The Successful vs Fulfilling Career Choice

GenerationY

One of the greatest conundrums that confront the sincerely naive millennial graduate is the apparent trade-off between ‘successful’ and ‘fulfilling’ careers. After years of discussing big ideas and debating solutions the world’s most intractable problems, we enter a murky world of endless applications to faceless corporate giants and confront the reality that we must begin to think about money, earning a livelihood and social prestige. I will make an inevitably ill-fated attempt at discussing the key difficulties confronting all those who try to reconcile the two aims.

Most people don’t actually have much of a choice as providing for themselves is a more pressing concern. But for those of us that have the luxury of choice, what do we do?

(In case you’re worried I’m being too harsh with my millennial stereotypes – I assure you I am mocking myself as much as my fellow dreamers.)

Are they Mutually Exclusive?

Fulfillment as a term can often be used in a rather half-baked way; it takes more forms than only dedicating your life to altruism, charity and social care. Whilst those are without doubt the most noble of pursuits – it is quite self-evident that even providing for one’s family, saving in order to better educate one’s children, being diligent with your responsibilities and by doing so being a role model to others, are universally fulfilling. These fulfillments can be present in virtually any ‘normal’ occupation that doesn’t actively undermine human welfare – which is most.

In that sense, fulfillment and success can probably coincide. Perhaps those of us growing up fortunate enough not to worry about these things – i.e. taking it as a given we will be able to provide for our future families and children – undervalue these aspects of ‘normal’ work.

You might contend that the definition of ‘success’ is hotly contested, but arguably our society has settled on quite an established view of success. Whilst this may vary slightly from culture to culture, when you attend a good university and have a solid educational foundation, success is pursuing a career that is well paid, socially respected and involves advancement and promotion. Despite my millennial objections, this is how the world sees ‘success’. Alternative definitions are, perhaps unfortunately, murmurs of discontent from the fringes of mainstream society. It takes a brave soul to defy the social expectations of ‘success’ and pursue their own vision of personal ‘success’.

The World Needs our Talent

There are those who make reasonable arguments about the good people can do from within mainstream occupations – both by being proactive on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) front at work, but also by engaging with good causes in their personal time outside of work. This is probably fair, although I would be interested to figure out how many people who work the 60+ hour-weeks most in London do actually feel this to be the case.

However, there is a potent counter-argument. In an era of great challenges, from the persistence of poverty to the rise of inequality, the unassailable acceleration of climate change and resurgence of war, civil strife and nationalism, the world needs at least some of its most talented to turn their attention to these problems. If all the best graduates go into well-paid professions that, whilst hardly wrong, aren’t actively contributing to solving these problems, the likelihood we can tackle them is surely low.
In my mind, this argument is potent. Unfortunately, however, it seems that far too often more fulfilling career routes are beset with uncertain entry routes, persistent lack of stability and financial security and a myriad of discontent blog-posts from disillusioned people (often fellow millennials) within the sector.

University is Expensive–

What is the ‘Return’?

A part of me constantly returns to the pragmatic financial concerns surrounding further education. University is expensive – £9,000 in the UK, and often even more in the US. Is it not a reasonable expectation for that sizeable financial investment in our skills (‘human capital’) to bring a positive and proportionate ‘return’?

I mean – is a £27,000 investment worth it if our lifetime earnings are barely improved, and low compared to others? I don’t know – it’s a crude point but if I’m honest with myself, the crippling cost of university does point us in this direction.
I would like to think the ‘returns’ of education go far beyond income. Surely, they do? Perhaps if we content ourselves with the idea that the benefit we bring to humanity, in whatever form that takes, constitutes the highest form of return, then this concern is allayed.

 

So, for those of us desperately trying to convince ourselves our concern for the state of the world is genuine… I don’t really have any answers. Do you?

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Visiting the Homeland – Our own White Saviour Complex

Lahore

Recently, I travelled to my country of origin; Pakistan.

The nation gets a lot of press. Stereotypes exist about most countries, but few exceed the capture of the public imagination that Pakistan has unwittingly managed to achieve. So I found myself consciously navigating some of the difficulties of interacting with ‘back home’ from the perspective of an ‘educated’, Western mind (not entirely Anglicized, mind you).

I was keen not to expect the country to conform to the headlines; constant explosions, acts of blatant misogyny and endemic corruption. As HONY put much better than I ever could recently, limited headline space lends itself to negative news; most countries in strife are depicted with disproportionate negativity in Western (and probably all) media outlets. So I wasn’t expecting chronic insecurity and societal meltdown – I understand people still get on with their lives, and that the idea Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state is a horrendous mischaracterization of the nation.

Sure enough, the country pleasantly surprised me. I was not made to feel unsafe even once, in the mountainous regions or the cities, and if I was it was more due to the audacious traffic and winding mountain roads than any aspect of culture or social norms. The Kharokhorum highway is an incredible feat of engineering, and Lahore’s streets were remarkably clean and well-kept, and we encountered no obvious corruption or police misbehaviour. I don’t mean to say there aren’t great problems facing the country, but the idea it is an unliveable hell and filled with angry extremists is patently absurd.

