Monday, June 12, 2017

The end of the beginning

From top to bottom: Tunisia, Mauritania, Turkey/Syria, DC

"It was strange how you could be something and then not be that something so easily." (source)

This past year has been full of transitions. This was largely thanks to my very gradual "move to Boston for graduate school" plan (enroll in one school in Boston, defer for a year, move out of our DC apartment and home to the MD suburbs, move boyfriend to Boston, visit a few times, get accepted in and enroll in a different school, move to Boston and start graduate school). Austin and I moved from living out our lives together every day to staying connected by text and sometimes-spotty Skype connection. I started taking on more responsibility in my job and working on Syria.

All this transition came to a head on May 19, when I left the job where I've been for almost five years. One day I was enmeshed in our operations in Syria and Tunisia and the next I had 0 responsibilities and no email access. It was the right time for me to move on - I'm ready to learn new skills and to consider my career and the world from new angles. But it still felt weird to suddenly extricate myself from a place that has been such a big part of my post-college life.

This job was my first out of college and the one that launched whatever career I am building towards. I've been in this job since I was 23 and along the way I grew up not only as a professional, but as a person. (I look at my fresh-out-of-college colleagues and simultaneously think that they're so young and am surprised to find that I'm not one of them anymore.) I learned how to do ace accounting with a liberal arts degree, how to goal-seek on a budget, how to choose the best focus group report names, how to find synonyms for "workshop" and "participant," how to play shuffleboard, how to properly balance your intake of shawarma and Nespresso to keep yourself going on an election observation mission all-nighter, how to stay cool when the air conditioning is broken and the Nouakchott forecast is 113 F and "dust," how (not) to navigate the Turkish highways on Google maps, how to cheat on team Fitbit challenges, and how to save face when staring down a displeased election observer. (I also learned how to write one good thing on a topic and then endlessly repurpose the language, so this post is borrowing heavily from the goodbye email I sent to my colleagues on my last day.) 

Four years after I wrote this post, I am indeed looking back and wondering where the time has gone. It's true that in some ways the days between then and now were similar. But there was also so much growth within that time period. During that time I worked on three country programs and moved up in the ranks from an intern to someone who is able to sign stuff and make decisions. Even though I've been in the same job for almost five years, my day-to-day work, the people I'm doing it with, and my surrounding life circumstances have changed - imperceptibly at times, but enough that it looks and feels totally different now than it did when I first started.

Back then, I described it as a "dream job for right now" and while some days and weeks (and maneuverings through the bureaucracy of a giant nonprofit) were less dreamy than others, it has been a true adventure. I started my job in the heady days following the Arab Spring when it seemed like democracy might finally be taking hold in the Middle East, and even as dictators have reasserted themselves and conflict has spread, I feel lucky to have played a small part in a pivotal period in the region's history. I feel lucky to have been able to travel abroad for work so early in my career. Above all, I feel lucky to have worked with and learned from so many inspiring people - especially so many strong women - around the world.

It's hard to talk about my job without sounding a bit like I'm about to go drink the Kool-Aid but man, there is nothing better than working alongside smart, dedicated people towards a big, idealistic goal. I feel lucky to have launched my career in such a special place and excited to see what's next.

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