I've got three months to go in this job -- will I survive?

This tedious contract position has me jumping out of my skin -- I'm only 23 and I've got things to do!


Cary Tennis
November 17, 2006 5:00PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have three months and a week left on a one-year contract working in a foreign country, and the job, which began as something I really wanted to do, has turned into a mockery of what I thought it would be, leaving me intellectually unsatisfied and incredibly bored. I know three months isn't that long, but I'm dying here, man.

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The problem began about three months ago after I returned from a vacation in another part of the country, ready for new challenges at work after having a great time away from the job; instead, I was handed a pile of routine tasks and not really asked to exert any additional energy. It was maddening and it hasn't improved. Lately, I've even taken to arriving at work at the exact moment that my eventual flight out of here takes off; I see it fly over work and I can go on for the day, knowing that escape, which is what it feels like, is tantalizingly close.

Theoretically, mind you, this job is actually really great, and while training for it, it felt perfect. There's no real upper limit as to where I might end up with it, there are lots of other interests I have that intersect with it, and materially I don't really want for anything -- I save money every month. I do miss my friends and family -- it's too far from home to be somewhere that people can just pop over for the weekend or whatever. That problem remains inherent in the job -- it's tough to do what I do in the United States.

At the core, I guess, I feel a little guilty that everyone else seems so happy to be here (mind you, they all seem to have rather crap lives to begin with back in wherever they are from) and I'm just not -- like they'd all accuse me of not understanding the culture here, or not reaching out to the locals, or not enjoying all the time to relax. But I don't want to relax! I'm 23 -- the youngest person on my staff -- I'm ambitious, I like to write and talk and learn, and I have goals that go beyond what most of my peers seem to aspire to. I don't see myself here forever, and they're buying houses and getting married and it's all so damn stifling. I've traveled and lived abroad before, far more than my peers at work and my friends from home, but I've never felt this "I know this is not somewhere I want to be anymore" before.

So then: How do I make these three months more fulfilling, or at least pass faster?

P.S.: Visa complexities don't let me take a vacation outside the country until the end of my contract, when I'm leaving anyway.

I've Already Bought My Plane Tickets

Dear Possessor of Treasured Plane Tickets,

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Your question is an ancient one: How do I pass the time till I can get the hell out of here? How do I stay in my skin when I think I'm about to jump out of it? How do I avoid jeopardizing my future by doing something rash? In short, how do I acquire some much-needed patience?

Hmmm. Should I consult the ancients on the matter?

How about the not-so-ancient? "Le génie n'est qu'une plus grande aptitude à la patience," as George Louis Leclerc de Buffon is said to have said, according to my worn and tattered Bartlett's -- "Genius is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience." Being a little slower than others, I take heart in this, hoping that my ability to wait will bear fruit. I wait for the pitch. I keep watching the gopher hole. I sit still in an empty room waiting to have something to say.

And yes, sometimes I wait months or years.

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"The strongest of all warriors are these two -- Time and Patience," wrote Leo Tolstoy. That's more to the point, I think: You want to accomplish some things, and they're going to take time and patience. You've got three months right here, undisturbed by family and friends. You have hours every day after work. You have hours before work. What you can do with the next three months is plot. Plan. Strategize.

Aha. That's it. That's what you need to do. I can see that you are an ambitious person and you want to do something extraordinary. So begin planning for it. What is it that you want to do? What stage are you at in your planning? Do you know what it is you want to do next and are just not sure how to go about it? Or are you still mulling over the many possibilities your talents present?

I say do whatever it takes to prepare for your return. Buy some stupid self-improvement books and do the exercises. Lie around and visualize what you want to do when you're out. Read a long book you've always pretended to have read. (Everybody does that, right? When I finally read "Moby-Dick," I had to completely revise my critical opinion.)

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But that's all mental calisthenics. How are your 23-year-old pectorals, your quads, your obliques? Need a little tuneup? How about a three-month exercise regimen so you return more fit than your sedentary compatriots?

There's a million things like that you can do. Anything to take your mind off the boredom.

When you get a little older you realize there aren't many things you can't stand doing for three months. You start to get the long view. Why not try to get the long view early? If I had had the long view at 23, who knows how many misfortunes I might have avoided.

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This could be a good, formative lesson. This is what's called a dead spot. Every life has dead spots, lacunae, little lapses, when time turns on itself and you're left spinning. That is when you plan. A smart man stops fighting the vortex, settles down and makes some plans.

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