||A train driver, doctor, fireman, nurse... Or on the other hand, what about a career in telephone sales or data technology? How about training to be a chiropodist or a Feng Shui consultant? The list of possible careers seems endless. Yet, while some are bewildered by the many possible choices, others have no choice because of economic circumstances or the culture they are born into.
Two of my friends say that they always knew what career they wanted - they worked for it and now they are doing it. One is a doctor, the other is a teacher. But for most of us the picture isn't so clear. When I asked a group of people recently what different reasons there were for choosing a career I found their answers fell into three categories:
1. Survival - for ourselves and our families, for enough money for food, clothing and shelter, and if possible at a level which brings dignity.
2. Fulfilling other people's expectations - most powerfully, our parents' expectations, but there are also ways in which our culture holds certain values. The whole area of status, money, possessions and power can come into this area. Being seen to be 'successful' or even useful in the eyes of others can be a powerful force.
3. Fulfilling ourselves by exercising the special and unique talents that each of us has been given. What I find sad is that so many people have so little sense of their own gifts and their own worth that they spend their lives trying to fit into other people's expectations. In Britain at least, too many people look for prestige, salaries, status while feeling more and more miserable and empty inside. What courage it takes to be true to yourself. And yet what rewards...
Mike Lowe, UK
James Earl Jones, the actor with the sonorous voice, once told the story of "The man who would be rich". Ali Hafed was a man of some wealth, but he was unhappy because he did not possess any diamonds. Thus, he sold his farm, put his family into the care of friends, and
set off to search the world for diamonds. Before long, he had used up both his money and his strength. Despondent over his failure to find any, he threw himself into the sea and disappeared. Shortly after this, the man who had purchased his farm saw something flash in a stream whilst watering his camel. He waded in and pulled out a black stone with "an eye of light" reflecting all the hues of the rainbow. The farm was studded with diamonds! If only Ali Hafed had stirred the stream on his own farm he would have found his heart's desire. The moral of the story is that we can become hugely rich by looking for the diamonds in ourselves rather than elsewhere. By concentrating on the resources we have, rather than those we lack, we have something to build upon.
I spent my early life in Tel Aviv, Israel, where my parents had been posted with Ghana's Foreign Service. After graduating with a Bachelor of Law Honours degree in England, I spent some time assisting a Self Esteem Educational Program at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Centre in Virginia, USA. On my return to England, where I am based, I enrolled on a New York State Bar course in London, with the view to sitting the exam in February '97 in New York City. If the purpose of my visit had been a holiday or business, I would not have needed a visa, but because it was for educational purposes I went to the US Consulate in London to obtain one. To my utter dismay I was told that despite my honesty I would not be given a visa. Meanwhile, the rest of the course travelled to the USA surreptitiously as holidaymakers to do the exam.
The story made headlines in the British legal newspapers. By standing up for what is right, hopefully others will be encouraged to do so too, and thereby make a difference. The whole incident has made me look deeper inside. I guess I've begun to dig deeper for diamonds.
Kojo Jantuah, Ghana/UK
As a high school student of electrical engineering in my native town Lukavac, Bosnia, my career path seemed to be designed already. My parents and I enjoyed the thought that one day I would be one of the white-coated engineers working at the nearby industrial complex. But gradually I began to feel there was something wrong with this picture, for my heart was not in it. To end up spending my whole life in a field I was not really interested in was a truly frightening prospect.
English was something I had always wanted to study. Convinced this was my final choice for university, I announced to my parents it would be English or nothing. It caused a revolution in our very traditional family, but my determination was strong enough to
persist until my mother's heart softened and she supported me in trying my luck at the University of Sarajevo. Living away from home is never easy, yet my studies were successful, and my excellent grades convinced my father that this sharp turn against his will was not an escape from hard work but an attempt to pursue my own desires.
In 1992 the dark cloud of ethnic conflict overtook my country. Overnight I found myself a refugee in Serbia. With the help of my relatives I continued my studies at the University of Novi Sad. But my initial enthusiasm and much of my hope in humanity were irretrievably gone. Where was the beauty in studying Shakespeare if only 200 km away, in Bosnia, my father was suffering from hunger and constant shelling? I looked for my own way to protest against the war, and was blessed to combine my fluency in English with my peacemaking beliefs when I got a job with the Ecumenical Humanitarian Service (EHS) in Novi Sad.
My new position mainly involved translation. But my interest in religions and their social impact grew rapidly, together with my admiration for some of my senior colleagues whose strong devotion to humanitarian work sprang out of their personal faith, and aroused a thorough conversion process in me. Soon my work began to include travel, and opened doors for me to explore new opportunities for learning.
I am now at Columbia University in New York, as a Visiting Scholar in their Religion, Religious Freedom and Human Rights program. My next move will take me to the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, where I will be researching the role of churches in the transitional process. In April I will return to my country. My English studies, somewhat forsaken in my search for higher ideals, are waiting to be completed. It is also time to implement in my home country the knowledge and skills I have gained, though I am not yet sure how.
