Leaving it behind

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When this picture was taken in 1991 I was three years into my career as an ‘international aid worker’.  I had my arm around Kak Mohammad, a Kurdish peshmarga (lit. one who faces death) who was also a community leader in the Penjwin area of Iraqi Kurdistan where I was working.

If you had told me at that time that one day I would turn my back on my career and do so happily, I would not have laughed. I would have simply given you a pitying look and walked away.  Why would I ever want to give up a meaningful, well paying career with the United Nations that allowed me to work in beautiful interesting places like Kurdistan or Pakistan (where I had just spent 3 years) and with such fascinating people such as Kak Mohammad?

My career had respect. I was doing something constructive. I travelled business class with a cool-blue UN passport. Even though I had a bit of paunch, I considered my career made me something of a chick magnet as well.

Turn my back on all this?  For what? A life in the suburbs and kids’ sporting events? A job in the local bank? To drive a taxi?  [Even back then the prospects for an averagely intelligent humanities graduate were nothing to write home about).

Many years, missions, countries and employers have come and gone since July 1991 when I posed with my peshmarga friend in that gorgeous ravined river valley between Penjwin and Chaklawa.  For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed those years and the ‘journey’.  I rose to pretty high positions in  a number of organizations and was generally regarded as a good manager, thinker and problem solver by peers and superiors.  Until relatively recently I never seriously considered changing my career.  Humanitarian and development work was what I did. I was the sole source of income for my young family.  After about 15 years I could do most of my jobs while half asleep. Why would I want to leave it behind?

This blog is where I will explore the answers to that question. I know some of the reasons I’ve made the decision but as a writer I know by writing I’ll understand my motivations in a deeper and more meaningful way.  And by sharing my story and journey I hope that I can help others who are contemplating the same transition.  It can be scary. But it can also be extremely rewarding.

So stay tuned for more.  Please let me know your own thoughts and experiences.

 

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33 comments

  1. Pingback: Leaving it behind | one photo @ a time
  2. Becky Behlen · December 5, 2015

    Very well written Nate; I look forward to following your new journey!

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 5, 2015

      Thanks Becky, I’d like to hear of your own journey! I still appreciate all those good vibes and chats and support you gave me in the Garden restaurant when I was a fresh young uni student figuring out how I had landed up in Minneapolis!
      Nate

      Like

  3. David Weidman · December 5, 2015

    Nate, I will be interested to read more. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get together some time?

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 5, 2015

      Hey David,
      It would be. Hope to get to the States in 2016 and perhaps even the East Coast. so will be in touch. in the meantime, Australia beckons! come on down!
      Nate

      Like

  4. Bruce Browne · December 5, 2015

    I’ll be interested to read about what you learn in this process. Having lived overseas in the area (roughly), empathy might be more widespread than you would think. Please keep writing.

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 5, 2015

      Hey Bruce, thanks. I assume (and hope I’m not making an ass of you and me)you’re THE Bruce Browne of Woodstock fame?
      Nate

      Like

  5. Sally · December 5, 2015

    Really looking forward to your writing and thoughts as I transition too – indeed its scary to move from something you know well, are respected for and can do while half asleep!!

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 5, 2015

      Hi Sal, its all (or a lot, or at least somewhat) to do with timing. Like most decisions in life you have to own it. when there is no other otption that satisfies then the decision making is less stressful! Good luck with your own plans.keep me in the loop from time to time.
      Nate

      Like

  6. paulkirsch · December 5, 2015

    Hi Nate,
    I am curious what turned you away from aid work and what your next adventure is. I have left university administration and am thinking of going in to teaching. I also do graphics, mostly for musicians, and to do a little self-promotion here, you can see my portfolio here: http://www.adjacentdimensionsmedia.com (doesn’t work so well on mobile yet). I welcome clients. Best, Paul

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 5, 2015

      Hey Paul,
      thanks for getting in touch again! would like to hear the same about your decision making process and how the business is going. My wife and I have begun a new business as well in personal development/leadership so are on a huge learning curve. I checked out your site… perhaps we will need your services soon!
      Cheers
      Nate

      Like

  7. Phearak Svay · December 5, 2015

    Great stuff. Look forward to reading more, Nate.

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 6, 2015

      Thanks Pherak, I see you are still with WV. Great. What happened to the business you were doing? Nate

      Like

  8. Atiq Rahman · December 5, 2015

    Hi Nate
    I still remember the first day I met you … a Caucasian man addressing me in pure hindi and without any accent. I have been a big admirer of you since then …. someone who could walk across cultures in its true sense.

    Will be looking forward to know what prompted you to move on from aid work.

