When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going Next

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‘Tis the season… for bidding. Most of our Foreign Service friends are in the throes of bidding, the process by which they select (or are selected for) their next post. For some, this involved lobbying a dozen different posts, applying and interviewing for positions in the middle of the night (nobody has time for time zones), and lots of finger crossing and breath holding. For others earlier on in their career, it involves pouring over a list of maybe 70-80 potential posts, eliminating those that aren’t possible due to timing conflicts, and then weighing your priorities before submitting what amounts to little more than a strategic wish list.

Those of us on MSG duty who get virtually no say in where we go next watch this process unfold with equal measures of jealousy and horror. On one hand, we can sit back and let someone else do all the hard work for us; no interviews, no timetables. Then again, and more importantly, the odds may not be ever in your favor. Without any input, you might very well end up somewhere that is a poor fit for you and your family. Frankly, I’m envious of the ability to bid; having some say seems remarkably empowering (though potentially even more disappointing if you still don’t end up in a place of interest for your career and personal needs.)

But what’s more remarkable than having a say in your future, though, is getting an answer so far in advance. All of these aforementioned officers have at least 12-18 months left in their current tour in Tegucigalpa. For us, that would be like knowing your second post before you even arrive at your first! I can’t help but wonder if the advance notice that’s a good thing or not. If you love where you’re at, the lingering reminder that it’s only temporary may be unwanted and bidding is just a demoralizing distraction. If you’re unsatisfied in your current assignment, the temptation to dream about and plan for your next post might take precedence over excelling in your current position and enjoying your current surroundings. Planning ahead is a must in this lifestyle, but so is keeping your head straight and out of the clouds. So how much time is too much time?

Our countdown (not that we’ve been keeping one, or anything) just ticked down under four months and I’m just now feeling very ready to know where we’re headed. Of course, we’ve been obsessing over thinking about future assignments for the last 12 months, daydreaming about travel opportunities and new adventures. But now it’s getting down to the more practical concerns. Will the internet be reliable enough to continue teleworking? If not, what jobs are available at post and can I start applying now to avoid a prolonged period of unemployment? What language should I be starting to study in order to get by? Do we need to start shipping cold weather gear our way, or will our wardrobe of flip flops be sufficient? Will we need a consumables shipment? Will our car meet the import restrictions or should we consider selling it soon? With all of those unknowns weighing down, I’m just thankful we don’t have kids to enroll in school or pets to ship.

All of this is to say that we’re still many months away from knowing our next assignment and there’s nothing to do but wait it out with minimal tantrums patiently. Besides, our drop-of-the-hat assignment process does serve as a fun fact that I enjoy sharing with our Foreign Service counterparts. Given the looks on their faces when I tell them we’ll find out a scant four weeks before departure (mas o menos), you’d think I just proposed skydiving without a parachute or playing Russian roulette.

I’m still curious though: how much time is enough, but not too much, to know where you’re going next? Would you enjoy knowing well in advance, or would you prefer to find out your fate with just enough time to catch your flight out?

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Posted in MSG

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