Our Restless Careers

In what I can best sum as a series of scattered thoughts that float carelessly around in my brain in the middle of a hot summer night, I’ve been thinking about careerhood and my generation. Some times, during those rare weekly moments when all the family is sitting in one place at one time and actual conversations transpire over coffee, my sister or I will complain about our jobs. It’s normal. Everyone does it. Because, really, if no one else is doing it then I need to start seeking out some professional help.

Such complaints always inspire a fatherly scolding. These scoldings, or what my sister and I commonly refer to as the “Abu-Naseem lecture series”, contain a collage of essential and underlying truths that can be summed up as follows

1) We’re young, i.e. we don’t understand the meaning of suffering.
2) We’re privileged, i.e. we don’t understand the meaning of suffering.
3) We’re naive/inexperienced, i.e. we don’t understand the meaning of suffering.

Now. I admit. My father, whom I love more than life itself, has suffered a great deal in his life, and arguably more so than the average person should ever have to. I value the tremendous sacrifices he’s had to make more than he’ll probably ever know.

However, when it comes to careerhood, my father’s common reaction to our complaints is another essential and underlying truth: in his day, people worked even the worst of jobs for years and years (and we don’t understand the meaning of suffering).

This is pretty much true (both parts).

If you’ve noticed, a lot of the generations that have preceded our own (if I dare to address my generation in this post) tended to hold on to jobs for years and years. My father had several jobs of which I think lasted an average that is well above a decade.

And yet, I cannot see myself doing any one thing for more than a decade, if that.

I don’t know why that is.

Are we a generation that has the equivalent of ADD when it comes to careers? Can we not stand still? Or this just me?

I know there are doctors, engineers, lawyers and other hardcore professions that will remain in those jobs until the day they die, and that’s one of the reasons I never aspired to become either of those (besides the fact that I’ve always been surgical instruments). However, are these simply exceptions?

Most people I know in their 20’s are in a constant state of flux. Jobs seem to last them an average of four years, and then they move on.

Are there better opportunities out there, making it almost illogical to stay in one place forever?

I’m not sure. Because a lot of the time I notice that people of my generation are “unhappy”. It’s not necessarily a matter of money or better opportunities elsewhere, it’s a general and constant gauging of happiness.

But, perhaps I should avoid any generalizations with this particular subject. Because maybe everyone has their own equation with their own variables, producing their own results. But, this much I do know. Whatever the variables may be, whatever the equation, the predominant result seems to manifest itself in a constant movement. From one job to another. From one career to another. From one field to another. From one dream to another.

Another pursuit.

Another lifestyle.

And as someone who has his own inclinations towards the social sciences, my mind can’t help but allow me to wonder into realms of questions as to the impact of this movement. Is it good for the economy? Can we formulate long-term policies that rely on a workforce that is constantly moving and shifting gears? Can it make this generation more open-minded, more well-rounded, more experienced in the various facets of life? Can it fuel innovation? An ideas economy?

While there are a hundred questions to be asked, and a million answers, not to mention the infinite number of variables that I mentioned before, that may include reasons such as better education, better opportunities, tougher financial times, greater mobility, greater potential for risk-taking, or even the emergence of a spoiled generation that just doesn’t know the meaning of suffering, I’m inclined to conclude when essential and underlying truth: we are restless and we are constantly moving.


  • I do not know if I could really answer any of your questions, but I will try to point out some issues that I myself found through my short career of accountancy in Jordan.

    Youth in Middle East lack the guidance of successful senior professionals. Careers are monopolized and controlled by unprofessional customs in Jordan, such as wasta, not to mention the selfishness of the older professionals who fear to be responsible mentors without the recommendation of a government senior official or a famous figure.

    Also, most university students, including me, are forced to choose their majors based on the Tawjeehy results, without any deep understanding to what might happen after graduation.

