Let’s start with some full disclosure: I had already lived in Jordan for nine months in 2016 before deciding to go back in the middle of 2017. So when I tell this story, you should be aware that the culture shock had already very much been dealt with, and I had already established a life here with a job and friends and everything else you need to live happily in any place.
That being said, I did move back to the Middle East specifically because I thought opportunity had knocked, and it couldn’t be ignored. I had been offered a dream career-developing role with an NGO, working partially in the field and with an already established project, as I’d always dreamed. Then it turned out opportunity had not knocked, and the organization I was meant to be working for was in no fit state to have any employees doing anything. I attempted some days in the office, but it quickly became apparent I was sitting in a room alone doing nothing, and that that was going to be the case for the foreseeable future.
My big plan — the one I’d told everyone was the start of my great new career endeavor — was categorically not taking place, in any sense. I had spent all that money on plane tickets, rent, and relocating, and I had already committed to being in Jordan for at least another five months.
Mostly, I was grossly embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell my friends and family that I was wrong, and that this great thing I thought I was going to do, well…it wasn’t happening. I took a part-time job, and though my workplace is endlessly supportive and accommodating, it is not something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I’ve been lucky to have an income, but it felt like such a waste to go back to part-time when I’d previously been very happy living the remote-working lifestyle back home in the UK.
I had to use my new part-time role for something. I desperately emailed around to find another volunteering opportunity, but without much success. I felt like a failure for weeks on end. When I tried to talk to people about it, they told me I was wrong.
I still felt bad. I felt bad that my work wasn’t getting published (I wasn’t sending it to anyone), I felt bad I didn’t have a great job (I wasn’t applying for any) — I just felt bad about anything and everything I possibly could. Then it dawned on me that the best way to stop being miserable and feel better was not only to put some actual work in but to make the most of my spare time if I couldn’t use it to do the thing I was originally meant to be doing.
Here is a nearly complete list of everything I did with those spare hours:
- Taking two mini-breaks to Beirut
- Innumerable yoga classes
- Four hours per week of Arabic classes
- Sending a thousand emails to organizations who needed volunteers
- Some actual volunteering
- A series of dental treatment and recovery time from the comfort of my own home
- Arabic homework (so my teacher was not perpetually disappointed in me)
- Writing conference paper proposals
- Writing pitches for articles/blog posts/interviews
- Actually writing some full-length things
- Catching up with friends — lots of middle-of-the-day Skype and phone sessions
- Reading six books
- Listening to countless podcasts
- Planning and recording my own podcast
- Writing — lots and lots of writing
- Consuming a thousand liters of soy-based caffeinated drinks
Some of those things were great uses of my time, and some of them were just things I did because I was aware of how rare it was for me to get the chance to work part-time and have the ability to do something in the middle of the day that is usually reserved for evenings. I chose to see my spare time as a gift, and not a sign of failure. I chose to chill out and try and enjoy my unique set of circumstances, and I chose to see this as a path I had been brought to. It wasn’t the route I had originally planned (and that really was not forthcoming no matter how hard I tried), but maybe I had to go back to basics — back to writing, and the things I really loved.
A lot of my life — and probably a lot of other people’s lives, if my friends are anything to go by — has required making the best of situations I was in. Things do not always go to plan, and as someone who also once lost their job a week before Christmas, this is definitely not the worst my financial life and career has ever felt. I was mortified by my feelings of inadequacy and desire to have a life that was somewhat together, and I’m still continuously plagued by fears that I’ll never break into the first tax bracket. But when you have to see something through for another couple of months because you have a flight booked, you do what you have to.
It’s not always as easy as just applying for a new job. Sometimes, you are just stuck in a place and a situation for a while, and that’s okay — there are always ways to make the most of it. If you at least have money coming in, you can probably readjust how you spend your time and try and take something good from that moment in your life.
I don’t always want to be working from cafés with an endlessly empty inbox, but for now, it’s not so bad.
Claire is 25 years old and currently living in Jordan trying to learn Arabic and find some sort of career trajectory. She writes and tweets on left-wing politics, Jeff Goldblum and the intrinsic value of Dachshunds.
Image via Unsplash