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Khalid Al Ameri: The first challenge for Arab youth begins at home
March 31, 2015
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As we discussed my career and dreams for the future my mother reminded me of a story when I was 12 years old. She had just come home from work and found me sitting in my father’s office, leaning back in his chair, with my feet on the desk.

“What are you doing, Khalid?” she asked. “Practising being a manager,” I responded with all the confidence of a 20-year veteran of Wall Street. “Oh really?! And what are you going to manage?” At this stage I felt like my mother was actually starting to buy into the hype. “A bank like Dad.”

My mom let the act continue for a good 10 minutes before calling me down for dinner. Growing up and moving into the professional world I quickly realised how wrong I was about management. Managers (good ones at least) have very little time to sit, let alone put their feet on the desk. This got me thinking of my thoughts related to work as a child, and how they transpired as I started my career.

You see little do many Arab youth, including myself, know that they have already gone through years of job hunting practice before they even step foot into the job market. We are taught from a very young age to believe that there are few ‘respectable’ fields of employment. Being engineers, doctors, or bankers are always first to stand out.

These fields of employment make it easy for parents to discuss, or brag, about how well their kids are doing. Furthermore, traditional, stable, and well perceived careers are always high in demand for parents looking to arrange the ideal spouse for their child reaching that age where marriage seems to be part of every conversation they have. Lastly, it makes finding a job relatively easier.

Back in my mother and father’s generation a banker was a banker, an engineer was an engineer, and a doctor was a doctor. However, what you are starting to see with today’s generation is a movement towards double employment.

For example, a communications professional who dreams of being an artist and takes part in art events across the country, a marketing analyst at a real estate company who has her own fashion business, or a financial manager who is growing a food and beverage startup.

There seems to be a growing disconnect between what a young woman or man is professionally doing versus what they are personally passionate about. When I spoke to groups of young workers who tried to balance their day job with their entrepreneurial ventures I asked them why they didn’t pursue their passion to begin with. The common theme that kept coming up was “To make my parents happy”, or “It’s what my father thought was best.”

So these responses got me to start shifting the conversation towards parents. When I asked them why they wanted their children to become engineers, doctors, or bankers, it wasn’t the job itself that was the reason, but the perception of the job and the security that comes with it.

“The world will always need engineers and doctors,” one parent stated. I agree with that statement completely, but do we want a region full of engineers and doctors who don’t want to be engineers and doctors? How will they become the best in their field if they don’t even enjoy the work to begin with?

So I concluded that all parents really want is stability for their kids, and rightfully so. Any good parent wants to make sure their kids’ future is secure. However for parents in the Arab world security is tied to a limited number of career options that might not necessarily be something their child is happy about, but something they push them to pursue anyway.

The world has changed dramatically since our parents started out in the workforce. Technology is opening a door to a whole new world of ‘career options’. For example an Instagram ‘celebrity’ who makes more money from posting a single picture than I do in a month. Artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs have more tools now than ever before to bring their work and passions to life.

Furthermore parents must start to open their mind to the importance of passion in pursuit of a successful career. As Steve Jobs wisely said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Parents in addition to seeking stability for their kids should support them to explore the work they love, and teach them the necessary work ethic to become the best in their chosen field. That is just as good a path to career stability than simply choosing a ‘safer’ option.

Youth also have a part to play in the development of pursuing work they love. They should start to think strategically as they reach graduation level in their high schools and universities in planning the career of their dreams.

If a young graduate wants to be a writer it is one thing for them to put on a backpack and tell their parents that they are moving to a distant island to write a book. It is another thing for them to apply to a top writing school, to explore internships at publishing houses or newspapers, and to outline all the career options available once they are qualified. The key message for youth: “Show your parents that you are in control of your career stability, and not the career itself.”

Nothing can guarantee success in this world; no company or industry can ensure our jobs will be relevant in the future. Our best shot at success is to follow our passion and work as hard as we can to bring that passion to life. We can only achieve those goals with the support and understanding of loving parents, and an internal drive to do what we feel is right, even if it doesn’t make sense to everyone else.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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