The problem with coming out of hibernation too soon is that it's hard to settle back in for the rest of the winter. You stumble around gnawing discontentedly on green berries, unsure whether to head back into the cave or just stomp around in the snow until you've made a path and can go forward.
I triumphantly stepped off the career path three and a half years ago. Walked away from a great Executive Director post, powerful connections, and literally a world of development job opportunities to instead fulfill a dream of being a stay-at-home dad, farmer and writer. But always in the back of my mind I believed that I could relatively easily pick up an overseas job when the time was right again.
Now the time is right (or atleast coming) and it isn't quite as easy as I'd imagined. Three days of intense networking with former colleagues in Vancouver and Ottawa has me excited and exhausted and hopeful and realistic. On the positive side:
- I am still not only remembered but respected for my work
- I do still have good connections who are happy to help
- I still believe in my skills and capacity to do good, important work. If anything, my capacity has grown through my local FreeRange Consulting work, and my compassion/comprehension has deepened through farming
On the "realistic" side:
- budget cuts are more real than ever
- I've been out of the scene for over 3 years and am not at the top of everyone's radar when opportunities do arise
- While my skills have not rusted, my awareness of the latest trends, people and terms need updating
I can start to imagine what it's like for a stay-at-home mom returning after 15 years out! For me, it's not a matter of starting over; it's a quandry about whether to re-start the old engine. Do I really want to get back into that scene? Do I really want to be That Rick: the one who does the networking scene, splashes himself on such a wider audience, who projects an image of effectiveness and powerful confidence among carefully chosen colleagues.
Here in our beautiful valley, I've been able to establish my consulting business in a smooth, integrated fashion. I can network with my children, hand out business cards at an Occupy rally, go to meetings with the smell of fresh garlic on my hands. Becoming known and linked here has not (except time) compromised the lifestyle and identity we moved here to establish. The Rick who is leading your fundraising seminar is the same person who raised your grass-fed beef and entertained you at the raucous Who Knew show. I change my hats because of whims and weather, not titles and neighbourhoods.
I do believe that a move back into international development could be done with the same integrity and consistency. I sold or gave thank-you garlic at every meeting and seminar I attended on this Ottawa/Toronto trip, and people understood the link. I am a sustainable livelihood expert who understand food security at the producers' end; a gender justice specialist who stays home to raise his kids; a housing sector analyist who builds his own house out of local clay and wood. There's a whole new layer of hands-on understanding, and this dirt under my fingernails will be celebrated, not hidden.
But while I can do this without changing Me, there's a time investment that can't be avoided. Most jobs I've ever held have come through connections, not the internet, and connections have to be nurtured. How often can I pop over to the CIDA offices in Ottawa and NGO headquarters in Toronto and Vancouver? How many hours per night can I devote to reading industry journals and Globe & Mail op eds?
During the same week that I spent back East, I missed a community-building volunteer preparation for our school's annual Pumpkin Path (though I did get to dress as a turnip and let children repeatedly pull me out of a hole in the ground for 2 hours). While I spend 15 hours this week following up on those meetings and leads, candidates for our local elections will be holding campaign meetings that I would like to become involved in. I'll be rewriting my resume tonight instead of writing the Great Canadian Novel. And just the possibility of landing a great overseas contract will once again hinder my dreams of coaching soccer or joining a team or buying too many new animals requiring care in our absence.
As I struggle to balance this re-awakening with the person I've worked hard to become since starting this blog 3 years ago, I need to keep in front of me first and foremost that I'm a dad, a partner, a land steward, a community member, a writer, a friend. Somehow the way may open up for more, but that's more variety and scope, not more quality or importance. And even if I can't have it all, I can give my all to whatever I choose to invest in. Here's to dreaming big while living in the moment.
Write to Renew - One of our previous graduates, the talented Jay Nahani, is leading us in a Write to Renew workshop June 14th. For writers and non-writers alike, this one-d...