Way of Learning, Way of Exploration
So, I did promise a big announcement in my return to the blog last week. I normally would try to develop a well-crafted story, designed to increase tension and drama, an essay as a piece of “sudden non-fiction”. Depending on which draft of this entry I consider, I have very different ideas of whether and how to do this. Let me share the part of the story now that has already been generally announced: I have been named as a Jefferson Science Fellowship (JSF) awardee for 2016-17. My one-year term in residence with the Department of State in Washington, DC is scheduled to begin in August, allowing me a ringside seat for the US federal elections in November, and the inevitable administrative turnover through and beyond January 20, 2017.
I have been learning a lot about myself over the past three months, somewhat as a continuation of the lessons of the two job interviews I mentioned, and somewhat as a feature of internal exploration. What do I really want? What should be my objective function and utility vector for the next stage of my career? Without a good answer to that, the chances are low that I would actually find a suitable and compelling fit. The two interviews had given me a type of freedom, but the start of the JSF process helped me recognize that I was not only enjoying thinking about the essays on international policy and engineering problem solving, but that the tasks were drawing on exactly the combinations of skills I had been hoping to capitalize on in those other interviews. Even during the in-person finalist interviews in December, I had a fun, giddy feeling of what I sometimes describe as collimation: a sense of alignment and integration of energy, doing what I was built to do. I was having fun, and even stopped thinking—for a while—about the process as a competition for a position against other candidates.
The announcement of Fellows was made in January, but there is still the issue of placement: with which Office would I be working? Acknowledging the unique opportunity afforded by JSF allows me to think in terms of Adventure: doing something unique, life changing, and decidedly unlike my normal work (even if I did want to build on my unique combination of skills and knowledge domains). That made some opportunities, normally of some interest, lower priorities for me. If I could do similar work as a regular GROUPER activity, it’s not really a good Adventure. So, between the groups with whom I met, what would be my choice and preference… and would they want me? The lesson from the past interviews did give me a hint: just express my passion and enthusiasm and desire for Adventure, and I would be much more likely to find a proper alignment than if I tried to guess or adjust to some other imagined perspective. It took a number of conversations, and by the end of the placement week, I was happy to have found that there were at least two offices that I could get really excited about, and another three or four additional options that still would ensure a suitable Adventure. And then, it was matching time.
To be honest, the email came sooner than I expected. I didn’t know if I should be thrilled, or nervous. (Years ago, I had worked an “editor’s response function” of delay tolerance. Although one usually prefers a short delay to a long one, if you send off a grant proposal or book manuscript or some such long and deeply personal self-expression, you probably don’t want to see an answer come back in just a few minutes after receipt. It takes hours to read dozens or hundreds pages, and make detailed comments and suggestions for improvements. It can take only a few minutes to decide that something is so horrible that you don’t want to subject yourself to it any longer. You want the editor or grant reviewer to take hours, not minutes.) Close the office door, take a deep breath, double-click on the message…
“It is with great pleasure that I write to confirm your selection as a Jefferson Science Fellow for 2016-2017… You will serve your Fellowship in Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Office of Japan Affairs (EAP/J). This position is a Foreign Affairs Officer…”
One of my top choices! I got what I wanted! More importantly, I get to use the gifts and skills and connections that I am most eager to experience in the Adventure! I could instantly recall the conversations with my daughter Kyrie on Okinawan mandalas in Final Fantasy X, or the discussions with Drew Davidson about the Aibo robot dog, or even my introduction just a couple weeks earlier to JAXA researchers at the NASA Human Researcher Program Investigator Workshop. I can call on my systems engineering lectures, and…
I can spend a year of Adventure, being fed in multiple ways, in a range of challenges, in the context of national service. If I had been selected for and accepted either of those other campus jobs, I wouldn’t have gotten this (because I wouldn’t have felt it appropriate to apply, within one year of starting a position). So, the objective function works in a variety of ways—my utility vector is better aligned with this position than anything else I had tried to move towards in the past few years. (It simply took a set of misalignments and frustration to learn this.) Working with the State Dept. was something I hadn’t even seriously considered 2-3 years ago when I was contemplating job titles and responsibilities.
I have learned to be active and confident in describing and expressing what I want. I have come to appreciate the broader lessons that come to me when I do not succeed at a task. There is much to gain when I am open to and accepting of the experience and learning available in unexpected paths.