One aspect of being an immigrant is that, until you find your bearings, you’re constantly second-guessing yourself. Is it really better here?, you think frantically. What would I be doing there, now? And, at some point, Was this such a great idea?
I’m obsessed with this. Not so, for my husband, who refuses to look back for any length of time.
Last week, frustrated with the job search after spending two days at a food web site, test-driving the job, I sat on the edge of the bed, staring out the window at the funeral parlor across the street, and was caught in deja vu–of doing the same thing in Israel, in our enormous and state-subsidized apartment, and then in Prague, on the edge of the hard futon, after teaching, during the coldest days of the first winter there. It’s easy to get stuck.
More out of envy than real interest, I asked J., “How do you do it?” He’d come into the bedroom, and was standing at the foot of the bed.
He made a strange hand gesture, slicing the air from top downwards. “You have to draw a line.” Then I understood–he’d drawn a line that was more of a wall. “And you move forward.”
The longer I’m anywhere for more than three months, the clearer it is that the most successful people are grounded–and have been so, for years–in one spot. They’ve stayed long enough in one city (though maybe not with one company) to advance in their careers, they have vast professional networks, and they always have a barbeque to go to, somewhere, on the weekend. How on earth could a nomadic lifestyle compete with the easy pragmatism of that?
I’m no die-hard fan of barbeque. But the rest would be nice. On the one hand, no way would I trade the last fifteen years (much less the last five) for a picket fence and a 401k. But I do feel like I have “restart” buttons to spare. With every new place, family, friends, and friends who are former co-workers, seem farther away (Colorado, Prague, Tunisia), and my resume becomes harder and harder to explain.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to puzzle out the path ahead. When I looked at my resume last week as I was accidentally riding the A train up to 125th Street, past the job at Central Park West, it seemed like a flimsy version of who I really am and what I’ve done. At this point, “professional traveler” should be a legitimate line, with all the logistical and negotiating capabilities that connotes. But when I grapple with how to explain the last five years to potential employers, I get as stuck as if I were back sitting on my bed in any of the last three cities. Here’s what I can do:
- Get around Israel in Hebrew via a variety of transport options (though I recommend sherut taxis, for the sheer thrill and people-meeting possibilities).
- Get around the Czech Republic in Czech–including signing contracts and finding parmesan (no easy feats, I assure you).
- Navigate the old city of Jerusalem, clockwise, in a day. (Same with Prague, but I’d go counterclockwise.)
- Handle a student load of 300, and a 4:4 university teaching load. When I’m told to gloss over teaching on my resume or in interviews, I think, Really? When was the last time you stared down a room of thirty hostile adults, mapped out your plan for them, got them on board with that plan in a week–and then worked with them to make sure they did better than their best expectations in twelve weeks? I can do that–in more than one country, and definitely in more than one field.
- Copy edit (in Chicago style) a 150,000-word book on the most beautiful places in Europe from purchase to ready-to-print in two weeks, including negotiating with the typesetting studio in Czech. (One of fifty books I worked on.)
- Sail through the Frankfurt book fair. Team of four. Up at 6:00 am, meetings, notes, smiling, slicing sausages; dinner with clients; bed at midnight. Repeat for four days. (My favorite moment from this: when I won over the C&C Printers team from Hong Kong at dinner while we all rhapsodized about cheese. Our CEO later told me, No one ever sat with them before.)
- Fight (elbows untucked) through the Prague Foreigners’ Police permanent-residency line at 5:00 am with 700 others, emerging as one of the first with a residency card.
That’s my real résumé.