Thursday, June 28, 2012

Limitations


It’s been a rough month. I’ve become more and more conscious of my limitations in this environment. In theory being your own boss is great. Make your own to-do lists? Take a vacation day without asking permission? Work out whenever you want? Sure, bring it on. Except there’s that little thing about me being my own worst critic, and turns out self-critics are also pretty harsh self-employers. Evidently self-accountability is even harder than accountability.

I’ve had three very distinct phases in my time here. Phase One I like to call Fred Flintstone, or maybe Chicken With Head Cut Off: a lot of movement and energy with relatively little result. Phase Two was cruising: smooth, confident, comfortable, progress, results. And Phase Three? Stuck in the mud; inertia; hesitance; self-doubt; discouragement.

I have a sinking feeling that my work here will amount to nothing in the long run. Personally, I have gained immensely from this experience, but I’m not sure I can say that my presence has had any effect on this place. Don’t get me wrong; I did not come here thinking I was going to change Gabon or even Lambaréné. But, I did come here as a professional with a specific skill set. I’m not a student anymore; I’m not writing a thesis or collecting data for some study. And this isn’t an immersion program where I soak in “culture” like a sponge and then go home. I have something tangible to contribute, but I’m starting to feel that the circumstances are such that this just isn’t possible. I’ve started to doubt the global public health system. Sometimes the mud is so thick you think, “What can anyone possibly do about this?” Short of devoting your life to one problem in one place, what can you do? And then I feel guilty about only doing a short 4-month stint and feeling like I’m taking without giving and the self-critique circle continues.

In a lot of ways, all of this is important to know early on in my career, but it’s also discouraging. I’m currently applying to jobs for when I come back to the States, which turns out to be difficult when you’re having a career existential crisis. It’s also a fine line between “just get your first job” and “I only want to work for an organization that I believe in, to which I can contribute, and with whom I can progress.” I’m not exactly in a position to be picky.

The next public health fellow arrives this weekend. I’m hopeful that she like the other new arrivals will bring a fresh breath of optimism and energy.

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