    I think most young Arabs have no sense of challenge, patience, or even determination! I really do not know why, and I hate to admit this, but I think our culture has a lot to do with it. Our culture talks a lot about those virtues (determination, patience, etc) but in a very theoretical way, easy to remember and say, but extremely hard to apply on the ground of reality!

  • We are living in a different time now. Companies used to demand your loyalty, and a person used to work for that company from the time they graduate until they retire.

    However, with workers becoming more of a dispensable commodity, they feel that they are no obligated to “marry” their company and instead follow any job that will maximize their life goals. Why would I stay in a job where I have outgrown the challenges, and where I do not foresee any chances for further advancement

    You do find companies that work hard to retain their employees for the longest time possible. However, this has become a point of differentiation for them rather than the norm.

    It could be that we are a spoiled generation, or it could be that the world is such a fast moving place that those who stand still are left behind.

  • Nas,
    I’m not sure if it is a generational thing as much as it is about the individual himself and about his expectations from life and the legacy that he wants to leave behind. Some people are content with working for minimum wage all their lives, others may settle for something a little higher than that, some may not be content unless they get top dollar pay. Of course career and pay run parallel to one another, the more prestigious the career the more the pay will be. Some people may tell you that it isn’t about money; I say baloney it is all about money. True, in some instances the work conditions are so terrible to a point where the individual is forced to leave on his own, but most often than not people leave to earn higher pay and more prestige or a combination of both. It is quite natural for the person to switch jobs between the ages of 20 and 30, but by then the person would have found something that he will spend an extended period of time in that job which may extend to one decade or more. According to some literature that I was reading, the average person changes jobs about 4 times during their life time. I did change many jobs early on in my career but I have settled on last two jobs for 11 years straight. Sometimes I wish that I can turn the clock back to my early twenties because If I were given the opportunity, and If I knew then what I know now I would never work for anyone else and I would strictly work for myself. I don’t really care about what I would be doing whether I would be shining people’s shoes, being a street vendor selling hot tea from a tea pot, or a cold drink from a bigger brass pot, but I still won’t work for anyone else. Obviously, it is too late now and no sense of wishing for lost time to come back. In any event I wrote today to tell you that whoever tells you that “fathers know best” doesn’t know what he is talking about. If I had listened to my father I would be serving in the Jordanian armed forces, something that he has done for his entire life. He lived very poor and died the same way. Meanwhile, I didn’t listen to him and I traveled to work and study in the US and ended up doing okay. I’m not rich but I’m not as poor as he was or as he wanted me to be. Fathers usually have best intentions, but unfortunately they don’t know what is best for their children unless of course it is something of their own choosing.

  • Why should one keep shifting if one thinks that he/she got something to offer and the other end something to utilize?!

    I think that people are mistaking CAREER shifts and JOB shifts. If you have to change jobs every now and then- usually in pursuit of money – then you’re not doing yourself or anybody else any good -You’re just filling a gap that was left void by another and perhaps a million others in due course. If you’re changing occupations along a steady career path, I don’t think that’s critical as long as you keep to certain goals and ambitions.
    I think that it’s only possible in fairytales and in Hollywood that you can be a cook today, a postman tomorrow and a minister next week!! Careers are built along a steady path of persistence; patience and determination. BUT— a lot have changed since the times of our fathers and grandfathers! All you can see today is common amongst people all over the world and not just those in the Middle East as Marwan suggested. Money isn’t the key thing for people anymore; psychological and emotional needs are paramount in order to keep people happy in their careers. People need to be valued, appreciated and their inner potential positively-tapped, or else they would leave. We are forced to think in the mentality of this age – the global age; where there’s no force eminent, or ideology utmost. People are blessed with freedom. It may not be the perfect age that will set economical and industrial revolutionary standards. But it will be definitely the age of liberation.
    As much as I say this I do feel sad, because we will always be criticized as the generation that did nothing; our individuality is more important to us than that of the masses, and so our fate is yet to be determined! 🙂

  • @ Marwan: “Youth in Middle East lack the guidance of successful senior professionals”

    This is probably true. There is a disconnect between people who make it and people who want to learn how to. BUT, I don’t think guidance is the main issue and I don’t think it’s a Jordanian issue.

