On Leaving the WHO

People often ask me what it’s like to live the life of someone who gets to do the socially moral or good thing– and get paid for it. I can’t really say I’ve been brave enough to really live out the lifestyle this work really requires, but I know someone that has. Johanna has spoken up for populations you’ve likely never even heard of or cannot locate on a map. In the end, she would say that you just do what you can with what limited resources you have, and when the job decides so– it often tells you when it’s time to go. The work is often mired in bureaucracy and politics and with unspeakable strings and a myriad of strange and spontaneous winds that takes you away to other lands and employment contracts, but she keeps doing it because in some strange sense of the phrase, it– what she does– really has become a labor of love. And here’s Jo’s latest…


from: Johanna

to: Charlene

date: Wed, May 3, 2017 at 3:09 AM

subject: Some musings

Hey Char,

A lot has been on my mind, particularly regarding my professional life, and you are my go-to for so many life things that I just had to put it all down somewhere and send it to you, so here goes:

Now that it is May, the finality of the 22nd being my last day of work is definitely hitting me. Considering that I am the type of person who gains a lot of self-worth from what I put out into the world, especially job-wise, I know this is going to be a rough day for me. Even though I know that WHO is not where I belong, even though I know that I can and will (eventually) find something better, and even though I know there is freedom in saying goodbye to the bullshit, it’s still going to sting and sting hard.

I feel like the possibilities are simultaneously limitless and finite. Limitless in the sense that I could actually go anywhere and do anything. And finite in the sense that I have been around the block enough to know the boundaries of what does and does not satisfy me in a work environment, so I will not just accept anything. Further, I know I have a lot more to give than I have currently been ‘allowed’ to contribute and I do not want to be in a place that holds me back whatsoever.

I mean, the progression of my career has been atypical, as has the way I have made life decisions until now. I have always had ‘the next big thing’ presented to me and I took it. The Fulbright, the UNV to Cairo, the staff contract at Headquarters. Four different countries in the last three years. It is something I have yet to fully process because as soon as I get used to one thing, I am off to the other. This is the first time there has not been ‘a big thing’ for me to move onto and it’s difficult. And strange.

That sounds terribly egotistical and privileged, but it’s true. And it is a good exercise for my ego to have to digest this fact—this aspect of the situation is not lost on me—but it is certainly not easy. Everyone is like, ‘You will land on your feet.’ ‘You will be just fine.’ ‘It’s a blessing in disguise.’ And all that bullshit. But right now, in this moment, I am not sure of any of those things. Because at the heart of it, I am losing my job and I do not have an ‘anything’, let alone ‘a big thing’, with which to move forward.

If you were to ask me what I want to do if I could do anything, I would probably say write a book that changes people’s thinking on any of the multitude of issues you and I often banter about; to somehow harness the tidal wave of information and channel it into specific actions/different ways of thinking that change an issue for the better. My natural inclinations and skills mean that I am best suited to do this on women’s rights issues, but the frameworks are obviously transferrable because when fighting injustice, whether it means smashing the patriarchy or dismantling the prison industrial complex, you’re fighting inequalities within systems—the outputs of which are similar.

For instance, the gender pay gap exists from an amalgam of targeting, stereotyping, and discriminating based on gender, just as gaps in the prison population (read: overrepresentation of minorities) are caused by a toxic blend of targeting, stereotyping and discriminating based on race (please excuse the various oversimplifications in making this point, but you get the basic idea). In other words, I think I would be happy working on any issue for which I can craft a human rights-based approach to resolving, hopefully largely outside of the confines of my current job.

Perhaps this is my time to remove myself from a system that I find unjust and time to use my own creative abilities to solve the issues I find most pressing. How the hell do I do that? Who knows…can I just get Fulbrights for the rest of my career? Haha. In seeking guidance on this fact, a lot of people have told me that I need to move into something that allows me to regularly present ideas to big audiences. Thing is, I also acutely recognize that the only way to do this meaningfully is with status and power, as disgusting and intriguing as I find that fact to be. And guess what? The fucking UN is likely the best place to find this platform.

So here I am, going full circle on this issue and true to the saying’s (and the shape’s) form, landing back where I started. None the wiser. Update on current situation: I spoke with the other consultants and NGOs today. They really want me in Cape Town in June, which is encouraging. Thus, it seems, should I wish to accept it, that I will be contracted to work in South Africa for June and the UK for July, culminating with a presentation of the project to stakeholders at a conference in Panama on 26 July. Not a bad stop-gap solution, but also not ideal. I am 50% excited and 50% bummed, the reasons for which I cannot fully articulate. Again, who knows…

All the love,




from: Charlene

to: Johanna

date: Wed, May 3, 2017 at 8:10 AM

subject: Re: Some musings

Well… the shit is in the pudding. It’s okay to feel things about losing your job, especially if it’s because people are more concerned with their image than their impact and because a certain dumpster fire became president.
Further, those two things are interrelated since dumpster fires cause some of us to go into survival mode and operate from a scarcity mentality.
Nothing on them, they’re fierce… but it is what it is. Impact man, sometimes I wish everyone could see the bigger picture– especially women in positions of leadership.
Having said that, you will land on your feet. There might be some interim bullshit, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen.
LOVE YOU and I will write you a more thorough analysis tonight when I get home– but for now…
Love you,
*Feature Photo by Johanna in Grindelwald, Switzerland

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