Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Foreign Service Relocation Limbo: how loose can you hang?

According to Wikipedia, the limbo, a dance that originated in Trinidad, "reflects the whole cycle of life." A dancer's ability to clear the pole as it is gradually lowered symbolizes "the triumph of life over death." Although successfully relocating in the Foreign Service is certainly not a triumph over death, it can be difficult, and a successful transition requires many of the same abilities as the limbo.

Flexibility is a core requirement for both a mobile life and a limbo dancer. If your body isn't built for back bends, don't bend it back--unless you love seeing your orthopedist. Similarly, if you dislike change, don't choose a life in the foreign service. However, flexibility alone may not be sufficient for either.

Flexibility is high-maintenance. You must warm up, honor your limits, and know that every day brings a new adventure. If you rush, you're more likely to be injured, yet it's natural to want to speed through something that makes us uncomfortable. Navigating change requires patience.

Foreign Service Officers and their families spend a lot of time dealing with the indeterminate future. First you wonder where you'll be assigned, then you wonder when you'll get your orders, then you wait for all the details from all the different departments to come together: housing, travel orders, training schedules, etc. Between the date of your assignment and your arrival you need a lot of answers from a few very busy people, and the necessity of being patient can conflict with our desire to be autonomous.

Knowing when to push forward, and when to hold steady, is the key to the limbo that is life in the foreign service. Self-advocacy is essential, but unusual anxiety about not knowing can be harmful. Every two years you dance another relocation limbo, but once you're clear, the rewards can be extraordinary.

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