I have always found a new career goal to answer whatever passion or interest I kindled in each phase of my life. I’ve wanted to be, at various points, an entomologist, park ranger, a sign changer, actress, a writer, diplomat, Peace Corps Volunteer. My dream always has been, and always will be, to work. It is an end, a big source of not only my living, but also my future fulfillment.
Around the world, and in the U.S. too, many people don’t have that same privilege. In Morocco, the youth unemployment rate reached 25.5% this year. For my young, working-age friends in Sidi Bouzid, work is a means to an end—it is a way to make the money necessary to live out other dreams like helping parents, raising a family, or giving back to the community. When jobs are so scarce, and so necessary at the same time, reflecting on your purpose and aligning it with your career goals seems an irrelevant luxury.
But that doesn’t stop my counterparts from improving their community in other ways. Contrary to what I expected, there is a culture of volunteerism in my Peace Corps site. And absent community service hours, an obsession with full resumes, or a desire to “hone skills,” the voluntary work I’ve done at site seems more altruistic than a lot of other volunteer opportunities I’ve encountered in my American community. Unlike a lot of traditional development work, it is entirely focused on the beneficiaries.
So what’s the Problem?
My counterparts in site are, without a doubt, some of the brightest, most genuine, and most passionate people with whom I have worked. While I am in the U.S., one of my counterparts is singlehandedly be running our Model UN class, English class, Aerobics class, and girls empowerment club, alongside her fulltime job of teaching. Another one of my counterparts has started a volunteer youth association made up of his peers. Another one of my counterparts works tirelessly with the girls in the dormitory, serving as a role model and providing them with their one opportunity to play soccer and basketball. Still, another Sidi Bouzid friend is teaching illiterate women to read and write. Additionally, another has volunteered to serve as full-time camp counselor at multiple overnight camps this summer.
These are the people that truly understand what it means to give of themselves, utilize limited resources, build genuine relationships for social good, and accomplish humble yet impactful work at the grassroots level.
Under the current status quo, most of them will never become part of the “social sector,” because mission-driven jobs are reserved for those that have had the time, opportunity, and freedom to reflect on, and go after, a specific mission in the first place. By contrast, at my site, “giving back” and “passion” are reserved for voluntary endeavors—no one has time to wait around for the perfect, fulfilling position that has room for growth and freedom for creativity.
Curbing my Enthusiasm
I see this as a gap, and a tragic paradox, in the social sector— that those best fit to make decisions and rise through the ranks are the same people that never had the chance to do so in the first place. That’s why I try to encourage my friends from site to think about their own careers more strategically.
Whereas my close friend at site had always focused on job security and salary, I have been challenging her to think of her “career path” in terms of steps. With intentional choices, introspection, and patience, I insisted that she could find a job she actually loved with opportunities to constantly learn and grow. As I was talking to her, I began to get excited at the prospect of creating a program for young people to think about how their own strengths and interests can lead to fulfilling and productive careers.
As I shared the idea with her, she met it with a skepticism that I should have expected. That’s because my role as an encourager in this community is complicated by the fact that I will never understand what it’s like to be working to dream or even just to live. However much I may try to “integrate,” I have been wired to dream of work and am continually blinded by my own privileged narrative.
My Positionality in Various Contexts
I don’t know what my friend’s going to decide to do with her life, but I don’t actually have the wisdom to tell her what’s right. Eventually, I decided to connect her with another Moroccan I met, who had taken more career risks and has become accustomed to the “dreaming to work” narrative I grew up with. Then I bowed out.
That small, humble act of connecting people is part of the essence of my Peace Corps service. I now have knowledge of multiple contexts; both contexts with young people who want to make life better for others. In one context, my resilient counterparts, many with less privilege, search for a steady job and give back in their spare time. In another, ambitious peers at home, many with considerable privileges, invest in themselves so they can grow and give back.
We all want to make life better for others—so how can we be assets to one another? After all, both contexts could have flaws. In the first context, young, passionate, caring people never learn to invest in themselves and reach their full potential professionally. But in the second context, the ambition and self-investment necessary to advance in the social sector could also threaten the very ideals that it’s based on.
When I Grow Up…
I want to help more people in the first context (like my counterparts) see the benefit of investing in themselves, even if the perfect job or path isn’t in plain sight. But I also want to help people in my own circle recognize the necessity of investing in and making space for others in order to accomplish collective goals.
Indeed, getting to know the people who work to dream has not extinguished my dreams of work—but it has humbled them. I used to want to be the entomologist, the park ranger, the sign changer, the actress, the writer, and the diplomat. Now I recognize that there are a lot of people whose perspective and life experiences would make them even better equipped to fill those positions instead of me (although I’d probably be a pretty excellent sign changer).
With that in mind, the best thing I can do for this complex and ambiguous “social good” is to identify those people, encourage them, and connect them. It might not be a traditional or concise job title. But more so than any one position, I know that this updated mission can fulfill my dreams and keep me very busy to boot.
My name is Julie, in Turkish it's Jülide. Right now I'm serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, and I'll write my thoughts here!