Advice and reflections sought

At risk perhaps, of attracting weird attention, I have decided to throw a question out to cyber space.

 What shall I do with my life? 

For sometime now, I have found myself at somewhat of a crossroads vocationally speaking. And alternately vexed, frustrated, sad, excited, worried, unhappy and resolved because of this hiatus. Where to go? What to do? In the past, I have managed development projects, been an actor and radio presenter, worked in child protection, been a counsellor, worked with victims of trauma, been a political and human rights analyst for the UN, coordinated humanitarian projects, written a book, been a youth-worker, run a bar, been an outdoor activities instructor and even earned a reasonable income from cabinet making. I can draw a bit and take good photos.

But that only tells me what I have done and can do. Where to now? I have an open offer to return to Afghanistan and lead a smallish development organisation there. This appeals at many levels. I have an interview coming up with an international human rights organisation. This also deeply appeals. I have a second book in draft, and a third in the early stages. Appealing. Continue being a part-time troublemaker and agitator, and Dad? This too, is appealing. Which of these should I go with? Or none at all, and do something I haven’t thought of yet?

I can see that I am by inclination and my temperament, a worrier. I don’t mean someone who worries about interest rates or germs on the toilet seat, I mean a someone who worries about culture and faith and politics and human rights. An agitator, a questioner, an innovator, a muck-raker. I take things apart and see how they work and try to fix things that are broken: be they model cars, telescopes, ideologies, constructs, systems, assumptions, surfboards or ducks. 

I don’t accept many things as they are. That makes me quite annoying to live with mostly. The question is, where does such a person find employment? In what kinds of jobs and what kinds of contexts can I both make a useful and perhaps unique contribution, have integrity, and be authentic to who I am?

Well. All comments, ideas, feedback, suggestions and job offers received, and considered, and an original signed cartoon or classic photograph to the winner.


14 thoughts on “Advice and reflections sought

  1. Looks like I am first in line for a cartoon!

    I was discussing this with a friend yesterday and we agreed that if you know who you are then its just a matter of finding someone to pay you money to ‘be you’.

    So that’s a roundabout way of saying ‘jobs, schmobs’ – you have to do something to earn a crust and so long as you are privileged enough to have a choice you might as well do something that is line with your identity and desires.

    I am about to do some relief teaching to pay some bills. Not my preferred mode of employment, but it’ll do for a while as I get on with the other more important (to me) stuff of life!

    In being an agitator, questioner etc, I would be inclined to think anywhere those core identity elements can be most fully realised is possibly as ideal place to be…

    Afghanistan does sound like a great adventure though…

  2. I like the notion of finding someone to pay you for being you…thanks for the thoughts mate. And sorry for not getting back to your email sooner – I’d love to do the forge session. The date sounds fine.

  3. Spot on Hamo.

    Mate everything you wrote resonated with me, um except for the impressive list of jobs and job prospects! I believe the technical term for being alive is ‘the abscence of certainty and an enquiring spirit.’ I don’t think this definition refers to being alive in the physiological sense. I think it’s more of a philosophical statement. And the world we live in today (as members of the educated segment of developed nations) is one of constant change and never ending choice. It is a curse and a boon.

    I suspect there’s nothing that you ‘should’ be doing. It just comes down to what your heart tells you to do and whether you feel that there is some purpose to your existence.

    You like me seem to be something of a dabbler. So why not just keep dabbling and enjoying the ride? Or do you feel you need more stability?

  4. Thanks Iqbal – I like your definition of being alive. I think it fits where I am. And I am reasonably ‘happy’ with the dabbling – I guess it’s a sense that I also want to be doing more, in my profession/ vocation/ calling (whatever that is!) I.e., less dabbling, more consolidation. But that might be just mid-life angst…

  5. I feel like I am dabbling at the moment and am both motivated by it and frustrated by it.

    I have 3 different paid roles and even within them there is a lot of room to move and ‘dabble’.

    I think the frustration is that it sometimes hard to see something substantial being achieved or created and all the little bits sometimes don’t amount to as much as I would hope.

    As an achievement oriented person it can be a tad difficult…

  6. Yes, quite.
    I think there is a lot of stuff unthought-through about the part-time work/ part time Dad/ breaking the standard male roles stuff. On the one hand, I really like it that I am staying at home alot, with our kids, and Julie is able to study and work and do the things important to her.
    But it is a difficult process for me also. I do loads of different things. But they don’t seem to add up to much – much tangible, that is. Intangibles – oh, I got lots of them. I’ve got intangibles coming out my ear. But I am a bit sick of some of my well-meaning aquaintances asking, ‘Got any work yet?’

  7. I love being paid to be me. Though sometimes I feel a bit guilty coz I would probably do it for free. What kind of stuff do you want to develop and build on? Or are you looking for something new/different entirely?

  8. Hiya Zac. I dunno. I might be looking for something new. Or something old, but I could approach it in a new way.
    It’s part of the quandry. I guess what I’m trying to do is sort out and separate my ambitions, my sense of professional competition, my insecurity, my desire for competence, acknowledgement, power and wealth, and my love of being free to do as I like, and not be owned by any institution, and my growing sense of self – which I want to be authentic to.
    Alongside that are competing pressures and expectations, both from myself and others, and from the world around me; go back to Afghanistan; stay in Perth; get a job; be a Dad; you got so much to offer, why are you faffing around?; the world needs you; etc etc..

  9. I don’t think it’s a mid-life thing Phil, I reckon it’s quite normal and natural. I’ve been feeling the same way, well forever and I hope I’m not in the middle of my life yet! Speaking of which I am applying for a scholarship and it’s asking for 3 pages one me, me, me! And um I don’t really know what to say. None of my ‘skills’ translate well on paper.

    But yeah consolidation would be good. Having a solid purpose often means compromising or giving up on other interests. So it might just be about trying to find out what more than anything you’d least like to compromise on.

  10. hmmm. the idea of an enduring sense of vexing vocational vaccilation… No, you’re right Iqbal. focusing on one thing means giving up on others. that’s something I need to work out.
    And Hamo – good to hear you’vw been asked that question to!

  11. G’day Phil
    Sorry I haven’t stopped by in a while, physically or cyberly.
    You ask a lot of introspective questions, more than anyone else I know.
    You have intellect and skills, you can both think and do.
    Philosophical and practical, a rare combination.
    Don’t take this the wrong way but you’d be better off single. By that I mean I think you could roam the globe working on projects and putting out fires, you’d have opportunities and would be capable and competent. Having a wife and young children limits your freedom and flexibility to perhaps take on some of those sorts of challenges.
    You’ve chosen to be a husband and Dad and have a Big responsibility to those people in your life. I sense you will always feel a level of tension and frustration trying to juggle the two.
    I know you took them to Afghanistan so you can take them other places, back there, or Cambodia or wherever, but wherever you are you’ll have to balance the two responsibilities.
    I believe you could have an impact politically but the political system we operate under is so weighted towards the two parties that truly independent and worthwhile voices such as yours really struggle to be heard, or elected.
    Writing is great and if you’ve got things to say, write write write. I know it’s difficult and thankless but it’s a really valuable contribution.
    I think you won’t be happy unless you go back overseas in some capacity. I just hope it’s not into a place so devoid of hope or fulfillment that it drags you down.
    You could easily be a lecturer or professor.
    You could work with Habitat For Humanity.
    You could be a diplomat or foreign affairs worker.

    Ultimately, I’m not sure there will ever be a satisfactory single answer to your question as to what you should do with your life.
    Your resume suggests that it is in the multitude of causes that you will move toward fulfillment.

    Good luck.

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