I just came back from a party to farewell another fabulous human being I have met here, Michael. He originally came here as a Fulbright scholar, and stayed for longer than he was contracted to… I mean, who wouldn’t?
It was a fabulous party. Held at mutual friends’ house, ‘Pot luck’ – bring a plate. Fabulous food, fabulous company, great conversations, music, shared interests – new faces, old faces, local people and expats. Michael is a sociable person who has worked at a range of different places, and he invited them all! He is around half my age, but his playlist was excellent – huge range of music from different places and eras. This epitomizes a very different life to the one I lead back ‘home’.
People who had seen my recent facebook posts asked me about my plans for when my contract expires, at the end of August. For the first time I needed to articulate something I’ve been putting off, what am I going to do? It is June now, my contract ends in three months. I don’t want to leave but I need to go home. I want to come back.
I talked with my 85 year old father today. He said something like “So you’re looking forward to coming home, because I miss you and many other people miss you too…” My immediate thought was no, I’m not looking forward to coming home. My ‘home’ is a miserable place, a job in which I am devalued and constantly on edge, never knowing whether I’ll have work for the next semester, no chance of achieving an ongoing position. Children who I adore but I cannot continue to be their all when living a life of discontent. A complete lack of ‘community’, where I sit at home on my own and wallow in my misery. A lack of meaning and feeling as if I am contributing to the world. Here I feel as if I am on my way to contributing. To helping others achieve, to inspire, to educate, to share my knowledge and be a part of improving the lives of others. I don’t want to go home.
Is this selfish? Am I only thinking of myself? Or does a meaningful life actually matter? It seems to matter to me. I have worked hard for a long time to develop the skills that I want to share with others. I have tried to do that in my ‘home’ context, in working with students in Australian universities to inspire, to provoke, to work towards a better future for their students and the world. Sometimes this feels like an achievement, as if I’ve made a difference. And then I get my student evaluations, I get rejected for ongoing positions, I feel like I’m not inspiring, or achieving, or doing anything of any value to anyone. I feel like a failure, with nothing to offer. God I hate that feeling, but it’s real, and it hurts.
So I leave Australia, I work here as a volunteer, supported by the Australian government. I feel as if I have some purpose to what I’m doing. I feel as if people appreciate what I’m doing. People seem to acknowledge and recognise that what I’m doing is selfless – this is not for me. I have knowledge and ability and I can share it unselfishly – I simply need enough money to live, and beyond that, I will give what I can.
This is the dilemma I find myself in.
Addendum: a year later, another volunteer position in a different country…
The dilemma is still with me. Again I find myself in a position that feels right – in a position that welcomes me and my skills, where I feel I can make a difference, where I am challenged every day. As I leave home, my father hugs me and every time it feels like the last goodbye. My children hug me as I farewell them, and I assure myself that my discontent presence is more damaging than my content distance – that technology provides a channel for more communication than would be possible with my presence.
I was asked by a friend why I didn’t look for the same work in my own country – out of respect for being a closer part of my kids’ lives, and (presumably) to work for the betterment of my own country rather than overseas. It is difficult to articulate why I do not have any desire to work in my own country, but I think I have expressed this in many ways over many years.
Professionally, there are people who have training and experience in my profession who can certainly do these (local) jobs and who I would have to compete with based on questionable measures of competence. I am tired of battling to prove myself, to present myself in an ‘acceptable’ manner, to write and to speak in a way that is not true to myself and has nothing to do with what I want to accomplish and how I want to work with others. Or how I can draw on a life-time of experience that doesn’t ‘fit’ in my ‘3 page max CV’ and certainly isn’t mentioned in job interviews.
For a long time I have just wanted to work at my best, to meet challenges head on and to use my ‘big picture’ thinking to work on immediate issues … I don’t have as much energy as I did 20+ years ago when I started on the desperate journey through academia so I’d rather put the energy and passion into the work I have, than into getting my foot in the doors that remain closed to me.
So the ‘dilemma of selfishness’ remains but …
Deliberating inside my Cave…
One thought on “A (Selfish?) Life in Savannakhet, Laos. (+addendum…)”
Thank you for sharing Annette – your life and thoughts are inspirational and yet tempered by very real concerns about the hard decisions you make – and their payoffs.
Love and peace be with you