So you are graduating soon and are starting to think about your role in the world, about survival, about independence and about what you were put here on this planet to accomplish…a hefty task to undertake with all that must be going through your mind at this time. Take it or leave it, I have some unsolicited advice for you on how to choose a career that satisfies what you are most yearning for and what will best serve humanity.
I’ll start with myself.
I have never been certain what exactly I wanted to be “when I grow up.” I used to listen to my friends and classmates who were so certain about their future careers, about people who went to college and graduated with a degree in something important that they could use in whatever career path they chose. After high school, I was not sure what I wanted to study, but I knew I was a good writer, a good thinker and a person with a good conscience. This pointed me in the direction of Linguistics. Today I do not formally use my degree; I am a teacher, a writer, an organizer and an activist for issues of peace and justice. My job has diffuse boundaries and unlimited resources for lesson plans, for articles, for nonviolence campaigns and for op-ed pieces.
When I was three I was asked to leave the Montessori pre-school I was attending in Des Moines, IA (their loss). I couldn’t follow their rules. This is a fairly good starting point for investigating how I have arrived at my present job status. At three, I was an articulate child, an avid reader with a wide vocabulary and an astute observer of human behavior. I liked being around people and I liked new experiences and challenges. I became bored easily and sought adventures at every turn. Indiana Jones was my hero – a respectable professor by day, a swashbuckling treasure hunter by night.
The work I am doing now is extraordinarily fulfilling and still is grounded in the fundamentals of what I knew to be true about myself as a child. I serve as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation where I write articles and a curriculum on teaching peace, I teach high school classes on nonviolence, I organize marches and events for national nonviolence groups, I travel to distant lands like Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness and I have the ability to garden, run, cook and travel to visit friends all over the country as well. Every day brings a new idea, a new predicament, a new perspective. For me, this is the perfect job at this point in my life, and I believe that there is a “recipe” for finding jobs with a conscience that those nearing graduation can draw from. Here are my ideas:
• You must find out where you want to be physically on the planet. If you love a warm climate, don’t choose your “perfect” job in Alaska. Don’t underestimate the effect the weather, temperature and surrounding geography will have on your personal and professional life.
• Find out what you like to do. Some jobs for people do not exist in the “help wanted” ads in the newspaper (try to find my job description in your local paper!) Do not be discouraged if you cannot find the perfect job for you just by searching the Sunday Employment section of your newspaper. Jobs with a conscience are hidden jewels, like pearls, that you must tease out of hiding. While daunting at times, the reward for finding a job you love and that meets your needs is greater than you can imagine.
• Learn from your s/heroes. My first shero was Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor. She did what people thought could not be done. I felt a deep connection to that ideology and constantly pursued goals in my life that defied expectations. Make a list of the people you admire and list the reasons why. This investigation can be tremendously enlightening and may help articulate qualities of yourself which define your passions. Never assume that you can’t make a career out of doing what you love.
• Watch the signs in your life. The world sends us signals, hints, and messages in funny forms that unless we are observant, we tend to miss. Do not dismiss the coincidences and the happenstances that bend your thinking in a new direction, that wake you up to a new idea.
• No law says that you must stick with your first job for a certain amount of time. You can change your mind, move on, move out, move up and move forward when you feel the need to grow or feel the pangs of conscience creeping up! My first job out of college was working for the World Bank, which is interesting because now many of my friends in activism are working against this gigantic institution. I feel quite privileged to have an intimate understanding of the inner-workings of the “WB” as I fondly used to call it, and learning about the people on the inside, hearing their stories and realizing that for a seemingly untouchable powerhouse, the World Bank actually has some significant Achilles’ Heels. Hindsight is 20/20.
• Brainstorming is an important creative endeavor when determining your future and vocation. Here is a brainstorm of mine: op-ed writer, volunteer, science teacher, math teacher, history teacher, french teacher, food drive organizer, talent show coordinator, jail filler, puppetista, hall director, resident advisor, office grunt, grantwriter, nonprofit founder, affinity group member, social worker, GED teacher, campaign organizer, fundraiser, graffiti artist, musician, vagabond, documentary filmmaker, VORP mediator…the list goes on and on…
• The following list of people are some of my heroes and hold jobs that one day I might like to try on for size:
Brendan Greene, union organizer for Pictsweet mushroom workers, United Farm Workers, www.ufw.org
Margaret Oberon, Ventura County Catholic Chaplain, Detention Ministry
Katya Komisaruk, lawyer for activists, http://www.lawcollective.org
Michael Beer, Peace Brigades International and Nonviolence International
Daniel Hunter, nonviolence trainer, Training for Change, www.trainingforchange.org
Propagandhi, musical group
Jeff Guntzel, Iraq delegation leader with Voices in the Wilderness, www.vitw.org
*Leah C. Wells teaches high school classes on nonviolence and serves as Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. She traveled last July and August with Voices in the Wilderness to Iraq and condemns the economic sanctions as genocidal.