Now, to my difficulty. How does an outsider, a Western, British-Pakistani Muslim, go about evaluating and discussing the faults and shortcomings of ‘back home’? It is no easy matter. Firstly, one needs the humility to accept people who live in the country know it far better than our reading of the headlines allows us to. Secondly, we also need to accept norms and cultures may very justifiably be different back home from Western society.

These don’t come naturally for one simple reason; the ‘White Saviour Complex’ that we criticize so unfailingly ourselves, is also something we have implicitly accepted and adopted into our own narratives of back home. This is evidenced by how many immigrant communities, a few generations down the line, almost instinctively cast disapproving proverbial glances back in the direction of their ancestral lands.

We enumerate the many ‘backward’ elements of the culture of our elders, and by extension our countries of origin. We also presume that, merely by virtue of our Western education, we know the solutions to most if not all the problems of our nations, implying that the people there are in their less-than-ideal situation simply due to their comparative lack of competence. Isn’t that arrogant?
We make sweeping generalisations only based on the headlines we read giving no thought to the possibility there may be more to the country than that; we essentialise entire nations with the bad, ignoring the mountains of good. And there is always good.

Sheltered ‘Brit-Paks’ lounging in leafy suburbs, radically divorced even from the reality of inner-city London, making broad pronouncements about the hopelessness of Pakistan and the backwardness of its culture, makes me want to do things I would rather not verbalise. It is horrendously naïve, arrogant and ultimately a product of the broader Western narrative, into which we have been rather successfully integrated. Responsibility for this cultural failure lies only on us, and nowhere else, even if the forces of influence that push us in this direction are fundamental to Western society.

This cannot mean that we refuse to discuss the situation of our countries of origin at all. Rather, we need to acknowledge our views can often spill into prejudice and ignorance, both of which can very easily occur in relation to one’s own people. Thereafter, it would hopefully be easier for diaspora communities from developing countries to have a meaningful engagement with said nations. This would benefit the latter, but also the former in allowing us to adopt a more balanced approach to fusing the cultures of Western society and that of our ancestral homelands.

Definitely Not Confused – Pakistanis & ‘Brit-Paks’

BritPak

“So are you from Pakistan?” she asked. I proceeded, for not the first time since arriving at university, to explain that Pakistan was my country of origin, Britain my country of nationality and that I had grown up elsewhere.

“Ah, confused.” she stated, matter-of-factly, nodding her head in a part-sympathetic, part-patronizing manner, as if she knew all she needed to know to psycho-analyze my very existence. Well, I thought, I certainly didn’t come here for judgement to be passed on me by passer-byers, but since you are offering your self-evident wisdom to me for free, I suppose I ought to be grateful.

So marked the beginning of a prolonged background experience for me at university in dealing with my peers from my ancestral homeland; mostly rich Pakistani kids from a handful of elite schools and families. ‘Background’, because such views never bothered or distracted me for more than a moment in those 3 years, yet I always felt this sentiment lingering in my interactions with them.
I state the following with the caveat in mind that many of the Pakistanis I met on campus were agreeable and open-minded chaps, but this phenomena has occurred far too often for it to be anything less than a social trend.

For some reasons, many Pakistanis completely fail to understand the very concept of a comfortably British Pakistani community, with English as its mother tongue and Britain as its primary country of allegiance. It is either a conceptual shortcoming, or sheer ambivalence towards individuals who form part of this community (most of whom didn’t make the choice of migration themselves anyhow). Perhaps at the back of their minds they believe those who left Pakistan for greener pastures have somehow betrayed the nation, although as much is certainly never said. Perhaps they harbour some kind of rivalry or jealousy with Pakistanis who have become successful abroad. Perhaps their condescension stems from our inability to speak Urdu, or perceived ‘Anglicisation’. I admit I have yet to figure out the source of this misunderstanding, but it certainly baffles me given they are an otherwise intelligent and cultured group of students.

If it wasn’t so disappointing, their unintentional irony would be cause for some bemusement.

They are the same people who speak English in Pakistan as a sign of their class, and look down on the middle and lower classes who speak indigenous languages.

They are the same people who seem so uneasy with the culture, religion and traditions of the great mass of Pakistani people, instead opting for overt Westernisation and conformity with homogenised global norms. I don’t mean to reverse the condescension, but who are you to look down on my identity struggles?

And do we struggle with our identity? Sure. Being British, Pakistani, Muslim, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants in a country that is changing rapidly, hailing from a nation mired in crisis and global scrutiny – that’s not easy. Nor is it so difficult to be debilitating to us as a community. We do have issues, but we are dealing with those issues ourselves – we don’t need input from outsiders that haven’t the slightest appreciation of our circumstance.

So thank you for your concern, but really, no thanks.

And, as it happens, I’m not confused at all – but you are.