Wanting what you’ve got

9 May

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


9 Responses to “Wanting what you’ve got”

  1. David Week 9 May, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    I’m reminded of a Steve Wright joke:

    “You *can’t* have it all. Where would you put it?”

    On a more serious front, I think that its pretty important that for development as an industry that people who opt for it can have the normal human comforts of family and children, and still progress in their work and professional development. Otherwise, we shut out a huge pool of talent.

    It’s a tricky task—though not as tricky as working for a law firm, or being a management consultant. In fact, it’s worth a post (forthcoming) on the different ways that people manage the mix.

    As for those “moments”… I find the philosophy of Epicurus very helpful. He said that of all things that make a person happy, some are hard to gain and easy to lose, and others are easy to gain, and hard to lose. Among the former are wealth, fame and power. And, I would say, a steady diet of adventures and the field. (Do you really want to be a war photographer?) Among the latter are friendship, good food, and conversation.

    Therefore, the intelligent person abjures the former, and cultivates the latter. I find development excellent ground for cultivating friendships, good food, and conversations. Not to mention good ales.

    • J. 9 May, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

      David – thank you for your comment. It is always good to see you in the thread.

      Indeed, many future post can (and possibly will) be written (by the both of us) on managing the mix. From where I sit it seems both a reality and also something of a paradox that an industry so (supposedly) obsessed with “helping people” is also, at once both patently incapable of making hard decisions when it comes to deploying relief staff with families back home, yet also is becoming famous for chewing its’ people up and spitting them out.

      It may interest you to know that I once dreamt of being a war photographer. Just after dreaming of being a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. And just before becoming an aid worker.

      And whether we’re talking about good food, friendships, conversation, or just balls-to-the-wall relief work… good ales never hurt!🙂

      • Elisa Pepall 5 December, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

        Hi J.,
        I came across this post of yours after doing a google search for families and humanitarian workers – the subject of my PhD. In particular I am interested in the challenges faced and the resilience of accompanying families on the field within the NGO sector. I am aiming for some recommendations and a model to help NGOs in supporting their expatriate staff and their families. As part of my research I have been interviewing accompanying spouses of expatriate NGO workers. During the course of these interviews and in my own experience (both as a previous development worker and presently as an accompanying spouse) it seems the expatriate couple often either becomes stronger through the experience of having to depend so much on one another, or sadly the relationship fails. As such, I have broadened my selection criteria to try and interview persons whom have separated from their partner within the past 3 years and whom previously were accompanying spouses on international NGO postings. I am interested in sensitively discussing with them, what, if any, role the humanitarian work or expatriate lifestyle had on the reasons for the marriage to end. I have done one such interview to date, but unfortunately have struggled to find other person’s willing to share their story. I am writing to you based on your comment about knowing many a failed relationship – to see if you would be willing to find out more about my research and ideally, circulate an information flyer to any persons who might be eligible to interview. Many thanks for your time and consideration. Kind regards, Elisa

  2. backinonepiece 9 May, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Excellent post! I struggled with a lot of these questions upon finding “the one” and deciding to get married. I chose to leave the aid field (not just moving back to the “developed world”, but leaving the industry altogether), and I always have questions about the decision we made. (“We” is the operative word, of course, ’cause darn it, it’s no longer just about me!!)

    Talking with my edgy 30-something colleagues/friends still in the biz, I realize they wonder if they made the right decision. Perhaps it’s selfish, but knowing that makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

  3. Rho 10 May, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    Development workers often become very self-focused. The fact is what makes a good marriage good is the same as what makes it good even if you have the white picket fence in some small-town in America. Married couples in the States find different ways to escape their relationships (long commutes, long hours, constant technology)and also ask themselves, “Have I made the right choice.” I think couples who ask themselves “are we doing the right thing for our family” by moving around so much are asking themselves the wrong question. The real question is, “Am I personaly doing the right thing for this marriage.” It means making choices consciously; not because you’ve been asked to be a pawn in an organization’s chess came and can’t find a way to say no to your employer, but because you’ve decided to be committed to your family and know that there is no such thing as 100% happy, 100% of the time. The ability of non-working, accompanying spouses to be unhappy has shocked me as well. A lot of adults like to blame others for their unhappiness, which seems easier than taking actions to be responsible for your own happines – whether that means moving out of your comfort zone to find new social networks each time a new post comes along, or yes, changing the locks on the door and saying you’ve had enough.

  4. AM 11 May, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Thanks for re-posting this. I never saw it the first time, and it happened to be extremely timely and on-point for some internal monologues and external discussions I’ve been having re: “our future” and “my career.”

    Enjoy your sabbatical!

  5. Kati Woronka (@katiworonka) 17 December, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Thank you so much for this! It captures so much of my thinking of late, to frightening exactitude. It’s a bit part of why I’ve quit cold turkey (although now I’m back as a part-time consultant, of course) – I couldn’t face the thought of waking up 5 years from now and coming to grips with the fact my life passed me by while I was feeding people in war zones. I’ll be posting a link to it on my blog this week, as I also would like my friends to understand this reality better – thanks!


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