Finding your passion
A number of weeks ago, while I was in my “other” assignment and feeling down, I was chatting with someone about what she is up to, and she was so excited about this project she was working on, I was kind of jealous. I mentioned this to her, and she mentioned that this is her passion – helping those (specifically, women and children), who cannot help themselves. This is what she has always wanted to do, this is what she has experience doing, this is what she wants to continue to do. She asked me about my passion – what it is I always have been interested in.
I didn’t know. I could not identify it. I felt like a bit of a failure – I mean, here I am, on the verge of my 40th birthday and I could not identify my passion in life? Was I the only one who felt this way? What was my purpose for being here (in general, and in Ukraine), anyway? Am I so scattered that I don’t even have a passion, something about which I feel strongly?
Or had I identified it long ago, and just never consciously realized it until now?
A long time ago, I went to Denmark as an exchange student, and determined that I wanted to work overseas. At the time, I figured embassy work would be the path (it was the late 1980s, globalization was not a catch term yet). I pictured myself in a foreign country, doing diplomatic work – hey, I was young and did not know the details. All I knew was I felt more comfortable when I was overseas than I sometimes did in the United States (this sentiment has never changed).
However, when I went to college, I became distracted. I was not able to go to the college I really wanted to go to, and do the program I really wanted to do (as happens, life and financial issues got in the way of that). So I went to a different college, and got distracted.
I did my BA in Journalism. During that time, I did a paper on the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press. I later went on to law school and had a strong interest in Constitutional Law (though I still disagree with the law school’s decision to cram Con Law into one semester, and have Property Law span TWO). I got excited about Criminal Procedure (which is also effectively Constitutional Law). I hated Civil Procedure. This is not to say I wanted to be a criminal lawyer – I was interested in the law behind the procedures. Still, after I graduated and could not get a job practicing law (it was 2002, which was also a bad time in the economy, though laughable now). I kind of floated along, with my career, such as it was. I did things I was good at, and quickly got bored because they did not pose enough of a challenge or move me forward fast enough (if at all). So I job jumped. Then I got laid off. Twice.
During an extended period of unemployment, I had a lot of time to think. Maybe too much time, but I realized something – there was a reason I never stayed at a job for an extended period of time. There was a reason I was unhappy in most of my positions. The reason was because I did not listen to my “inner voice” that had told me so long ago what I wanted to do. I stifled that Voice and went in another direction with my life. I still dipped my toe into the overseas water – took the Foreign Service Exam, passed the interview, got on the “hiring list”. I applied for overseas positions (but of course, they want you to already have experience in such work before hiring you).
The Voice, however, found a way to express itself anyway. It drove me to leave jobs that I could have stayed in and gotten comfortable, as many people do. It made me continue to drive forward, to seek something better. It drove me to go to law school, to get my MBA. And ultimately, it reminded me, when I was ready to listen, of what I always wanted to do with my life.
Work overseas is generic. So do WHAT, exactly, overseas? And where? I realized, after talking to my friend, that I already knew the answer to that question too – what is my passion? And perhaps I would not have been able to find this answer 20 years ago, perhaps I needed the time, work experience, and education to figure it out. What really gets me passionate is Democracy. All of its elements – elections, freedom of the press, speech, religion, human rights, judicial reform, anti-corruption, rule of law, civic engagement, and others.
For all of its imperfections, democracy is still the best, most effective, most just form of governing we have out there. And there are many countries in this world where the citizens are not fortunate enough to be able to express themselves, to vote without interference or intimidation (or vote rigging). There are countries where freedom of religion, of the press, of assembly are mere fairy tales, something that exists elsewhere. There are countries where human rights are a myth. What I want to do is educate people who live in supposedly “democratic” countries as to what exactly democracy means, and what their responsibilities are in it. I want to help bring democracy to countries where the people have determined that they have had enough of the despots.
So now what? Now that I finally know, what am I going to do? Well, I am going to continue in my Peace Corps service, and try to introduce elements of democracy in what I am doing. I have to be careful because I do not want it to seem like I am talking about politics, because democracy rises above politics and encompasses far more elements. After Peace Corps I hope to either get a job in foreign service, or perhaps for one of the organizations that promotes democracy around the world, or monitors it. Either way, I can now finally answer the question of what I want to be when I grow up.
Does that mean I am a grown up?