Friday is my last day at work.
I have had a lot of last days of work over the past six years – a rough calculation indicates approximately 17.
As a result, I cannot generate the appropriate emotional response about leaving the place where I’ve spent 40 hours a week over the last six months.
“So, your last Monday,” someone will say.
“Not long now,” another reminds me.
“You must be getting excited,” they comment.
I can tell that my responses are unsatisfying. I’m about to spend a month in the States, followed by a year in South Korea. This is a Big Deal to people with stability in their lives.
Why, then, am I only able to say, “Yeah, it’ll be good,” or “I can’t wait,” in a manner totally devoid of true emotion? One, because I still have 2 1/2 days of work to get through. I know it’s not long, but it’s still there.
Two, because I’ve done it too many times before. To me, the door to my career is a revolving one. It rotates so regularly that it may as well be motorized – I have to find a gap to jump in and out.
Once upon a time, leaving a job indicated a big change in my life. Since 2003, every time I have ended a job, I have moved to a new country. My adult life has been structured around work – how long I can work in a particular location, what job I can find quickly to support myself abroad. When the visa ends, I leave.
This time is no different – my visa says I have to stop working, so I obey. Because of my nomadic lifestyle, I am used to it. I don’t stress about what’s going to happen next, or worry about what I’ll do if things don’t go to plan. I know that if it all goes wrong, eventually it will all go right again.
This lack of anxiety is perhaps the reason why I am not a ball of nervous energy in the weeks leading up to a departure. In 2003, when I first packed up for Ireland, I spent weeks, months even, revising my mental checklist – What should I bring? Will the ATMs accept my card? How will I cope with not knowing anybody? When I arrived, I was so paranoid about thieves that I carried my heavy Dell laptop in a backpack everywhere I went. I slept with my belongings under my pillow in hostels. I gathered up all of my courage and asked innocuous questions in communal lunch areas (“Did you get your orange juice from the vending machine? Is anyone sitting here?”), just to practice talking to strangers. I analyzed the differences between foreign lands and my home country, trying to make sense of it all.
Now, I don’t start thinking about packing until the day before I leave. I know that if I forget something, I can usually get it there. If I can’t get it there, I can do without. As long as I have my passport and something to read on the plane, the rest will take care of itself.
The excitement is no longer in the anticipation – it is in the details of everyday life in a foreign country. It is checking out what’s on offer at the local grocery store. Poring over a map and discovering the best way of getting to work. Getting stopped for directions and actually being able to give them. Handing money across a counter without having to triple-check each coin for its value. Getting a work email address with “.com.au” at the end of it. There is a constant buzz to everyday life, knowing that you’re taking something foreign and turning it into something familiar.
Korea is going to be a whole different ballgame – I might seem oddly calm now, but the old thrill of the unknown is starting to creep up on me. Pre-departure stuff I understand – it’s not until I arrive that the challenge begins. With challenge comes adventure, and with adventure comes excitement.
Ask me in a few weeks if I’m excited. I guarantee, I will be.