Cornell West, eminent scholar who has offered essential comment in the discourse of contemporary American questions, has determined to return to his roots at the age of 58. In a statement about West’s decision to return to Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary where he started as an assistant professor in 1977, Rev. Serene Jones, Union’s President said, “As you get older, the more integrated your life is, the healthier it feels and the less time you have to spend waking up deciding who you’re going to be that day.” What a remarkable statement! And, it is the relief of advancing age that each day I wake up I spend less and less time deciding who I’m going to be that day.
West’s statement also indicated that he knew his days of fullest engagement in his work were numbered and thus, he wanted to pursue the work he was called to do on this earth. The joy of being in Qatar is that I fully identify with, and am buoyed each day by, the comfort of knowing who I am and knowing that my work is worthwhile and purposeful. And, I know that there is no place I would rather be than Qatar in a time when higher education is so important to young people around the globe.
One of the topics I’ve struggled to understand of late is the question of working in places like Qatar, and many other emerging economies where expatriates work. There are many benefits to being here but it also requires some sacrifices that can weigh you down. It is being aware of the balancing act of fulfillment in the work against the sacrifices that it takes to be here that requires constant monitoring. Lack of self-awareness on this question can be deadly. Deep awareness, while painful, at least allows me (and perhaps others) to focus attention in ways that maintains a tolerable balance. I hope to explore this more in future posts that are informed by talking to some of the other expatriates and Qatari colleagues with whom I work. We have a lot to learn from each other.