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Khalid Al Ameri: Why are Emirati youth bored?
April 18, 2015
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In my final quarter of graduate school I was taking a class called ‘Leading Your Life’. This class involved giving us the tools, framework, and self-awareness to pursue our dreams. One specific topic that stood out for me was identifying my fears. In many cases one’s fears present the biggest roadblock to achieving their goals and dreams.

Having spent just over two years in the US with my wife and two boys we were preparing for another big change, coming home to the UAE.  For me moving back to the UAE brought a big feeling of excitement, being able to bring my energy and newfound skills to my family, community, and country was the reason I chose to leave in the first place.

However I wasn’t without my fears, however small they were. My fears were primarily around reverse culture shock, and adapting my family and I back to another way of life. My biggest fear was being unable to find a platform to harness my energy, falling back into bad habits, and as summed up in a recent BBC article by Bill Law, feeling disengaged and bored.

To little surprise my fears turned out to be pretty accurate. My family and I returned to the UAE a day before Ramadan, which to me was perfect timing to engage family, friends, and community members, and get caught up. However when it got down to work many corporations had little interest in my passion and impact driven mentality, but more interest in my willingness to do a ‘job’.

It wasn’t until my old habits (regular trips to the mall, long hours at coffee shops, even longer hours on the internet) started to creep back into my life that the alarm bells sounded off in my head. It was then I realised that if I was unable to find a platform to pursue the work that energises me I would have to create a platform myself.

I then created my own website, started writing more regularly, held bi-weekly workshops, and created relationships with universities, schools, and organisations that gave me opportunities to work with youth on self-awareness, personal development, and career planning. Since then I have never looked back.

Do I think Emirati youth are bored? Absolutely. Why else do you think a lot of their ambitions are materialistically driven on things such as cars, luxury wear, and expensive objects? I am no different, I couldn’t wait to get a Range Rover, buy my wife fancy gifts, and travel on lavish holidays when I got my first government job. All of which I did, all of which brought me no closer to happiness, or made me any less bored.

I feel our materialistic ambition is to fill a void, an empty place where our passions and ambitions once were. A void that once superficially filled is socially accepted and promoted by the community, but personally leaves us wondering when we will find meaning in life, and looking for that next big purchase we hope might bring us closer to the answer.

So what’s the solution? How do we give our youth a purpose? The answer is we can’t, a sense of purpose is an internally driven emotion that has to be acted upon by the individual; it cannot simply be given you. What we can do however, and what many countries are sparing no expense in, is provide jobs, high paying jobs.

I think the alternative approach to giving our youth purpose lies in what I talk about in the first paragraph of this article, teaching our youth how to “Lead Their Lives”. Incorporating courses into school and university curriculums on how to have a strong sense of self-awareness, conducting exercises on understanding their ambitions, and building strategies and tools on how to bring their dreams to a reality.

Many may argue about how intangible something like “Leading Your Life” is, and that the money can be better invested into creating more jobs. I believe this is an old school mentality. The reality of the matter is that we have an energised and ambitious youth that is an enormous asset to this country; the least we can do is empower them with the mindset and skills to pursue their dreams while we have the resources to do so.

The impact of such an initiative could potentially flip the cradle to the grave welfare system the country has become so accustomed to. It would enable youth to create platforms of their own to pursue work they are passionate about. This would in turn allow them to give back to their country through their impactful work, and being all-round happier, more engaged, and, less “bored” citizens.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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