This story starts when I went on an early November hike with my Meetup group and met an interesting woman named Anne. We ended up riding together to and from the trailhead and she mentioned she worked for the State Department and was on her last job assignment here in New Mexico before retiring. She told us tales of all of the exotic places she had lived and worked – Rome, Paris, Columbia, Germany – the list went on and on. I was enthralled! I have always wanted to live abroad and, when Doc left me, I got serious about my wish and started researching and number crunching.
What I found was not encouraging – it’s difficult for an American to get a job working in a foreign country. First you have to find and be offered a job there. Then you have to fly back to the US (assuming that you went to your foreign country of choice to look for work) and fill out the mounds of paperwork at that country’s embassy. Then, if they approve your work visa, you get to fly back and start your job. Now that EU countries have the Schengen Agreement, which allows open movement between and job opportunities in EU countries for their citizens, it’s fairly easy for someone from, say, Italy to get a job working in Spain – so foreign firms are less likely to hire Americans for non-specialized jobs when they can just hire what amounts to a local. I also looked at working in the civil service, but found that most openings 1) gave preference to accompanying military spouses; 2) were seasonal in nature (such as schools); and 3) would not help you financially with a move from one continent to another.
I thought about trying to expand my freelance work, as I could do that anywhere there is an internet connection. I currently have a steady freelance job and if I could land about two more like it, I could feasibly make a move. What I found was that I’m incredibly lucky to have my current freelance job, as they in high demand and few and far between. Of course there are opportunities for periodic freelance writing gigs all over the web, but no guarantees I would have enough to make up the difference. For that matter, my longtime freelance job is not guaranteed either – I could be told at any time that the budget has changed and that my services are no longer required. I needed to have work that was reliable, consistent, and that paid enough so that I could live abroad, however modestly.
On the way home from that hike, Anne mentioned she was about to do a presentation at the local unemployment office. She explained that there were currently openings with the State Department for Office Management Specialists. It was a Foreign Service position, where the employee would work abroad for 2-3 years at any of the 294 embassies, consulates, or diplomatic missions across the world before moving on to the next. The government paid for the moves, housing and utilities were covered, and the pay wasn’t bad – but the best thing was that I could see the world and make a living at the same time. Anne showed me the requirements and I told her about my past work experience and she encouraged me to apply – but fast, as applications closed in less than a week.
The application was stressful and time consuming. I had to revamp my resume and I wasn’t sure I could get my college transcripts in time, but I managed it. Then I had to write an essay about why I wanted the job, as well as four smaller essays that showed my qualifications in specific areas. You’d think that would be fairly easy for someone who writes all the time – but it wasn’t. Luckily, my sister has worked for the government for most of her life and was very familiar with the hiring process. She pushed me to be more direct and assertive in my resume and essays, highlighting every skill I had that the State Department was asking for. She also critiqued just about everything I wrote, helping me to make it much, much better. I got everything in the evening the applications closed – and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
However, the stress didn’t stop – you see, the candidate needed to have Microsoft Office Specialist Certification in Word in place within 30 days of the in-person interview, should they make it that far. I didn’t know when those interviews might be (although from my research it appeared I had a few months) and classes to get the certification were outside of my budget. I ordered a study guide from Microsoft and purchased access to some video tutorials through Groupon and got to work. Every spare second of my time was spent learning and practicing – I quit exercising (that’s 30-60 minutes of study time!), I limited my social engagements (I haven’t been hiking since the day I talked to Anne), and I rarely cooked a meal, opting instead for quick takeout. When I was at work, I practiced every time I had to open a Word document, putting my new skills to the test.
I haven’t been this certain of wanting something for a very, very long time. From the moment Anne told me about the position, something clicked inside of me – if I had to name it, I’d say that I felt passion that this was the right path for me. I started to make plans about what belongings I would take with me overseas and what would have to be stored or given to Doc or the kids. I read blogs posts from women who were currently doing the job to get a better idea for everything it entailed. I thought about how I would keep in touch with my children and grandkids. I felt confident and excited and, while I knew that not being selected was a very real possibility, I decided to proceed as if I had already received a call inviting me to the oral assessment. You know, the power of positive thinking, the laws of attraction, and all of that stuff.
The day after Christmas, I received an email from the State Department. I had not been selected to move forward in the process. It mentioned that I didn’t meet all of the criteria they had outlined in the application. From what I can surmise, my management experience was mostly outside of the ten-year window they specified. While I’ve had (and still currently have) my own small business and have recruited, supervised, and paid freelancers to do work for that business, I believe that they were looking for more a more mainstream management position– something that could be confirmed and evaluated by an employer.
I was crushed – but at the same time, there was a feeling of relief. The stress I had been feeling about trying to study for and pass my Microsoft Office Specialist certification was immediately lifted. I didn’t have to worry about how I would perform at the oral assessment (by all accounts a difficult, all day event). I could actually go out with friends without feeling guilty that I was wasting time!
But…I was also distressed – I had been invited to reapply in a year, but now that I knew they did not consider that being a small business owner was a management job, and my “real” management positions were 9-20 years ago (mostly outside of the 10 year timeframe), and I knew that the State Department required three years of that valid management experience within that ten-year window – even if I was promoted or got a new management job tomorrow, I’d have to wait three years to apply in order to get those three years of they wanted. Also, being rejected so early in the process triggered all of those deep insecurities I have been struggling to overcome – I’m not worthy, there must be something wrong with me, I’m too old, no one wants to hire me, I can’t catch a break, I’ll never be able to do it, it’s too hard!
It took me several days to process everything – to come to terms with my conflicting emotions about the situation and to remind myself that I am not my job. My value and worth has nothing to do with the work I do and if I’m selected for a job or promotion or not – that, in this instance especially, it is not at all personal and just the process. Still, it’s discouraging and frustrating — and those disparaging voices linger. My first instinct was to give up and accept my lot — that I was destined to remain stuck here in New Mexico for the remainder of my life, working at a job that does not feed my soul for another 15 years until I was able to retire on what would surely be an income too low to allow for traveling the world. To give up would surely be the easiest option, and probably the most comfortable, as I tend to fear the unknown.
But would I be happy if I just gave up? Wouldn’t I die a little bit every day knowing that this is not really where I want to be, that this is not really what I want to do? Is the fear of the unknown stronger than the fear that I may one day be full of even more regrets than I already have? The fear that someday I will realize that, had I had more confidence, motivation, fortitude, and bravery, I could have lived my dreams before it was too late?
To be honest, I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m great at dreaming, but not as great at putting a plan in place and doing the hard work to complete the steps needed to reach the goal. But I’m working on that. I haven’t given up on the dream – I’m still studying (albeit at a more reasonable pace) to get my Microsoft Office Specialist certification, I’m still looking at other options for working overseas, and I’m keeping my eyes open for management positions both within and outside of my current company.
I don’t know what the future holds – if I’ll ever be living and working abroad or not. I tell myself often that things happen for a reason, so perhaps I just haven’t found my dream job yet. Or perhaps I need to be here so something wonderful can happen. Perhaps I’ll win the lottery and be able to enjoy seeing the world without having to make a living while doing it. A girl can dream, can’t she?
What dreams do you have about the future? How do you plan to make that dream happen? Or have you achieved some of your dreams already? I’d love any pointers you can pass along!