This Monday started the six-week long time that is known in the State Department as bidding season. Similar to a worldwide game of musical chairs, it's the time when all the officers that are leaving next summer secure their onward assignment. A long list is published with all of the openings and everyone is left to find a job that fits their qualifications, experience, and personal preferences. It resembles middle-school note passing, with various ways of expressing interest and trying to find someone that likes you as much as you like them. The music stops this year, ironically, on the day after election day, when job offers are sent out and hopefully everyone has found a new spot.
For me, bidding season is equal parts anticipation and sheer terror. I am a planner and always want to know where we're going next as soon as we get to our new post. The excitement of a new place always calls to me, and I love poring through the list of positions as soon as they come out, imagining all of the great things about the various places on the list. There are endless possibilities - as long as they are all possibilities.
But inevitably, reality occurs and I have to narrow down the list and Brandon has to get to work actually securing a job. There may be a job that seems perfect for us and Brandon seems well suited for, but the post may like somebody more than him. Too many factors go in to bidding to make any post a sure deal until the end, so I just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.
This bidding cycle is the most interesting cycle we've had so far. Brandon's first two cycles were directed assignments, which meant that we just submitted a wish list and someone else did the choosing. Cairo was our first pick, and Baku our second, so there wasn't much disappointment when we got our assignments. When Brandon bid for the first real time, we were on the winter cycle which had about four jobs that he could do. Our options were Dushanbe, Lima, or Africa, so we were quite happy with Dushanbe. When we got the job in Tashkent, Brandon bid only on Russian-speaking jobs which made for another restricted list of possibilities.
This time, however, we are bidding during the summer cycle and are not restricting our posts to Russian-speaking posts. When Brandon narrowed down the list to posts in three geographic areas that had houses and R&R flights, we came up with thirty possible jobs. Every single one of the jobs were in places that were completely reasonable. Living in Dushanbe does move a lot of other countries into the 'completely reasonable' category, and it was nice to see so many options.
We've not been in the Foreign Service for eleven years, and I've become less picky about where we live. I've given up the idea of trying to find the 'perfect' post, as every place has its upsides and downsides. There are always tradeoffs, and so it is easier to just try for everything and see what works out, instead of hoping for that one post that is perfect and being disappointed when it doesn't work out.
I have done a little bit of research on possible future posts, but not that much. In former years, I obsessively searched for every single possible detail about each city, trying to figure out which one was the absolute best. I haven't bothered this time, figuring that I probably only need to start comparing pros and cons if Brandon actually gets several job offers. Otherwise, why bother learning all of the great things about a city that you'll never actually visit, much less live in?
In about four and a half weeks, the dust will settle and we will know what new country will join our list of strange places we've lived in. All of the future possibilities will have collapsed down in to one single eventuality and my planner can start working on realities. I'll start obsessively searching out every possible detail of what our next assignment will be like, and the countdown clock will start ticking in the back of my head. I will daydream about all the adventures or try to think of ways to make up for all the deficiencies that will be there.
But for now, the future is still uncertain and in that future many things are possible. I hope it turns out well.