March 21, 2011

Take the risk, and other advice

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to meet with a "senior human-rights activist", a person who has spent a significant amount of time working in DC, both for the government and NGOs, and in Africa trying to make things better. He came to my alma mater to give career advice to students. And while I appreciate that he did that, I don't think he really thought about what he was doing. (I also appreciate the work he is doing. He might be the best in his field. But...)

I never thought of myself as a risk-taker. I actually never really thought about what my attitude towards taking a risk is. I just always assumed that things are going to work and I never considered anything I've done really risky. Well, until now. I think I knew that coming back to the US might be a risky decision. I knew that in the back of my mind and that is why it was so hard for me to make this decision. But nothing else really seemed risky to me - going to South Africa, Ghana... I never thought there was something to be afraid of, or worried about. But then I met this guy and he tells me "You have to take the risk! You can't just go for the comfortable options! Otherwise you won't ever get the job you want!" 

So I heard this and I know that many people would agree with him and would think that his advice is brilliant. But I just got angry. "Who are you to judge me from your (comfortable) seat? You don't even know me and you just immediately assume that all I've done was sitting on my couch, doing whatever is comfortable?" That's basically what went through my mind. And then I thought about it... And maybe for the first time ever, I thought about risk-taking in my life. And yes - this is very relevant to my job search process.

First of all, I'm not American (as you know). Therefore, coming back to this country for me means taking a big risk. A huge one, actually. I came to a country that has a higher unemployment rate than my home country. I came here to find a job. I have basically no money and I didn't have a job secured before coming here. As you know, I still don't have a job. But I still did it and I still think that this can have only two possible endings - either a great happy ending, or I'll call my parents one day and will ask them to lend me money (yes, how about getting more into debt?) so that I can buy a ticket to go home. Right now I have a place to stay thanks to a great friend of mine, but I have no idea what's going to happen in a month and half. No idea... Is that risky enough for you? Because while people keep telling me that I'm in the same position as all the other people who are about to graduate, trust me, I'm not. They have parents in this country, most of them just a few hour drive away. I don't. And thus, for the first time in my life, I realized that I actually am a risk taker. I just tend to underestimate everything I do and thus I don't consider most of the things I do to be risky. (By the way - underestimating oneself isn't the best quality when it comes to job hunt. Trust me. :))

"That man's" advice has one more part (or sub-part of the previous one) - "just pack your stuff and go to Africa. Take a couple more thousands dollars in loans and go. It doesn't matter what you're going to be doing there, you can carry babies in an orphanage for a year; people will still consider that as on-ground experience."
Now, don't get me wrong. I do think that on-ground experience matters (but people from outside of the US don't have the Peace Corps to do it so "easily"), but if what he says is true than I don't feel like entering that field. All I've done so far I've done without any country's government's help (yes, referring to the Peace Corps), without any organization's help (now referring to voluntourism). I wanted to go, I found a way, I went. I don't think it's such a big deal. But at the same time, there are things I'm proud of. I'm proud of what I did in Ghana because I know it was hard. So if someone tells me that my two Masters degrees and my - albeit limited compared to many, of course - experience mean absolutely nothing, and that the thing that will save my career is doing nothing if I do that in a developing country, then I don't think that's the way I want to go. Would't that be waste of my time? Am I the only one who feels that way? I have skills and passion to actually do meaningful things. I know I have a lot to learn still, but who doesn't? It is impossible to reach any point of ultimate knowledge in this field anyways.

However, hearing this makes me, sometimes, wonder whether there's really nothing else for me. Whether I really have nothing to offer. But I don't want to give up.

March 13, 2011

The job search so far needs an update...

I am aware of it. Just a quick one for now. I moved back to the US. I've been here for a little more than a month now, got my work permit about 2 weeks ago and went back to my old job for now to get time to find a job while saving some money to be able to move somewhere once (if) I find a job.

How's the job search? Inspiring sometimes, frustrating other times... People seem to think it is easy - all you do is write cover letters and send resumes. Try to write more than three cover letters a day. And try to do that knowing that the people are probably not even going to respond. (And sometimes when they do, you talk to them and realize that you wouldn't want to work for/with them.) So when you get to this point, make sure there's something that will keep your self-esteem high enough, because this job search process isn't necessarily good for your self-esteem.

I've settled on three areas in which I'd want to work within the international development field. The major one is kids, and then women and HIV/AIDS. Of course, you can't separate them most of the time. (And by now I could probably give you a lecture on all the ways these topics are related.) But since the major area is children, I decided to contact all organizations in Pittsburgh that work with kids, to at least get an internship while I'm here. So far, I've met with one, tomorrow I'm meeting another one, so wish me luck. I bet there is some, somewhere. When I had my last interview I realized how passionate I get, without even trying, when it comes to working with children who haven't been so lucky in their lives as I - and many of you who read this - have been. Such work just makes so much sense to me.

And so I've been working on this - trying to get more relevant experience because finding the "real dream job" is hard. It's not that the jobs aren't out there. They are. It's just that there are probably too many people applying for the same position and without connections, it is hard. I met with an Egyptian lady who works for the World Bank the other day and she said - "There must be a ton of jobs in development, the world is falling apart." And I agree... She also listened to my story and told me that I should start my own NGO, that she thinks I can do it. I remember her words when my self-esteem goes down... :-) 

So what's the plan? Well, the plan is to find a meaningful job, of course. Which might work and might not. Nobody knows. I'm not giving up, that's for sure. I'm going to give myself some time limit, though, and meanwhile I'll try to save as much money as possible so that when the time runs up, I have enough money to move. Somewhere. Probably to Africa. And make things happen. (Me and my friend are going to come up with a project. We both love Africa and kids and we both want to do something that helps kids. We have ideas and passion and I believe we can do it.)

PS: I might write about meeting "a senior human rights activist" I met the other day and the only advice he has for everyone. About getting the work permit. And about the things that seem to matter when looking for a job and when living somewhere. Let me know if you have any questions or something you'd want to read about