I would never have thought I would do the work I do, but I do it with much love. I have listened to what I felt in my heart - it took effort and a bit of courage, yet it was worth it. Looking back I feel fulfilled, blessed, and empowered to face the challenges my future might yet hold.
Tatjana Peric, Yugoslavia
I stand and look out of my window. Every stage in my life, from the house where I grew up, to my university rooms, to my first and second apartments, and now back to university, has its own special perspective, offering me a new chance to look at the world. Every view different, a new world opening beyond, a new me standing and watching. I'm the thread that combines these windows. We live in a time when it's easy to travel all over the world. Not only can l find the world on my doorstep, via the media, but I can go out and meet the world myself. When I first travelled to another country, I learned that I was, in effect, confronting myself, confronting American life and culture, as well as engaging with my host culture. The doors of the world opened a little wider for me; I could see beyond the shores of myself and longed to continue the journey instead of standing on the threshold. So I did. I took a teaching job in Japan. My parents and some of my friends couldn't understand why I wanted to live so far away. They thought I was running away from America. But I wasn't running away from America, I was running towards it, approaching it with new eyes and finding parts of it deep within me. I met many young people like myself. We all had various reasons for travelling, and various ways of doing so, but what we had in common was the fact that we were actually out in the world, looking into new mirrors and seeing a different reflection of ourselves every day. The view out of my window has become clearer. After my travels, after getting an education and living in Japan and England I finally see a path opening up before me. Writing seems to me the best way to express myself and hopefully to entertain and educate others. Perhaps I would have reached the same decision without leaving America. Perhaps not. But no matter. l've looked out my windows, peered into my mirrors, and because of my experiences l've finally reached a road I want to travel.
Anne Schlitt, USA
I seem to have fallen on my feet throughout my working life. When I started writing software for scientific experiments the Monday after finishing school, I had no idea it would lead to running a small business and helping disabled children. Whenever an opportunity has arisen to try something new, I have always tried to fit it in, and to understand how it might develop my skills, experience and contribution to other people.
My general inclination has always been towards computers and research; I started programming my first computer at the age of thirteen, and was soon answering questions for the teachers at school who were struggling to keep up with the technology! I always assumed that I would go to university, and after that perhaps do a PhD. Every once in a while someone offers me a new job doing something that I might be good at, so I give it a shot and it turns into a long working friendship.
Although it is nice to have money, I do not choose jobs because of the rate they pay. I see being paid as a sign of respect; the employer would rather have your skills than the money they already have. However, there are lots of people who cannot afford to pay a lot for work but are still worth being involved with. So long as I have enough to survive on, I can go from one exciting project to another. Having said that I move easily between jobs does not mean that I do not work hard; I have often spent nights working late into morning, especially when working for my own business. I have always found it worthwhile doing a good job. In my field there are falling standards everywhere; computers are so powerful that computer programmers can be lazy and still get the job done. My employers are happier when I produce a good piece of work which they can be confident will do the job. I now have a reputation in some fields for writing programs that crash less often than others. And my advice to someone setting out in the world of work? Find several things that you like doing and are good at. Keep your dreams alive and take a chance doing something that you like!
Roger Spooner, UK
The concept of vocation and career are very important, as we spend more than half our lives at work. Our work puts its imprint on our personality and attitudes, and on the spirit we pass on to those around us.
The question facing 18-year-olds, "What to do with one's life?", must be a hard one to tackle. I vividly remember myself at this age. I was very sure I should take a course in English language and literature and pursue my career in this field. There are turning points in one's life; a person or book or film which have an impact on the course of events. For me it was my English teacher who impressed me, not only by her rich knowledge of the subject but as an honest and sincere person.
After graduating from university, I had to make another decision: what to do next? It is a fact of life that we all have to learn how to make decisions. Unfortunately - or fortunately - nobody can do it for us. And unless you know who you are, what you stand for, and how you would like to live your life, you cannot make the right decision. Life goes from one decision to another, and like a ladder each step is important and leads to the next new decision and experience.
Having got my degree, I took a year off and went to Britain to work for a charity. It has become a life experience thing, moving out from my own small sphere into a huge exciting, fascinating and bubbling world. Then came the realisation that doing something valuable, and working not only for your own sake but for others, does bring inner satisfaction.
While working as an English teacher at university I asked my students to write on the topic 'Why study?'. One of them said that the main reason people study is to make money. I cannot agree with this. Certainly there has to be the right balance but I find it wrong if people choose their career for money and material comfort, and not for an interest they would enjoy developing, or feel called to. Money is tempting but very often does not bring soul satisfaction.
I have been struggling recently between what to choose: the big money job or the job I am interested in pursuing. I am glad it has worked out for me to do the latter: translating and interpreting at the Finnish Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine. I believe that if each person searches they will have insights into what is the right thing to do with their life.
