The language of business management is foreign to me, so when I began to read this memoir by Sharon Nir, The Opposite of Comfortable, and soon found myself in the land of "Knowledge Management" and "The Magic of Repositioning," the terminology was only jargon. The style seemed like the reportage of an MBA, and I was a little slow to become engaged.
But I did get into it, once I realized that this is a memoir that could help me grow as a person. The Opposite of Comfortable is exactly where I was as a reader. The book held a life that was both wildly unfamiliar, and yet also the life of Everywoman. This particular woman—Sharon Nir—was from Tel Aviv. She studied in New York, and loved the city, but returned to Israel and was building a family there. Here was a person whose cultural heritage and life experience were at once both strange and familiar to me. That shook me awake.
A career-oriented woman of enormous intelligence and ambition, Nir begins her memoir from the place of being a new mother, juggling the needs of baby, husband, and employer. She is a well-educated young woman who faces a difficult decision when her husband is offered a surgical fellowship in New York City. She considers staying in Israel with her infant son for the two years required, reluctant to give up her home, to be far from family and friends, but most especially unhappy to be giving up her work. She is Project Manager, "responsible for the design and implementation of a Knowledge Management system," which is transforming the large corporation that employs her. It's a job that still has great potential for career growth and that gives her enormous personal satisfaction. In New York, she would not be allowed a work visa, and she is feeling the burn of giving up her career in favor of her husband's. She is also making the tough adjustment to motherhood, and would miss the family support and familiar childcare of Tel Aviv. There are many pages of indecision, but Nir finally chooses to keep her family together and follows her husband to the U.S.
It's not a surprise when Nir finds herself depressed and lonely. The strain of her husband's long hours at work and her frustration and isolation bring discord. The brief hours they have together are often wasted in argument. One evening she tells him, "I joined you because I understood the value of a family. But having a career is equally meaningful..."
He responds, "I haven't met a person who was loved by his or her career. Inversely, I have met people who loved their career in a way that destroyed every personal connection they had. You are worthy and irreplaceable to me more than you can imagine." But Nir can only reply, "I am so sad. I may have made a mistake and ruined my life." With insight she's gained in the years since, she now admits, "I wasn't able to absorb either the significance or the kindness of his words." That ability to look back and reflect is one of the treasures of memoir. Our challenges may be different but they always reveal our human ability to grow.
I sometimes forgot that Nir was an Israeli, though I was certainly reminded and fascinated by her cultural commentary, including discussions of U.S. Immigration rules and procedures. Nir's business acumen becomes more evident while her voice becomes more natural, as the story unfolds, but for me, what is most significant in The Opposite of Comfortable is a modern woman's struggle, and the creation of a new American family. Around the world, women share the predicament of finding a life balance that nurtures a happy family, grows a satisfying career, serves the larger community, and fulfills their inner need and purpose. Sharon Nir tells the story of her success and joy in coming to that balance as an American woman, rearing her children in a new place, putting down new roots. As it did for me, this is a story to spur awareness and growth.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Sharon Nir was born in Tel Aviv but her life path has made her a U.S. citizen. She has a BA from Tel Aviv University, specializing in language and literature, and holds a teaching certificate in Israel. She is also an accomplished businesswoman, developing the first knowledge management system in Israel, and later gaining an MBA from Northeastern University. Nir currently resides with her family in New Mexico. Excerpts and more info are available on her website.
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