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.

1 comment:

Toulonnaise for a while said...

Mooooooc Ti drzim palce. Jsi moc statecna. Ja bych tahkle asi uz nikam nejela. L