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Have it Bad? You don’t know Jack!
posted on September 4, 2012 in Professional/Career Development
Note: The entry below is based off of a conversation. Names, places, and locations have been changed to maintain that person’s confidentiality.
I met with Jack for a drink in our neighborhood’s beer garden. He has worked at a part-time job in the international affairs field for over two years and is doing freelance work for a research firm on K Street.
“I’m tired of working irregular hours at the [part-time job] and I don’t know if this research firm is going to lead to anything promising. I thought that putting the time and effort into MA degree in international affairs might yield better opportunities for my career, but I just feel stuck.”
Jack has a passion for international development and hopes to apply both his academic interests and the portfolio of professional skills he has developed since his entry into the workforce.
“Did you look at the Peace Corps and other international development programs?
“I tried the Peace Corps several months ago, but they were not accepting applications at the time. Just yesterday I received an email asking me to outline ‘what I had learned’ in the intervening months.”
“That’s frustrating. What else have you been up to?”
“Well, I’ve been volunteering at this women’s homeless shelter for the past few years, and stepped up my involvement over the past six months.”
“Wow! How did you get involved in that?”
A friend of mine introduced me to the shelter several years ago, and I’ve been volunteering there ever since.
“How has it been going?”
“Well it’s definitely what I expected when I came to DC, to study International Politics. I go in during the allotted hours they need me and I don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s just talking with the women while other times I might be helping out with maintenance; occasionally I might even mediate conflicts. The place keeps me on the balls of my feet.”
“What do you talk with them about?”
“Well at first I didn’t know. You know, we come from two different worlds. I came from the Midwest for my studies, very much career-oriented. The women come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but invariably they have faced great challenges; greater challenges than I could ever imagine. So while I may complain about professional development, their challenges make my so-called ‘issues’ seem absolutely absurd.”
Jack’s experience with the woman’s shelter brought some much-needed perspective not only to him, but to me as well. His experience brought me back to my time teaching English in rural China where communication and perspective barriers were surprisingly similar.
“Pushing for an international development career is tiring enough, but when I go out to happy hour with friends and colleagues now, I’m tired of hearing the same complaints about ‘injustices’ done to us as we try to get our careers in order. It derives from an undue sense of entitlement: people living at the shelter have real problems trying to stay off the streets while we’re sitting around bitching about what we should be getting.”
There is a lot of frustration out there with the job market in the international affairs’ field. Everyone seems to be applying to the same positions and it seems like what work people do secure is not substantive enough or is not directly in our field of study. Discussing these frustrations is warranted, yet being consumed by them to the point of aloofness towards more pressing societal concerns in DC or globally is as Jack put it, “absurd.” Volunteering will take your mind off of your career struggles and your new sense of perspective will make you a more wholesome person.
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