    The U.S. is going through the highest unemployment rate in a decade, reaching 6%. Ofcourse, that percentage is the equivalent to a few countries in the middle east, in terms of the number of people and the amount of money it represents in this bigger pond.

    So CNN and other agencies went on a survey frenzy. Studies, focus groups, employers, employees, young, old.

    The results across the entire country are very interesting. They suggest that rapid technological change, added convenience, and the growing concept of speed is the root reason why younger generations are not satisfied with any one work place for more than 2-3 years.

    If you think about it, we’re dogging after the fastest internet, making everything wireless, having to fill up gas less often, and automating EVERYTHING. Down to having robots as maids.

    This mentality of “hey, this thing can call people and email my work and call my friends and family and have me check on the weather and pay bills and rent and book tickets to fly away all in one” – is making us anxious for speed and change and feeding this career A.D.D. that everyone seems to have.

    Our grand parents had to do everything. Cook from scratch, manually turn a telephone. Go to someone’s office to talk to them and hand them a document etc.

    In short, some things I do take 5 minutes in today’s world but took 2 weeks 15-20 years ago. Thus, the things I accomplish in 2-3 years are things they used to accomplish in 2 decades. So, I get done with my job sooner.

  • Sometimes in specific organization structures which lack a clear hierarchy ,developing within an organization after a certain period is limited, and for someone to get into the next step he /she should seek a career outside that entity. The learning curve for any person in one place is limited, after few years things usually become repetitive and more familiar….. which creates a comfort zone which some people enjoy… but others who continuously seek challenge and achievement will only feel useless and less motivated by this familiarity….. and will be ready to take on a new job that may challenge them more and motivate them…
    I was reading and I thought ADD… then read it in your lines… 
    I think the market encourages this as well…. I was warned several times that if I start looking for a job I need to get my expectations low about the market…. I’ve been seeking to find a new job since around 10 days and I already have several good options to choose from which were beyond my expectations….. I think in public sector people stay for longer time in the same job… since probably people who seek that kind of work are seeking comfort zones anyway…
    Suffering means different things to different people… we might have not passed through what our parents passed through… but I believe we have made use of what we received of privilege and most of us became independent in several means which our parents might never expected ….. we do suffer in our own way… I think on many levels they suffered but were relieved on other levels…. I’m sure they had less to worry about… less to contemplate other than that job… now we’re more overwhelmed on several levels… whether it’s our future, our ideals, our passion, our dreams, our thoughts, views, current situations…. They lived in a much higher stability politically, economically, financially, emotionally… thus it’s only relative for them to have that sort of stability in their own careers… it was a reflection… and now our life is constantly changing in all aspects thus our careers and interests…. I vote for Change!

  • People suffer in different ways and the times have changed. I understand the suffering of my parents’ generation but they did live in times when larger common objectives existed and kept entire generations going.

    I think that there are much more options and opportunities available now and it is an on-going struggle to try and find one’s niche in a market that is characterized by competition that is not necessarily fair or based on merit. And when it is, there seems to be a prevailing culture of not knowing what to do with talent and ambition. I think guidance becomes important then, also feedback, credit and appreciation of one’s efforts and intellectual investment. There are many visible and invisible ceilings. Of course with the few exception.

    This entry brought up so many issues that are about the educational system, the administration of it, the market and its culture and the culture that governs our very own perception of career and progress (assuming that career means more than a just a job and is essentially about progression of one’s worklife).

  • VERY LONG one here naseem :mal5oom: i went cross eyed shway, but i loved the part bout happiness and our generation (rather yours more so than mine) is always after happiness as a main goal, i donno why however! happiness is so periodic and so short lived, i donno why dont ppl pursue contentment, it will last them a lifetime!

    (on a separate note: is dad a sagittarius?)

