In my April summary I shared an exciting piece of work news: I’ve just accepted a new role at Plan International here in Dili, and I’ve summarily scaled-down my freelance writing work to incorporate a new full-time communications workload.
I struggled with full-time freelancing. I found managing my time, energy and money exhausting and anxiety-inducing, and I lacked the firepower to seek new work. But I was really torn about accepting this new role.
I feel guilty writing that – I know it’s a great opportunity, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful or dismissive.
But I do want to be honest.
My official title at Plan is Communications and Influencing Advisor. It’s a volunteer role with a generous living allowance, and I’m responsible for working with our communications manager to produce things like website stories, case studies, newsletters, Facebook posts, short videos and grammatically-sound reports and documents.
It’s interesting work, it’s a steady, structured organisation, and it’s a great team.
But is it what I really want to be doing?
That’s kind of a lofty question. I haven’t known at any stage in my life what I want to be doing; where I want to be working.
When I was a kid I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, until my tender-hearted father reminded me vets only see sick and dying animals. I enjoyed English at high school and decided to apply for an arts degree at university, until my pragmatic mother recognised my indecision and nudged me towards a law-arts double that deceived me for several years into thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, before sensible friends reminded me I didn’t have to and in any case my reticence likely meant I wouldn’t be very good.
A stint in magazine publishing had my convinced of my career as a writer, before I received an unexpected redundancy and a surprise new job in not-for-profit fundraising communications.
And now, I’m in Timor-Leste, working in non-government organisation communications.
Plan was attractive because it was secure, steady, structured and could support me to continue living in Timor-Leste until the end of this year – my ultimate goal. Saying no was attractive before it would force me to make rent from pitching and writing freelance articles and would release all my working hours to a practise I love.
I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t want to be trapped into scheduling Facebook posts for a shiny corporate INGO. But I also didn’t want to have another panic attack at my dining room table, weeping over a still-unpaid invoice and another fortnight of insecurity, helplessness and waiting.
I was walking one Tuesday morning with the friends with whom I share my weekly sunrise. One of them listened to my dilemma, and replied: “Well, they both seem like great options. Sounds like you’re not going to make a bad choice.”
Her lucidity stopped me. Of course. I was worrying like I was stuck in an impossible bind, like if I pushed the wrong button the detonator would blow and the world would be lost. But I was just choosing where I wanted to sit and write, really.
I said a confident yes to Plan and six weeks in I know it was the right decision.
It’s perhaps slower than my frenetic freelancing pace, but it’s a decision made for my mental health. It’s a blow to my ability to chase a Guardian byline, but it’s an opportunity to write regularly on issues I care about. It’s a step away from journalism and one closer to corporate communications, but it’s an opportunity for new skills learned with new people: two years ago I hadn’t even heard of participatory video, digital storytelling, or social norms change, and now they’re lined up as pillars of Plan’s new draft comms strategy.
I left the office yesterday for a standing lunch date with a friend who works down the road. I chatted to my deskmate as I packed up to go, swished my long skirt as I passed through the gate, and turned down the hill to my favourite warung, ready to go deep with a good mate on something bugging both of us. The sun was weak and gentle and I walked tall down the way, thinking, I’m really happy.
I forget that all this is what I make of it, and it has the potential to be very, very good.
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