knowing what’s going to happen can be exciting, but when it comes to work, it’s terrifying. France – and more specifically Le Puy – is tricky in this respect; I’ve never lived in a place where finding meaningful gainful employment is so damn complicated. Suffice it to say that absolutely every single post I could qualify for in terms of my experience is out of my remit for lack of the proper degree. I have a Bachelor’s of Social Science, which means nada in France. Though I’ve got lots of experience working directly with vulnerable people, I’m not an Educatrice Spécialisée, so I cannot do that work here. Though I’ve managed projects and people and consulted for a number of organisations on best practice in organisational management, I’m not a Chef de Service, so I cannot manage here. There is a process by which I could apply to have my experience and degree considered for an equivalent French licence or masters, but the moment I started managing teams and stopped frontline work, I ceased to be eligible for a qualification working directly with beneficiaries. And the moment I started consulting with organisations and stopped managing teams, I ceased to be eligible for a qualification managing teams. So I am in the limbo-land of the profoundly limiting French education system, which incidentally is astoundingly ball-breaking for the French themselves. I cannot count the number of conversations I’ve had with French nationals experiencing the same frustration of limitation I’ve undergone since starting this journey of discovery.
And yet, working in Le Puy was never what I wanted to do to begin with.
Sometimes when life gets overwhelming and there are responsibilities – financial, familial, etc. – pounding at the door, we’re prone to forget the larger picture, what we set out to do to begin with. In our case, Le Puy is meant to be our point de chute, literally our “dropping-off point” – the place we come “home” to in between traveling and working where our careers take us. Coming back from Ecuador was relevatory: all our pots and pans right where we left them; all our winter cardigans and coats hanging in the closet; all our bed linens tucked neatly in the old chest we inherited from C’s folks. That was pure magic.
So whilst I’ve been exploring the intricacies of getting meaninfully employed in Le Puy, I have continued my search for work in development, which has been the grand plan all along. Of course, the process is exhausting and at times humiliating. Hours go into preparing every application, researching the program or project, the region and sometimes the organisation if they’re unknown to me. Ensuring my competencies tick every box identified in the job spec, and figuring out how to make that show in my carefully worded cover letter (even more interesting when those are written in French or Spanish), adjusting my CV to bring the right experiences out to shine. Once the email is sent, I log it on my now Very Long List of jobs I’ve applied to, and try to move on with my life. The truth is that I was getting very close to giving up.
Someone close to me who is undergoing a scary, life-changing experience, who I thought would have nothing but encouragement to offer, said something to me back in October that diminished my confidence in a powerful way. Perhaps it was just the timing, maybe I was already feeling hopeless before she ever said anything. But the sense of rock bottom led me to a last resort power play: I read an listicle about finding work that mentioned getting a career mentor. There is but one person in my life qualified for this role, my old boss from the Y. L fit the bill swimmingly for two reasons. Firstly, she has been very clear that she respects my work and believes in me as a professional. Secondly, she is tough as nails on me. She has never tolerated wimpiness, and if I could sort something out myself and was coming to her for support, she roundly denied me and told me to figure it out. And I did.
So began an exchange of emails and an eventual first conversation that was deeply powerful, in large part because of one thing she said: “Ann, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be working.” Lots of other stuff followed, and we started talking logistics – we were going to look at my CV, I needed to decide “what I truly wanted,” and so on.
At the same time, I’ve been staving off self-pity via a rigourous morning ritual that starts my day properly: sun salutations, a proper breakfast (with pre-biotics), a 30-minute walk, morning pages, a pro-biotic, and only then a cup of coffee and my computer. These are the times I’m grateful for the absence of offspring…I know this isn’t realistic for someone trying to get the kids off to school, but as I had the liberty, I could either use it to wallow in fear of the unknown, or get my ass as present as possible before beginning the day.
Finally, what I thought was impossible has come to pass: I got a first interview, and then a second, and then a job offer, and the stinking contract was actually emailed, and I’ve signed it and sent it back. On the 25th of January I’ll officially be in post as a Capacity Building Officer for Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, in their regional office in Istanbul, working with partner organisations throughout West and Central Asia. It’s a year contract with the possibility of extension at the end. I took a selfie within moments of finding out I’d got the first interview because I needed to document the tremendous joy I felt:
So now there’s a million other things to work out…so many things that will be new to me and quite frightening, most significantly life without my best friend. But it’s just for a year…we’ve promised each other we’ll make something work by that point. C’s been fortunate enough to find a job here in Le Puy where he can learn a tremendous amount whilst getting paid…that’s too priceless for us coming out of volunteering for 7 months of the last year.
I’m out of the habit of writing (hence this very long post…brevity is the first thing to go), and find it difficult to write here for reasons I’ve stated in previous posts – namely that I don’t want this blog to serve as a journal. But I will not be closing it – it’s too precious to be able to articulate in front of a live studio audience. It forces me to think about my life and my actions in a very different way, and also the support we get from our readers in cyberspace is golden.
On that note, C will soon be posting about an excellent project he carried out in our last weeks in Ecuador, so stay tuned for that. And I’ll be here again too sooner or later.
Happy New Year.