China in Photos

China in Photos: Day No. 78 In Which I Think About My Job and How I Got It

I was going to post all of my photos from the beautiful photo drive we took yesterday but then I remembered that someone “accidentally” cut the major fiber-optic cable that supplies high speed internet to this part of China last week.  Every since, our internet hasn’t been the same.  We can stream episodes of Wipeout just fine but it takes 20 minutes for a photo to load on WordPress.  Weird.

So instead, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about working in a “spouse job” since a few people have asked what it’s like.

The answer is a bit complicated.

On one hand, I’m so grateful to be employed.  I’m so thankful to be making a U.S.-level salary at a time when so many people in the U.S. are having a hard time finding work.  My boss is fantastic, his boss is fantastic, my Chinese colleagues are lovely.  The work that I’m doing is real and necessary.  I get to work down the hall from my husband and eat lunch with him any day of the week.

You can sense the big “But…” coming can’t you?

But I can never forget that this isn’t my world.  That I didn’t get this job because I was the best candidate for the job, I got it because I was the only candidate-and because I’m married to a Foreign Service Officer.

I didn’t pass an Oral Exam and go through 13 months of training.  I don’t have the sorts of clearances to go to the meetings or read the information that people around me might have to.  Perhaps most differently, I’m not working at the Consulate for a promotion or to reach the next step in my career.

Though it sometimes feels a bit like a step down to go from being someone working her way up in the non-profit world to working a job that no one else applied for, the truth is, I know it shouldn’t bother me, it’s just my pride and ego talking.  My ambitions lie elsewhere.

The work life I dream of for myself doesn’t involved a security clearance or anything that doesn’t involve either writing or some sort of humanitarian work.  It never has, it probably never will.

Not even during those heady days of Chris’ A-100 happy hours did I ever really manage to convince myself that I’d ever want to be a Foreign Service Officer.  It’s the perfect gig for my husband, just not for me.  Which makes my working at the consulate feel like a bit of a detour in my work life.

I think I’ going to learn a lot at my job, but this isn’t really my space or my thing.  When people ask me why I’m in China, I usually default to the fact Chris is here and I just got my job because his job is here.

And so, I’m literally working the sort of job that millions of people around the world work and that I naively thought I never would: I come in at 8, leave at 5 and actually take an hour for lunch.  I don’t have to work weekends, I don’t have to network (at least not in the same way I might if this was my career).

At my old job things were always so touch and go, either amazing or awful.  My job left me so exhausted and so completely and emotionally wrung out everyday that, by the time I pulled myself away from my email at 10pm or 11 or midnight, I had nothing left to think about writing a novel or starting my own business.

Here, I dream of those things all the time.  I lie in bed thinking about all the things I should be doing after work, what I want to accomplish so that I can hopefully, in the future, always find work on my own merit again.

I’m no longer a peon with potential.  It says right in my contract: no potential for promotion.  I’m not longer a scrappy entry-level desk jockey desperately trying to work my way up.

But maybe that’s ok too.

I came to China with the inkling that maybe I’d find out here what I’m really supposed to be doing for a living.

To find out what I’m driven to do in the absence of all of those normal motivating factors like paying the rent, peer pressure, oh and a large and diverse job market. (and yes, I know there are no jobs to be had in the U.S. but there is something to be said for the potential of finding a job rather than the admonition not to).

Slowly but surely, I think I’m figuring it all out, what I might want to do with my life. And thankfully, I have a nice job to do from 8-5 while I’m doing that.

I’m really tired, so this post probably makes no sense but for any of you EFM’s who’ve stayed with me to the end of this rambling self-indulgent rant, let me see if I can some it up in a few bullet points:

-Consulate jobs are really awesome: great pay, great benefits, great company, great experience of the local culture if you work mostly with local staff.

-Consulate jobs can really wreak havoc on your self-esteem, especially if you are all Type-A like me.  It’s hard to feel like an equal when you know, according to some standards and clearances, and probably to some people, you really aren’t.

-Consulate jobs aren’t a “get-into-the-foreign-service-free” pass but it’s probably a really great way to find out if the Foreign Service is something you’d like to pursue-probably even more useful than your spouse’s stories and experiences.

-I’m pretty sure big posts offer lots more opportunities and job competition than smaller ones so this whole post is probably pretty irrelevant if you work somewhere like Beijing…or if you work somewhere you can get a job on the local economy.

-Consulate jobs are an excellent way to get out of the rat race and reflect while still pulling down a salary.  Sort of like quitting your day job to work at Starbucks and write a book, only sub “the government” for Starbucks…so errr maybe not quite the same thing but it feels similar.

Good night all!


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