    Cheers

    Atiq

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 6, 2015

      Hi Atiq, how are you enjoying life with Cardno? I think Pete Stephen said he’d seen you recently in PNG.
      How is the family? Thanks for your nice words. I enjoyed our working life @ IDSS. Take care. Nate

      Like

  9. Dave Naugle · December 6, 2015

    Nate

    It will be interesting to read about your journey (pathway) of life. Personally, I am in the retired category and not liking it (kicking and screaming). I am reminded of our grandfather who keep himself busy and productive through his 90 + years of his journey. Today our society is so well established at working a career until retirement so that we can go golfing more frequently. Tell us more about the new business in personal development/leadership.

    Your Cuz, Dave

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 6, 2015

      Hi Dave, I was getting the impression you were feeling a bit underutilized! do you have an email? I’ll send you some info on the business we are doing in personal development. Nate

      Like

  10. Ripin · December 6, 2015

    Will be following your thoughts Nabe as you reflect and write more. Whereabouts are you these days?

    Like

  11. Andrea Andreu · December 6, 2015

    I am curious what turned you away from aid work too because I’m starting my studies in that area and I’m nof pretty sure and what is about your next business. Thanks

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 6, 2015

      Hi Andrea, I will tell that story in this blog. My next step is starting my own business. Where are you studying? what are your doubts?

      Like

  12. Leighton Carlson · December 8, 2015

    You have certainly piqued my interest–look forward to reading more!

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 8, 2015

      Hey Leighton!
      how the hell are you? Still in Iowa?
      I’ll send you an email.
      Cheers
      Nate

      Like

  13. Ela · December 8, 2015

    Looking forward to reading more about the process of this decision…In any case all the best wishes for this new path!

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 8, 2015

      Hi Ela,
      thanks! for that.
      Hope you are well and happy!
      Nate

      Like

  14. Arantza Caballero · December 10, 2015

    Thank you for sharing such deep thoughts. One might say that I am at the beginning of my professional career although I have been preparing myself for working in the international field for over 10 years. For my generation it takes so long to get a real chance that the dream is usually shaped and transform by reality. That is how I understood that the main thing is what you feel at that very moment of your life when you can let yourself be it and for sure that is the best compass of all! Looking forward to reading more for my compass is still spinning…

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 10, 2015

      Hi Arantza,i’m glad you’re finding this interesting. As someone who is at the mature end of the spectrum and has seen the world and sector become much more ‘young-person friendly’ and mainstreamed, its interesting that you and others find it so difficult to ‘get a real chance’. Perhaps it will be your generation that completely redesigns the sector…it could use some refurbishing! My journey at the moment is to create my world rather than try to ‘fit into’ the aid world! A lot more fun but full of challenges of its own!

      Like

  15. Paul Davies · December 12, 2015

    I have been in the business for almost the same amount of time – since1989. I have had an amazing time, done some amazing things, hopefully made lives a little better, and lived in some fascinating places. But have to say I am gagging to get out! Loads of transferable skills.

    Any tips?

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 12, 2015

      Hi Paul, that summarizes my own experience very well. Yes there are a lot of skills we have developed that are in theory transferable but my experience has shown in fact, the non-aid industries are ‘fascinated’ by such experience but unwilling to give you a go, for a number of reasons: too risky mainly. So I don’t hold much faith in that particular mantra. What I have chosen is to be the master of my own destiny, not rely on tyring to compete with younger more fired up people for jobs that I’m not all that interested in. I have an online business which allows me to follow and fullfil my passions and spend time with the family. No need to transfer skills to another big company or NGO but to hone my own skills for my own and my family’s benefit.

      Like

  16. Andrea · December 21, 2015

    It has exactly been 30 years when I started in development work. It was most rewarding and fulfilling and challenging at times. And now I have reached the same point – it is time to leave. And yes, I thought I would never say that. I am grabbling with the “what’s next” but I know it is the right decision. Looking forward to exchanging experiences, insights thoughts what got us there.

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 21, 2015

      Hi Andrea,
      COngratulations. I think there are mnany others in the same boat so you’re one of the brave ones! I personally have no regrets. I sometimes feel ‘bad’ about that. That somehow I need to remain loyal to the sector and leaving it behind is somehow disloyal to ‘it’ and my friends who are still in it! Weird! But I’m looking at it dispassionately. Loved the experience but now want to love other experiences. What are some of your options you’re tossing up?

      Like

  17. Andrea · December 21, 2015

    I am thinking of board positions, teaching at uni, short-term consultancies, coaching and mentoring. You see I am still a bit all over the place.

    Like

    • Mr Harmonium · December 21, 2015

      Sounds like you’ve still got enough interest to keep the flame alive, just in another format? Mentoring is always a good thing I reckon.

      Like

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