Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Making a go of things" vs. "bouncing around"

The extent to which a few years of difference in age can influence perceptions of what people really ought to be doing in life is remarkable. Things which are seen as wise in one period of life can be seen as irresponsible if done a little later. The change over from one period to the next can be rapid. Having a changeable vs. stable career is like this. Doing a mix of jobs and being living an itinerant life in one's twenties and early thirties is often perceived positively by other young people and their elders. It indicates a willingness to experiment and to be open to new experiences. For the young adult, it promises adventure and self-discovery. However there comes a point where doing the same things while being more advanced in years has a cost. Not only do the advantages of a stable life seem more compelling for the individual themselves, but other people's perceptions can quickly change. No longer is the person making a go of things. Instead, they are merely bouncing around from one thing to the next. They are not making the most of the experience they have accumulated in life. Instead, they are frittering away their life without a clear sense of direction and purpose. What they need is a plan that leads them to a path of robust stability.

When I graduated from my undergraduate studies as a fresh faced 21 year old youth, I could have continued straight on into a program of graduate study, culminating in a Ph.D. This would have set me up for a long career in the academic world. Life as an academic is a viable and very attractive option for me. I enjoy academic life immensely, and while there are gazillions of things in this life for which I truly have no talent for, the kinds of skills I have do find useful expression in a university. The fields of study I am most passionate about relate to people and their culture, particularly as they relate to religion, peace and conflict. As a young adult, I did not believe I had the necessary experience to make the most effective use of all that graduate studies can offer. Instead, I wanted more experience with life outside the university. I chose to work with civil society organizations (also known as non government organizations), eventually securing work in the Philippines in the fields of biodiversity conservation, sustainable development policy advocacy, and later agrarian reform. I later spent time in other countries, working, meeting people and experiencing cultures very different to the one in which I was raised. During this time, I have not had a single job that I've worked at for more than two and half years. What I have had is the experience of working with a huge variety of people in a bunch of different contexts.

Philippines, 1999

In the last few years, I have begun to get comments from concerned friends that I ought to focus my energies on a clearer path in life than what I've been leading. I still get the odd comment from people who do have stable careers that they deeply admire the variety in my life, and that they wish they had the same experience for themselves. But the former is slowly becoming more common than the latter.

The truth is, I also long for some stability. I've not had a proper home for myself in more than four years. Living out of a suitcase does mean adventure and experience, but it has lots of downsides too. I anticipate that my notably itinerant lifestyle of the past few years will come to an end next year, when I hope to start a Ph.D program in anthropology. After my Ph.D, I plan to pursue an academic career in which I can bring my life experiences into the classroom and my research. Some focus will do me good, and allow me to make a more in-depth contribution than I otherwise would. That's the theory, at least. Now is the time for it's application.

California, 2008


Unknown said...

Haha, as one of those who never stopped admiring your "itinerant" life, I wonder how my own will look in comparison. University study interspersed with NGOs all in nice old stable NZ, followed by even more stable employment in the foreign service (even if it is off-shore, it's hardly itinerant). After my next stint in Moresby I will be hitting the airports with my suitcase, in my mid thirties, to get what you got in your twenties and early thirties. I never felt ready for that when I was younger. Wonder where it will take me. Worry little about how it will appear!

Unknown said...

Hey there,
Always great to read your blog and even better to know you are doing well.

Sana said...

Oh my, Damon, are you getting old? :)

I think you'll enjoy it, this settling down. PhD sounds so good. You read for a living. You make sense of the world for a living. I'm just out of school and enjoying the 'real world', but I can't even begin to tell you how much I want to go back.

I'm sure you'll be a rockstar in college. Good luck and much much love!

Guada said...

I remember that photo from the Philippines :-) Am very happy to see that you've finally decided on a career path.

All the best to you and your future plans...

Manizheh said...

Wow!!! Doing Ph.D. Finally you came back home.:P Ph.D. also is the adventure with different style.:D Good luck. As I said the academic world needs the people like you. Have a great time and again GOOD LUCK!!!:)