The Accidental Career
Being a TCK, I had always thought that I would follow in the footsteps of my father, living and working overseas. I spent about 10 years in the military, the majority of this time in the United States, but for various reasons — although I enjoyed what I did and was very good at it — I knew I was not cut out to be a lifer. I just didn’t fit the mold. And life overseas was calling me.
So, I put out some feelers, relying on my somewhat dated Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, and after just a couple of months, lucked into a job being offered by the Turkish Prime Minister’s brother-in-law.
I was never very career minded. I didn’t have a plan. As a result of the job in Turkey, my wife and I (in the middle of a separation), decided to get a divorce. I left the military, and moved to Turkey in the space of about two months. I think a number of people thought I was nuts. In retrospect, maybe I did leap without looking, but in this case, as in most of my career moves, I think being a TCK was what enabled me.
The idea of picking up stakes and moving to another country at the drop of a hat seemed a natural way of life. Not an aberration.
I enjoyed information technology and seemed to have a natural bent for it. But I had never enthused about it or thought about how I was going to really succeed and blow people away in my field. I was an inveterate job hopper. The idea of remaining with a single company for years and years, climbing the corporate ladder, and eventually getting some type of a retirement package never even entered my mind. I was enjoying my life, I was getting paid well. Enjoying, if not total tax freedom, significant tax advantages. And I frankly just enjoyed moving from one country to another every few years.
Another factor in my professional life was that, looking back, I’ve never had much of a competitive streak. I always looked at people who were very competitive with, for lack of a better word, distaste. I’m not eager to hog the glory. Of course, like most people, I do like being appreciated for my efforts, but that is not my prime incentive for doing a good job. I like doing a good job because I take pride in my work. I did have some ambition to be good in my field. But competitive in terms of having to beat other people? No. Never had that. In my mind when one is competitive, there is an underlying assumption that in addition to there being a winner, there must also be a loser. I don’t particularly want other people to be losers. This is a trait I picked up from being raised in other cultures. It certainly is not a Western cultural characteristic.
So, after a few years, the Turkish Prime Minister had a heart attack and died. As a result, the company I worked for lost quite a few of their contracts. They couldn’t afford to keep me on anymore, so they gave me a generous severance package, and I was let go.
I stuck around Turkey for a while doing some consulting work, and then I applied for a job in Saudi Arabia that I saw in an international paper. It was probably the third resume I sent out and I got a call back. We interviewed on the telephone, and within a matter of weeks I was out of my apartment in Istanbul and going back to the United States to go through the visa process. Four weeks later I landed in Saudi Arabia. Again, this was an IT job, and I found it quite enjoyable.
I learned a lot, increasing my skill set in many areas, but after about 2½ years I lost my job there as well. I annoyed a Saudi woman the first week on the job, and later she became the head of the department.
Abruptly there was no more budget left for my position. I didn’t have a job lined up but I had been working with someone that had business dealings in the Philippines, so I packed my bags and flew to Manila at his invitation. Once again, I leapt without looking. Several other departments at Aramco had strongly requested me to move over to work for them, but the lure of the next country called me.
Eventually, through a person I had worked with in Saudi, I got a job with a large network project in Asia. That parlayed into a permanent job with the local Asian branch of an American multinational, and I stayed with them for several years. Oh. And the original guy I left Saudi to work with? Turned out to be a total flake. So, the job on the network project was completely fortuitous and just happened to be in the Philippines where I already was. See what I mean about an accidental career?
My next job in the Philippines sent me back to the United States to train on their new software product. I ended up in Texas, one of the quintessential American states, you might say. After about 8 weeks the company ran out of money, stopped communicating with me, and overnight, abandoned me in Texas. Never paid me accumulated vacation pay, never finished paying my expenses, just dropped me. Ahh, people are so reliable.
Fortunately I had some money in the bank, and was able to get some interim work with the US branch of the very software I had been sent there to train on. I traveled around the United States doing temporary consulting work and looking for a full-time job. Within two months I had found a job in Dallas with another high-tech company. They hired me as a project manager for a fiber infrastructure project. This was in 2000. The internet boom was going strong, and this company had decided to put fiber infrastructure into multi-story office buildings all over the United States. My job was to travel nationwide to ensure the metropolitan facilities were properly set up.
Towards the end of my time at this company, I was supposed to go to Brazil to start working on buildings there. Hours before the flight was supposed to leave, they canceled it. That was an early sign the internet boom was starting to crash.
They instead sent me to Toronto for six months to work with a small local phone company that they had acquired. I enjoyed that stint immensely. I liked the guy that owned the Canadian company; I liked the ladies that staffed the office — it felt kind of like a miniature Portugal. Toronto was my kind of town. Multicultural, laid back, and I like Canadians. The Toronto winter left a little to be desired, but it was a really cool experience for me.
After 16 straight months of working, I took a vacation for two weeks to go back to the Philippines. Hanging out at the hotel there by the pool, I met another TCK, who was there with an American gentleman looking to set up a software development company for a Japanese multinational. He introduced us, and we got along fairly well. The TCK, after talking with me for a couple of days, told the American that I was the guy he should hire to run the project in the Philippines.
I went back to Toronto and two weeks later the American I had met called and asked if I wanted a job back out in Asia. I flew down a week later for the interview, went back to my hotel room that night and couldn’t access my email. I had been hit by the 4th round of layoffs in my current company as the internet bubble popped. Luckily, I was hired for the role I interviewed for. I was on my way back to Asia within 30 days.
After six years, and some major health issues due to the amount of travel I was doing, I resigned. I had been grooming someone to eventually replace me, but I was so worn out I just said to them “I’ll resign now, keep him instead.” They accepted and I was gone.
Now, some years previously I had been invited to join as a partner in a hospitality project. It had been successful, so I decided I would rely on that while I recovered my health. And as a result, I ended up being in the hospitality business.
I think the crux of this article is that my background as a TCK led me to never worry too much about the specific job I was doing. As long as it was somewhat in my area, and in a place I could live with — even if I wasn’t an expert I figured I could always learn. I never got wrapped up in the politics of the companies I worked for. If things got bad, I would leave. And the result is that I ended up being fairly happy. I’m not fabulously wealthy, I don’t have a pension (and never will) and I am not sure what my next step is going to be after the hospitality business is finished. I lead a very simple life and I am happy with that. I want to help people if I can. I have a lot of accumulated knowledge that I would like to impart to others. I am thinking in fact that the next step in my so-called career is to turn to teaching.
So, there you have it. A summary of an accidental yet fairly enjoyable career. And it isn’t over yet. I think I have at least ten good years left in me.