Friday, September 7, 2012

Elegy for a wasted career

I write this article as an expression of my decision to finally leave the field of international relations after a 13 year nightmare in which I suffered one horrendous setback after another.   When I applied for a fellowship in Middle Eastern studies after 13 years of relentless and endless rejection, I made an inner promise to myself.  I told myself that this opportunity would be the last chance for me to explore any options in international relations.  I also decided that if this fellowship application were denied, then I would walk away from international relations once and for all.  I decided to put a final end to an ordeal with no positive experiences so that I could begin moving on and healing from the nightmare. 

Well, I got what looked to me like a bad result.  I received a partial fellowship offer.  The problem was, the 50% fellowship offer left me with a $3,000 deficit that I had no way to cover.  I decided to decline the fellowship offer because I saw no prospect of being able to raise the remaining funds on my own. 
Seeking to take advantage of my despair to re-assert their control over me, my parents offered to cover the difference.  I turned them down flat because accepting their funds would have defeated the entire purpose of applying for the fellowship in the first place: to begin establishing a career based upon financial independence from them. 

In addition, I knew that I was in no position emotionally to begin a new search for funds, particularly since the deadline for the fellowship was around November 1.  Sensing a lack of time and a lack of options and feeling trapped once again, I decided to let go of the nightmares and begin moving on with my life. 
Part of the problem was that I have Asperger’s, and I had no way to interpret the funder’s ambiguous decision.  On the one hand, he seemed like he was trying to encourage me.  On the other hand, his decision placed me in an impossible position from which I saw no possibility for escape.  Being confused about the funder’s intentions, I assumed the worst. My inflexible mind-set may have blinded me to the possibilities of seeking additional funding.   But I know that I did the right thing in turning down the funder’s offer because it left me feeling trapped and desperate inside. 

I was driven out of Russian studies at Brown University as a undergraduate by a professor who bullied me mercilessly.  He also incited the other professors against me, and I later found out that he was an anti-Semite because I happened to find his name on a petition against Israel and the Jews recently.  I gave up my dream of pursuing a PhD in Russian studies and becoming a professor because I knew that I couldn’t function socially in the academic world, and later I realized that the problem was my Asperger’s made it completely impossible for me to function socially in any office setting.
Later I studied Russian for 2 years, and I tried to find work as a Russian-language researcher.  Despite the best efforts of my two professors in the field, I couldn’t find a job in this area either.    

I tried to make a living as a freelance writer and analyst of Middle Eastern studies.  I spent many wasted years writing a book on Iraq in support of the Iraqi democratic movement and in support of the U.S. invasion and liberation of Iraq.  I couldn’t get any articles published, and unfortunately I don’t have the opportunity to visit a liberated Iraq for a very simple reason.  I am a Jew who has chosen to visit Israel, and Iraq remains officially at war with Israel and the Jews. Once you show that you have visited Israel on your passport, Iraq will not let you into the country.  In addition, even though I dedicated six years of my life to the Iraqi liberation movement, my Iraqi democratic contacts never lifted a finger to help me careerwise.  I feel they used me for their own purposes.

I also supported the Iranian secular democratic movement in 2009 to 2010, and this experience led me to another dead end careerwise.  The Iranian opposition in exile exploited me and then discarded me, making no effort to help me find work in the field.  My effort to support the Syrian uprising in 2011 was another waste of time as well. 

So I knew as soon as I received that email containing a partial fellowship offer that it was time for me to cut my losses and move on.  I have wasted more than enough years of my life in a field where I have no chance of ever earning a living, and so it is time for me to move on to fields where hopefully my talents will be more needed and appreciated.

I think that perhaps the funder may have done me a favor by not offering me a full scholarship for my project.  I think that Middle Eastern studies is an impossible place for a Jewish woman who supports Israel and the Jews and who supports the cause of freedom in the Arab and Islamic world.  So perhaps his decision to offer me partial funding helped to spare me the experience of spending my career in a hopelessly hostile and anti-Jewish environment. 

Having been excluded from the standard career options in the field such as academia and government because of the Asperger’s, I wasted many years of my life scrounging around on the margins of international relations.  Having recognized the futility of this endeavor, I am gradually moving on from this terrible ordeal.  
I am beginning to heal because I know that the reason I was denied the full funding for the project was that I wasn’t meant to remain in the field of international relations.  I am sad and disappointed at the outcome of my experience in the field.  But I have also come to recognize that the reason I was repeatedly rejected in the field is that I don’t belong in this profession. So the many people who rejected me in this profession were acting not out of malice but out of their inner understanding that international relations was not the right place for me.

I haven’t fully forgiven the many professors who blocked me from pursuing a career in international relations.  But I realize that holding on to anger, hatred, and grudges is making me physically ill.  I am beginning to explore the possibility of forgiving the professors who mistreated me in this field. 
I still have a hard time forgiving their behavior because they have expressed no remorse to me for their actions, and so I have no reason to believe they are sorry for what they have done to me.  Judaism generally teaches that the sinner must show some evidence of atonement or repentance before you can forgive him or her.  In the absence of such atonement, I don’t really know how I can forgive people who have hurt me so deeply.

At the same time, I am seeing that I am hurting myself with my anger. I am looking for another path for coping with injustice.  I am wondering whether forgiving even bad and unrepentant people will liberate me from fear and anger.  I am thinking that opening my heart to forgiveness even to terrible sinners may allow me to heal from the trauma they have inflicted upon me.  My friends are pointing out that my anger at my abusers is controlling me and that the process of forgiveness can liberate me to fulfill my purpose in life.   By forgiving my abusers, I can release and reduce their choke-hold upon my mind, body, and spirit.  I am pondering these new and strange ideas and trying to process what they mean to me and how to implement them in my life.