Every now and then a light bulb comes on and we see what has been lurking right in front of us. I've been working on this Joint Venture in China for 20 months now, and as most overly-motivated corporate citizens know, you should start looking for your next step at or around the 2-year mark. As I've been thinking about what to do next, I've been presented with choices like:
A) Work in a politically-charged US corporate environment for a lot more money and status in the hierarchy,
B) Work in a more relaxed US corporate environment for a smaller pay increase, less travel, and good development opportunities,
C) Work as a China expat for a US corporation for the most financial benefit of all options while using my hard-learned language skills but dragging my boyfriend somewhat unwillingly,
D) Go into business with some high-risk, high-reward Chinese entrepreneurs that have expressed interest,
E) Seek out a simpler, less mobile life and downgrade my salary and move to Charleston, SC while leaving the corporate world behind.
Before you South Carolinians get all excited, I'm not picking Option E. (Although Charleston may still be in my 5-year plan, it's not my next move.) I had my epiphany while I was thinking about these various options, and I didn't recognize it at first because it was so sacrilegious and counter to everything that I have focused on academically since 2007, but can be summed up in one sentence: I don't love working in China!
WHAT? For those of you that have worked or traveled with me in China, you have seen me hollering at a taxi driver in Chinese, squeezing the last $0.50 out of a street vendor, and terrorizing the waitstaff like only a local can do, and you thought, "this girl is in her element." Minus the blonde hair, I can practically blend right in. In fact, the ultimate complement I received in my Chinese studies was when a client (previously only communicated with me via the phone) couldn't find me in the hotel lobby because he was looking for a Chinese face! So why would I not want to use that skill to the fullest? I could stay and grow in China until I have a small empire, or at least an impressive net worth. But recently I was sitting in the back of a taxi, feeling car-sick, on the way to the office...and I thought:
"Ug, I really don't want to go to the office today. (in Shanghai)
Actually, I never want to go to the office.
In fact, I don't really enjoy Monday-Friday.
But....I'm supposed to love China!?
Hmm, I love my Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays in this city.
I've always had such a good time here with my friends, they are some of the best in the world.
And I really thrived here as a student...
I definitely loved studying in China.
And I will always love playing in China.
But the truth is, I really don't like working here!"
I don't think that I always disliked working in China. There was a time when everything was new, challenging and exciting. I think that as the years have passed and I've become an 'old China hand,' those things that used to be "new, challenging, and exciting" are now "exhausting, needlessly complex and frustrating." I am also now far too experienced with phrases like "circular negotiations," "expected bribe" and "ulterior motives." The crazy experiences are numerous, and most people in the US office would never believe it happened. It can all be very exciting the first time you experience this stuff because you feel like you are seeing/learning/understanding a whole new world. Then one day you realize...It's been a great experience, but you no longer want to operate in that environment longer than you have to.
I am currently working in one of the most complex business models available in the business world: a minority-share joint venture with a state-owned company in which the only customer is also the majority partner. For those of you in international business, you know that there is nothing good about that sentence. Therefore, I am aware that this particular situation I am in is contributing to heightened emotions, but I have still come to the conclusion that no matter how much money a corporation throws at me right now, I want my next position to be US-based. I don't mind (and would actually prefer) the opportunity to travel to China each year for short trips, but I do not want a job that is 80-100% based in China. All the cheap massages and pedicures in the world aren't going to make up for the levels of frustration that I would experience, and the stress of working both time zones as you try to accommodate US office hours.
So what path am I going to take? Probably Option B. I will keep my China relationships and friends forever, but I just don't plan to co-locate with them for much longer. This will be good for my sanity, my health, and my boyfriend. However, I will be forever grateful that I learned Chinese and spent this many years here. Besides giving me some of the best friends I could ask for, these experiences opened many doors for me in the university and corporate worlds. I wouldn't be where I am today, with this many choices in front of me, without my China experiences. So I thank you, China. And Goodbye for a while.