  • When the cheese moves ..you gotta move with it man. Cheese has become a lot more mobile than 2-3 decades ago

    But happiness is not only about constantly having your cheese, you gotta complement it with the wine, breads and crackers..and all the other good things. If you’re only attempt at changing your life is getting a new job ..then you will always be job hopping

  • “I think most young Arabs have no sense of challenge, patience, or even determination!”

    very true!!

    sadly applies to all fields, wether in their career growth or spiritual growth.

  • I also frequently hear my dad speak of the tremendous challenges he, and his generation, had faced.
    For one, poverty and under-development were rampant.. not that they arent now.. but there is one big change that has completely changed Jordan in the past three decades; and that is the private industry

    When our parents had to hold one job for a long time, it is not like they had much of a choice either, government jobs were the only option. But now, leaving money aside, the number of prospective employers has grown manyfold.

    I think we should give young Arabs a break, many of our young whom I have met in Jordan have the determination, challenge and patience.

    We WILL have more challenging, patient, determined, and even creative youth when we have the democratic institutions that allow for self-expression, certainty of freedoms, and the channeling of the energies of our youth into participatory decision-making and state-building.

    Leaders are as important as followers.

  • Nas,

    I just wanted to confirm that this didn’t start with your generation. Even MY generation is in a similar boat. I think that many peope MY parents’ age, teehee, were shocked when the study first came out indicating that people could expect to change CAREERS 5 times in their work-lifetime. That’s not jobs, that’s careers. However, having said that, I do think tht there is a bit of a dangerous trend in Jordan to jump ship for 50JDs more per month. In the US, someone who changes jobs every year is called a “job hopper”. HR proessionals screen those people because it takes, on average, 6 months to get a new person functioning efficiently in a job. If they’re leaving 6 months later to purse a tiny bit more money, you don’t want to be the next 1 year employer on their resume. The reality is that you should make a change based on new skills you will gain, new and more marketable experience offered, and decent developmnt opportunities.

    Having said that, in the US they also found that people rarely leave jobs for money. They typically leave jobs because of their manager. I find myself wondering if that is as true in Jordan as the US. Are people really leaving for 50JDs more or are they leaving because the job is dead-end and the boss is poorly trained? Interestingtopic, I hope to see more.

  • I think they teach this example in management classes. The old “Japanese” style employee is loyal to their company and it returns the favor. The new “American” style employee wouldn’t think twice about jumping ship at the nearest opportunity, and their company in return wouldn’t think twice about laying off thousands of employees just like that and making the remaining employees work twice as hard if they wanna keep their jobs.

    The Abu Naseem lecture series is probably all too common for all of us and all too true. I don’t think I or any of mys siblings are 1/10th as tough (I don’t mean physically) as my father, and yet he insists that life is much more difficult nowadays. That it was much easier to be happy back then. The other day he was telling my sister NOT to get married. That she’s better off single! Wise man.

  • the fact of having basic economy limits the ability of specialization, which requires commitment to a certain profession.

    the fact that the economy almost tripled in a decade reshaped the whole economy and opened up many new sectors or widely enlarged the existing ones.

    we are followers /and no surprise in that/ in all leading or higher growing sectors of economy, namely telecommunications and IT industries. Banking is a well established industry, and yet experienced another enlargement by foriegn banks coming in, and locals going out.

    Mostly, is the continous pursuit of standardization on all levels. As we all have many concerns on various matters and the way they evolve in the country, but during the last decade, many new standards and restructures were introduced with all the consultants, the certificate mentality, the advisors, and many many foriegners coming to advice and advocate from government structure to public finance, banks, NGOs, humbling advancement of civil freedoms, media growth..etc.

    Our parents phase (as a 28 year old person) was the one looking for safety and opportunity. They are the generation that went through wars with Israel, that witnessed the crash of the arab unity, the same generation that got manipulated over and over with the issue of the states, the west, the war, the peace, and the whole problem called Israel.

    As a normal social development, upcoming generations will look for else or more.

Your Two Piasters: