What? Wondering why you are reading about unemployment instead of baking cherry pies? Read the first part of this series and find out what’s going on here. Still wishing you could read about a recipe? Here you go!
If anyone had told me-even just a year ago that I would now be staying home, without kids, doing housework and running errands all day, I would have either not believed you or had a nervous breakdown.
It’s funny how life has a way of twisting and turning away from your expectations of it.
One day you’re in charge of figuring out how to get 250 people out of a rioting Indian city, the next you’re seriously considering a secretarial position and suffering performance anxiety over a chocolate cake for your husband’s boss’ birthday.
Ohh, that makes it sound so bad. I promise it’s not really that bad. Well, it’s bad, but it’s getting better, really.
2 months B.C. (Before China) I was your average, obnoxiously stereotypical, type-A, perfectionist, do-gooder, non-profit workaholic types. I had been a proud, card-carrying member of the working world for over ten years.
My parents both come from working-class blue-collar families and they raised me to work hard and aim high.
My first experience with real work came at home. Saturday mornings my mother would put my sister and I to work scrubbing the floors, vacuuming and cleaning toilets. We loathed those clean marathons as only middle-class, over-privileged kids could, but we also learned a few of those good life lessons my parents were hoping for:
1. You have to know how to clean up your own sh*t
2. A job done well is a thing of value-no matter how boring or dirty the task
3. When in doubt, use a lot of bleach-unless it’s on your mother’s favorite navy-blue blouse
By the time we were teenagers, my parents were, shall we say, hinting strongly that we needed to find ourselves some part-time jobs. Given the alternative, (some serious grounding) my sister sold custard (a Midwestern summer tradition) while I taught gymnastics classes to munchkins and ankle-biters.
In college I found work selling advertising, sell shoes, working as a research assistant, and working as a Starbucks “barista” to help pay for my books and my housing and the occasional beer. From those experiences I gleaned a great many life lessons including the one that goes:
A cup of coffee never tastes so good as when it is:
a) free; and
b) comes at the end of a 5:30am-2:30 pm you show up for having not gone to bed at all the night before.
Let’s also just say that one learns a lot about responsibility and the upper thresholds of one’s tolerance for caffeine when one’s college job requires a 4:30am alarm.
I graduated a year ahead of schedule with a double major and an insatiable desire to finally get out, help people, and make my mark on the world. I was convinced I would travel the world and make a difference. I had a plan: I would martyr myself before the cause of “international development” until my 30’s at which point I would do the family thing, keep working and ultimately write a book that would change the world for the better, somehow. I would be, how you say, “successful.”
I moved to India to work at a small non-profit for a few months, then on to Washington, D.C. where I landed at Ashoka and fell in love with my new city, my new job, and my future husband.
In D.C., I think I loved my work as much for how it defined me to the rest of the world as for the relative good I was doing. That is the hard, real truth of the matter. In the non-profit world, you might not make a lot of money, but you can definitely get high on feelings of moral superiority and workaholism. It’s an addicting combination-like booze and cigarettes or Chinese dumplings and vinegar.
I worked anywhere from 50-80 hours a week. I’d cram agenda revisions and copy edits in after quick dinners with Chris. I’d wake up at 6 am to answer emails from Asia before sneaking in a quick run and heading to the office. I’d eat breakfast and lunch at my desk and had a standing date at the coffee shop every weekend where I’d put in a few more hours while Chris studied Chinese. Conference calls at 9:30pm on a Friday night were not out of the question nor were 12am-3am calls in order to catch my colleagues in Indonesia on Skype.
Then we found out Chris had finally been accepted into the United States Foreign Service and-boom-my life, our lives, suddenly took on a whole new trajectory. I’ll never forget that day. I was in a meeting with my boss when Chris came running by the office window looking something beween shocked and deliriously happy.
After my meeting, I walked into his office and he just wordlessly turned his monitor so that I could see the email detailing his acceptance. I was stunned, he was stunned. It was only 11am but we somehow floated out of the office and took the rest of the day off, wandering around Washington, D.C. in a happy daze.
That night we celebrated with sushi and stayed up until 3 in the morning talking about what this all meant for our relationship. We had never talked much about marriage before, but that night we talked A LOT about marriage. About marriage, about commitment, about my future, our future. Chris told me he’d been planning a proposal for quite some time. I realized that I kind of liked that. We fell asleep talking and woke up at sunrise. Chris rolled over and told me that he wanted me to be his wife, I told him I wanted him to be my husband. And that was that.
Ok for you foreign service people out there, I’ll admit, he might have actually said he wanted me to be his EFM (eligible family member) but I swear, it was way funnier and much less dorky than it sounds in print.
We didn’t yet know that we’d be headed to China, but even so, before our July 4th wedding, I went through some MAJOR. SOUL. SEARCHING. I knew Chris’ new career and our impending marriage meant I’d no longer be charting my own course solo across the world. Who did I think I was? 24 year old career girls in DC don’t get married. What was happening to my life plans? What happened to my sub-30 matrimony embargo? Did this mean I didn’t truly care about the things I said I did and the things I thought I was supposed to be doing with my life?
Someday I’ll write a post about those few weeks of total angst-I learned a lot during that short time. But to cut a looooong story short (too late right?), in the end I made peace with myself and my decisions. Marrying Chris was, without a doubt, the best decision I have ever made and may ever make again.
And getting married didn’t actually change my everyday life or who I was at work, with my friends, or in my loftiest ambitious dreams. I still went to work early every morning and came home late. I still ate lunch at my desk and worked on weekends. When it came down to it, marriage only made me, and us, happier.
In fact before we moved to China, the only time I really thought about how weird it was to be married young was when I saw the spooked looks I saw on the faces of my college-boy volunteers when I talked about my husband. Have you ever used the word “marriage” in a sentence while talking to a 22 year old boy who’s in the process of hitting on you? It’s truly priceless experience. It’s like talking about the process of making bacon with a really squeamish and really devout vegetarian.
In any case, though we were blissfully happy in our marriage and the exciting new adventures Chris’ new career promised, when it came to our future and my work opportunities in China, we were totally, really inexcusably, clueless. Like really, really clueless. Blame newly-wed bliss or overconfidence or denial but, as it turns out, we just really didn’t know what we were in for.
In the back of my mind, I guess I always thought there would be work in China with Ashoka. I knew expansion plans into China were coming along and I just assumed it would all work out. If that didn’t work out, I assumed there would be other organizations I could work for doing real grassroots sorts of projects. If not that, then I maybe I could travel and write and practice my photography. Maybe deep-down this was what I was supposed to be doing. I started to question the life-trajectory I had planned out for myself in college. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a 8-6 non-profit office worker anyway. Maybe my true purpose would reveal itself in China.
Now, given that we are only 2 months in, I’m not going to rule out some sort of China-inspired, rousing (and practically applicable) epiphany about my life purpose. No siree, a girl has gots to have hope. But upon arriving in China, I found out that snagging my dream job or even my “ok well this is still cool” job here would be far more difficult than I originally realized.
Oh and those grand plans for travel and photography? Interestingly enough, those hobbies cost money which is something one tends to have less of when one is unemployed. Who knew right?
And so, I found myself in China, unemployed and with a little too much time and flour on my hands…
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment where we get to the fun stuff of what one actually does in a foreign country with no work, no kids, and no clue.