Svetlana Bednazh, Ukraine
I have been in exile for over nine years. In three days I will turn 28, having travelled a great distance - physically, spiritually and emotionally - since I left my country and my family at the age of 18. To some, the distance may seem quite a small one; Thailand and Burma are, after all, neighbouring countries. But the journey back has been denied me because of my political beliefs.
I left Burma in 1988 while an undergraduate student at Rangoon University. I fled to the jungle along the Thai-Burma border two days after a military 'coup' brought yet another disastrous period of extreme violence and chaos to my country. When I think of the struggle of my people throughout our history, I realise that what has happened to us is not something simple and cannot be resolved by simple means.
In 1988, I believed that I would have to spend no longer than a couple of years in exile, working for the restoration of democracy and justice in Burma by fighting SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) troops. How wrong I was!
When we began our struggle, we hated the military so much we were blinded by our hate. Later I would come to learn that simply 'hating' is a hollow approach that gets us nowhere. Nine years on, my friends and I are still in exile - spread across the globe.
In Thailand I have had a chance to broaden my understanding of Burma and the world. This has happened outside of any classroom. I have also, however, been lucky enough to undertake a Bachelors degree. When it is safe for everybody to return to Burma we will have the mammoth task of reconstructing the country around open and democratic principles. As students in exile, we have a moral responsibility to lead in this process, using the skills we have acquired.
At the moment I am studying a Business Administration degree at a British university based in Thailand. If I had remained in Burma I would not have been able to complete my studies and would probably have worked in my mother's business. I would, by now, be married with a few children to support. I would have been denied the right to think and been forced to concentrate upon basic survival. So, I would not have the same understanding of politics in my country and the rest of the world.
Sometimes I wish that I had remained in Burma. It is such a beautiful and diverse land, and ordinary people treat each other with a kindness that cannot be replaced. But my chance to shape the future of Burmese politics from outside is a privilege that few Burmese inside enjoy.
When I finish my degree I will work endlessly for the reconstruction of Burma. To do this I must first find some stability in myself. When I get married at the end of this month and move to Australia with my wife, I will continue to educate myself, and other people, about the situation in my country. I will continue to think of other ways in which I can work towards change , and to equip myself with the necessary skills to, one day, bring about that change.
A Nge Lay, Burma
In the summer of '95, a national TV station in my country, Taiwan, was looking for a correspondent in Europe. The idea of being a TV reporter was an unexpected one because I am naturally shy. Getting the job was an even bigger surprise... and it's not an easy one!
TV News production is a very speedy process. From the moment the news sources are revealed, until the reporter arrives, does the filming, returns to the studio for voice-over and editing, and transmits the finished work, there may be only two or three hours. There were many times when I was struggling in a traffic jam, with head office shouting down the mobile phone, demanding the finished work. And who could blame them with ten minutes to go until broadcast time?
You also have to be extremely flexible. Being woken at three in the morning and told to go to a far-off country where you don't know a soul was no big deal. From one week to the next I could not predict where I would go or whom I would meet. Of course there were many interesting aspects. Every assignment was a new experience. I went to places I had never even dreamt of, and talked to people I never expected to. Most touching was when my excited parents phoned to say something like, "We just saw you on TV. You should wear something brighter next time!"
Such a glamorous job for most young people... still I decided to leave after two years. Why? Even I don't have a definite answer; I just know that deep in my heart I am still searching for the right thing to do with my life. People ask me what it's like to be out of the fast lane. Sure, I miss it in some ways but I don't regret my decision. There is always something else in life, and I look forward to that 'something else'... when I complete my PhD in International Relations.
Chueiling Shin, Taiwan
I am a United Methodist Minister from Texas. This year I am serving churches in North East England.
My decision to be ordained was a response to God's call for my life and a response to the injustices of the world. One of my first memories is of sitting on the floor of the Methodist Home For Abused Children in New Orleans, Louisiana; while my parents tutored some off the residents with their homework. At three years old, I began to realize that not everyone lives the same way, nor has the same opportunities or systems of support. Throughout my youth, various experiences in the impoverished inner city communities sensitized me to the needs and situations of others, opening my eyes and heart to those who have far less than myself. I intentionally studied Sociology hoping to make a difference in our world. While I could have chosen to serve others through a vocation in social work, I felt a deep call to offer practical assistance of food and shelter to others, along with the Gospel message of good news and hope, as part of the role as a minister, especially in the inner cities.
Due to the abuse I witnessed in my own denomination, I almost left the institutionalized church for a secular profession. Ultimately, I have chosen to change systemic oppression from the inside out by beginning with the church and attempting to offer a model of faithful living to the world. The church is called to ministries of justice. I have long viewed my role within the church as a voice of reform, insisting that we hold clergy accountable for their actions, support ministers equitably, and challenge the status quo of congregations, as well as reach out to others in need. My mere presence as a female minister continues to challenge many colleagues, people in the pews and the general public.
As a minister, I am privileged to be part of people's lives during intense joy and suffering. My journey, though difficult and painful attimes, is one I could never walk away from. I am where God wants me to be.
Angela Gafford, USA