When my cohort of immigrants was leaving Bulgaria in the mid to late 90s, our country was in a deep political and economic crisis. Things have somewhat improved for the better since then even though most people are rightfully disappointed with the pace of democratic change. That economic crisis of the 90s has a lot to do with why so many of us left but also has determined many of the professional choices that we made. Many of the Bulgarian students that I studied with or was aware of at the time chose to study political science, international relations, economics. In some way, we must have sincerely thought that we would one day go home and fix things. Those degrees, however, were also ways out to better, bigger lives. In my mind, for example, I was always going to be a diplomat. I was going to work at the UN or some equally prominent international organization. I was going to travel the world, I was going to contribute to the fair resolution of complex political crises. I was going to be Margaret Thatcher in a better suit. (Don't laugh, all little Bulgarians are conservatives to start with. Some of us recover.)
Needless to say, those dreams have not materialized. I have taken a convoluted path through professional self-discovery which has led me to a series of jobs and landed me at a tech firm in Memphis. Said path has been instructional at best but, mostly, it has been humbling. I have worked for a couple of small non-profits with questionable impact for even worse pay. I had a job that should have been a PR job but ended up being more or less basic admin work. I have worked a couple of temporary stints when Kyle was finishing up his PhD: both as receptionist at the university that granted my Master's Degree. I have also had two good jobs in tech, including my current position. Both have provided me with tremendous opportunities to learn and grow and have introduced me to some of the coolest people I know but the jobs themselves have not made my heart sing. Not one of the jobs I've had so far has made me feel like I was put on earth to do it.
Currently, at least in the States, there is a big conversation happening over the meaning of work. So many people are saying you should do what you love, love what you do. And, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that's putting lots of pressure on people: to have a passion, to be moving upwards and onwards towards a clearly defined goal, to be remarkable, to be successful. (There is an entire side of this conversation that has to do with people who do not have the privilege to even engage in mental exercises on this topic but I will stick to naval-gazing at this point.) Naturally, we've been having these conversations at home, too and I've been thinking a lot about where I started on the professional dream front, where I currently am and which direction I am moving into.
In my case, every day I move farther and farther from that original dream. The closest I come to engaging in political conversation these days is when I binge-watch episodes of Madame Secretary on TV and argue with people on Facebook. Frankly, I don't think that's a bad thing. The dream of solving imaginary political conflicts is the dream of a 16 year old and is better left where it belongs: with high school letters and bad 90s haircuts. But what I have found myself wondering about is the boldness of that dream and it's scope. When did I decide that I didn't need to do anything big? Or that it was too late? Or that there is no point in trying?
I am really not looking for sympathy here. I have a fantastic job by almost everybody's definition of the word and I am clearly no victim. I know that what I do is meaningful and on most days I feel quite fortunate to be doing the work that I do. Especially when I leave the office and realize that I actually have the energy to read a book or go for a run or pursue a terribly impractical hobby (currently, I'm really into hand-lettering). I guess what I am trying to figure out is what to do about my "calling". Does it exist and I haven't found it yet? Did I find it and dismissed it? Or should I just forget about all that and actually enjoy the un-burden of doing a job that is simply that... a job.
I write about this here (as opposed to writing about it in my diary) because I feel that even though many people ask themselves these questions, immigrants feel doubly burdened by them. Maybe I am over-generalizing here but I do think that immigrants like me -- who came to the States or elsewhere for college and stayed -- we have so much of our identities based on our professional accomplishments and our intellectual abilities, it's especially hard to struggle with professional dissatisfaction or confusion. I was able to come to the States because I was one of the smart kids, I did well in college and got my jobs despite the fact that my parents were thousands of miles away... literally and figuratively. My confidence that I can take care of myself betrays my ambition. I am fine but am I thriving or where in the world did I get this idea in my head... that I should be THRIVING.
So, I am curious... what were your professional dreams for yourself? Have you fulfilled them? How does that feel? Is your work your calling? How did you find it? How did you know when you did?