Friday, December 16, 2016

Anatomy of a Decision

I think to live a nomadic existence is rather unique. I don't think many people wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night wondering where they will move to, that movement is such an inevitability. After six years, movement is comfortable, and the lack of movement, to be still, has become disquieting. For Elise and I -- and I can imagine for our kids, as well, as it is the only existence they have ever known -- the act of remaining in place is an uncomfortable one. It's the same feeling you have when you first step off a treadmill or come off a roller rink; you feel like you are still moving, still plummeting or tumbling forward through space, only you're not going anywhere. Some people abhor change. Some thrive on it. 

I moved as a kid, too. I may have told the story here before, but, briefly, my mom took my brothers and I on vacation to Houston when I was in fifth grade. At least, I thought we were going on vacation. Maybe we were. I'm not sure what my mom knew at the time. Whether or not she knew we weren't going back or not. But we didn't. We stayed with my grandparents in a small town, Manvel, outside Houston's beltway for the entirety of fifth grade. 

Elise and I are cognizant of the effects a life on the run may have on the kids. We read a lot and talk to people. When I worked in American Citizen Services in India, the overwhelming majority of American citizens I met were minors. Their parents had been computer engineers, working for companies like TCS, Intel, and Accenture when they were assigned to positions in the United States. Many of them moved several times, back and forth across the Continental U.S., in much the same way Elise and I and the kids criss-cross the globe. When I met them to renew their passports, I liked to ask the older ones how they coped with the frequent moves and what did their parents do well -- or not so well -- to prepare them for the frequent moves. Without fail, they all told me their parents talked to them about their moves, so there were no surprises. So we talk to the kids about our upcoming move and about bidding, even if we don't know where we're going yet. 

Going to visit your grandparents for vacation, but not going back is the antithesis of communicating a move to a child. I don't fault my mother for this; I have no idea really what was going on or what she had to deal with. I remember her telling my brothers and I on the same trip that she and my father were getting a divorce, so I can only imagine she was either doing the best just to keep her head above water or doing what she thought was best for us. Either is forgivable. 

That move was jarring, as was the move back to Florida a year later. It is still nothing like what we ask the kids to do. Yet, they seem well-adjusted and well-suited to it. We hope we are instilling in them a sense of adventure and helping them to cultivate life skills they may not otherwise acquire. Everyone in my line of work either explains or justifies the constant moves frequently, as though it is something that we need to apologize for. I think many people appreciate that we are giving them a global perspective, while others may feel we are depriving them of an "All-American" upbringing. 

There are trade-offs to be sure. There is a spectrum of one's tolerance for movement and change. On one end, you have those who live their entire lives in their home town, perhaps never leaving to ply their trade or test their mettle in the big city. They have lots of friends and know all the bartenders. They have large family gatherings on Sunday afternoons. And on the other end, is us. 

This past summer, we bid on our next assignment, but as had happened the last time we bid, the day assignments were announced came and went, and we were left empty-handed. 

Our first two postings were directed. We were told where to go. I remember back then looking forward to the day when we would get to choose for ourselves where we would go. Now that we do get to choose for ourselves where we go, I look back longingly, missing the days when we were just told where to go. I underestimated how hard it would be to pull the trigger on your own fate. And when you are told where to go, you have no other choice but to make the best of it. When you have some culpability in the decision, you have to take personal responsibility for your own happiness. Arguably, you have to take personal responsibility for your own happiness whether you have someone else to blame or not. 

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and as weeks passed and we still hadn't received news on a possible assignment, I played over and over again what I had done wrong. 

When we bid from India in January, 2015, there were only 30 jobs on our list. I bid on four of those. When I didn't receive an assignment, I went back to the list. A former colleague from Chennai was in the position I hold now in Washington, so I reached out to him, and the they also history. We had a job lined up about a week later. 

8 weeks have passed since "Handshake Day". Almost two months. 

This time around, we deliberately moved from winter cycle to summer cycle, making hundreds of jobs potentially available to us. But I didn't believe on pursuing any job I wasn't really interested in or on any post I didn't think would be the perfect fit for our family, and bid on only five, including going back to Brasilia. As bidding season wore on, I was told -- one job after the other -- I wasn't competitive for the positions I was seeking. This was a jagged pill to swallow. An interview with Taipei, our number one choice, was encouraging in that it opened up the real possibility of an additional position other than the one I bid on. Unfortunately, it wouldn't become available until much later in the winter. Did I hold out for it, taking the risk of potentially missing out on another job? 

The job I have now is highly-coveted, because it is supposed to lead to a good onward assignment, but as bid season wore on, I quickly learned -- for a number of reasons -- that was not going to be case in my situation. Eventually the assignments officer did approach me, offering jobs in Papua New Guinea, Shenyang, Wuhan, and Chengdu. Papua New Guinea doesn't have a school. Shenyang, Wuhan, and Chengdu have emphysema-inducing smog. At the very end of bid season, he offered us Manila. I initially said no, then two hours later, reconsidered. The damage had been done. Though I interviewed for the job, it went to someone else. 

Desperate, I broke my own rule and bid on Zimbabwe, I got the job, but turned it down. Maybe the Dark Continent would be in our future some day, but today wasn't going to be that day. 

Early on in the process, I told Elise as we were looking at the bid list, "You know...we probably haven't even seen or considered where we're going to end up." As the weeks pass, this becomes increasingly likely. 

And yet, we keep a positive outlook. Everyone tells us good jobs pop up late in the bidding season. Nearly daily, a new job will pop up: Paris, Minsk, Mexico City. And nearly daily, I report back to Elise these new developments. Now, she just covers her ears and says to me, "Just tell me when it's over. Just tell me where we're going." 

Someday soon, I may text her, "Got the offer to _________________."

And we'll pull the suitcases down from the attic. 

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