Sunday, November 1, 2009

That left turn at Albuquerque

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

"The Road Not Taken"- Robert Frost

There I was, sitting in a holding room, staring at a wall with a huge picture of the Libyan Leader. My boss, the Ambassador, was telling me something about work. I was too lost in my thoughts to understand what he was saying. He was going to call on an important senior official of the Libyan Foreign Ministry and he thought it was a good idea to bring me along to introduce me to the person.


My gaze shifted to a pile of coffee table books stacked in front of where I was seated. It had books about Libya from the past years. One book there was an annual of the year 2005. I suddenly thought to myself, "What was I doing in 2005?" I was taking the Foreign Service Officer Examinations, and a multitude of overseas calls. That seemed like only a few years ago, and yet it felt like it was another lifetime away.

Whatever I was doing, I certainly didn't think I would be doing what I was doing now. As I said in a previous post, how I ended up an FSO was just an amazing case of serendipity. What caused the turn of events in my life? I'm glad you didn't ask. In the words of the great detective Adrian Monk, "Here's what happened."

Upon graduating from college, I wanted to work in the government. But I was frustrated in my attempt to get a job in government. I myself fell victim to the "it's not what you know but who you know" disease a lot of government offices suffered from. I remember one instance when I went to a certain agency to hand them my resume. The lady I approached stared at me quizzically and asked how I knew of an opening in their office. She sounded like I learned a secret that would cause the bureaucracy to collapse. I said I didn't know, I was just trying my luck. She further asked who I knew in their office, I said no one. She took my resume and dismissed me with a rough "don't call us, we'll call you" attitude. She never even bothered to ask me what my qualifications are or if I actually have civil service eligibility. She never even told me what the opening was.

With no luck in my primary choice of career, I did what most fresh graduates do nowadays when they can't get their first choice of jobs or they're not sure what they want in life but need the money, I entered the call center industry. I'm not knocking on call centers, this sunrise industry (which doesn't allow much sunshine to most of its employees) helped me survive financially with a steady paycheck every 15th and 30th. It's just that I don't think there is a kid out there who answers that he wants to be a call center agent when he's asked what he wants to be when he grows up. I support the government's move to attract more business process outsourcing companies in the Philippines, though. Lotsa kids need a source of disposable income this day and age. Right?

I never really felt fulfilled in my years as a "callboy." I disliked having to wake up every evening to report for night shift duty. I never saw myself going through my work"days" talking to irate American customers over the phone on behalf of companies I could care less about. Aside from the income, the industry did give me a chance to meet good and lifelong friends. That was a big plus. It, however, provided as well an opportunity for me to have to bear working with an assortment of characters that highlight the obnoxious side of my generation.

My mind grew numb to the constant whining of customers who have a ridiculous sense of self-importance. My senses grew numb to the passing of days that started with a view of the sunset and ended with a view of the sunrise. My will grew numb from my inability to focus on a task, I still kept in mind several plans in life but I could no longer keep my gaze on one for a long time. I may have lost my focus altogether during those years. The only thing that kept me going professionally was the thought that I should be doing something else that would suit my personality and capability. I always reminded myself "I shouldn't be here" as I took another call from a customer. My professional career felt like it was already in a perpetual limbo. I was stuck in a moment I couldn't get out of.

It showed eventually in my work. I wasn't a model employee for the companies I worked for. I jumped from one call center to another looking for something better in life. Looking back now, the airplane that was my professional life was falling fast and all I could do was find myself a better window seat.

While I was working, I often used my computer to search for job openings. One day, I was googling for some job openings and stumbled into a link that was announcing that the Department of Foreign Affairs was going to be conducting that year's FSO Exams. It certainly caught my attention. What's this exam? I read on. What do FSOs do? The answered look cool. I thought to myself, "I think I just found my way out of limbo."

I saw that I only had a few weeks to submit my application form and other requirements and prepare for the first of a series of exams. I prepared all the paperwork and quickly headed to the DFA to...

"Vice, let's go," said my boss (Vice being short for Vice Consul), which interrupted my train of thought. I noticed then that a protocol officer was ushering us to enter the room where the meeting would take place.

Like Bugs Bunny, I chose not to take the left turn at Albuquerque. You know how that always signals a new adventure for the wascally wabbit? It can work just the same in real life.

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