I have been postponing sharing my thoughts on this topic for a year, and wanted to have it up and ready for my 10 year graduation anniversary for poetic reasons, but here I am a year later and I only just managed to organize my thoughts because I made a life altering decision a couple of months ago. This entry is deeply personal and will hopefully inspire you to never give up on your dreams, my thoughts however are going back and forth so there is no clear timeline for what you’re about to read.
A disclaimer before I begin, I am in no way attacking any of the offices I have trained/worked for, I have always been and always will be a professional, and I have the utmost respect for the company I worked for for the past 10 years; it is merely a retrospect and revelation of the past 11 years of my life. I want to say to you graduates and working men and women what I wish someone had told me the day I graduated, and what took me years and years to realize and be convinced.
Looking back on my career journey, I had numerous opportunities ranging from being taken under the wings of major international corporations abroad, to upping my freelancing game, pursuing my passions, even enrolling in the Urban Design program at the American University of Beirut. The last I backed out of right after I got the acceptance letter, because it needed a full 2.5 years to be completed, and at the time I was so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, little did I know that that ladder cannot be climbed, because qualifications mean nothing in this part of the world, (and I rather not mention what helps getting promoted) and that had I focused on getting my degree I would have been somewhere else right now. You see, life is made up of a series of decisions. Each choice you make will lead you on a different path, and if once or twice an opportunity knocks at your door and you miss it, there’s no getting it back.
The thing with university majors and careers is that we decide them when we are in high school. At 15 years of age we are supposed to prep for SATs and other standardized tests, flip through dozens of majors to choose one we might like, and by the off chance we do fall in love with our education, we are never prepared to deal with what comes after graduation.
So you love your major but not your job? Get in line.
If you’re in the creative business it gets worse, because you are born a wild soul, an artist, and committing to sitting behind a computer all day and mechanically working with no input of your own is depressing. We all have dreams of starting our own practice, of living an alternative lifestyle but when we are thrust into the workforce the reality hits, and if you don’t get yourself out of it, you will regret it your entire life.
I rather not generalize when I’m speaking of universities so I will draw on my own experience. I studied architecture at the most prestigious university in the Middle East, the American University of Beirut. It was a costly and tiring 5 years including summer semesters and trainings to get to the finish line. Lucky for us at the time, only a handful of highly qualified students ever got into the program much less made it through. We had the opportunity to be exposed to international advisors, jury, workshops and turned out to be thinkers and creatives.
I graduated and was planning on setting up my own office right away when the 2006 war started a week after the commencement ceremony, and I was left with one option, employment. I got through a rough first year at a small office, where it was normal to work past midnight with no compensation, and even more normal to have your boss buzzing on your intercom on Sunday at 6 AM because he needs your help in submitting a project to a client. But when you’re a fresh graduate you pour your heart and soul into your work, right? I was asked to join a renowned firm later that year and in the blink of an eye a decade had passed, and while I lost a bit of myself along the way, my gut was always telling me there is something more outside the office walls.
The thing with routine is, you get used to it. Day in day out, a part of you dies but when you think of changing you are overcome with fear, fear of the unknown, fear of regret, fear of failure. When you are a parent you sacrifice a lot to be able to raise your children, enroll them in top daycares and schools and afford the expenses of life in this overpriced country, so you keep your feelings of wanting to break free of the norm and start over, you struggle daily to manage your kids in the morning while making it on time to work, scheduling everything on weekends, leaving the office not one minute before you are allowed to, to continue your draining routine, and by the time you are done you don’t have a shred of energy to do basic household chores, much less practice your hobbies. I had been struggling with the decision to start a new chapter in my life, dedicate more time to my home and fulfilling my ambitions, until one day it just happened, I left and I did not glance behind me. Not only did I turn the page, I closed the book. It was as if that part of me never existed, as if I had just begun breathing, the world at that moment was so full of possibilities. I do not regret a single moment of those years, the hardships and long days struggling helped me distinguish where to spend my energy, and for that and so much more I am thankful. But I do believe that kind and gentle people have it hard in this world, the more we give the more people expect of us. I had spent days and years wishing to start over, never having the guts to cut the cord. In the pits of my stomach I knew I was sacrificing precious time with my children and dedicating it to work where I was giving more than I was receiving, financially and emotionally. Everything happens for a reason, and the decisions we take or are led to take will lead us to something more meaningful and beautiful.
Do I regret not taking this decision earlier? Perhaps. I’m not sure. Had I done so earlier it would have been easier for me because I would still have been young, maybe single, with plenty of time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. But now at 33, it isn’t so bad, because each experience whether positive or negative, shaped who I am today. Careers, the kind you are passionate about, aren’t likely to start before 40 or 50, after a lifetime of disappointments to learn to put yourself first. Amidst all this, I do consider myself lucky to finally be able to think of myself and my personal goals. I recently had a chance meeting with many of my classmates, each of us has taken a different path. Architecture is a tough major, it gives us a base in engineering and design, in abstract thinking and construction management, but also paves the way to more diverse careers. Some of us are now filmmakers, cartoonists, jewelry designers, furniture designers, teachers, artists and musicians. My feelings of loss and mental turbulence are made calm by the realization that we are all on a journey to self discovery.
It took a lot of soul searching and years of racking my brain to finally figure out that I am not cut for office work. Don’t get me wrong, I am a model employee, always on time, always polite, always get the job done, putting in extra hours with no return, the whole nine yards. But I don’t want to wake up another 11 years from now not realizing any of my personal goals. I am not an impulsive person, had I been so I think I would have ran away immediately, but I exercise patience and perseverance. Now I realized that years of experience on a CV don’t mean anything if you’re an architect or a designer, your portfolio does the talking. So does how well you are read, how well you have traveled, how cultured you are. But that goes for any person, am I right?
Dear graduates or any one whose soul isn’t satisfied, the world is your oyster. Today is the age of small businesses, startups, momtrepreneurs, online shops, freelancers and girl bosses. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve, don’t expect validation from any of your superiors because you will live for their gratitude which you will never get, know your worth, educate yourself and don’t expect anyone to help, read a lot, be open to new opportunities, don’t be afraid of your managers’ opinions, know that if you do 1000 things right, they will look for something to blame you for, know that some people around you will be paid more than you to get one tenth of the work you get done, know that life is unfair but you don’t have to be the victim.
If someday in the future I do choose to be employed, it will be in a position I damn right deserve, with recognition and a salary that is fair to my qualifications, with flexible time to tend to my family. I have earned every right, I know my worth and won’t settle for anything less.
Stability is important, but sometimes you need to take risks to find yourself, and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to start fresh. I want to create, to work with passion, to spend sleepless nights building, writing, painting. I am finally free and I am finally happy. I am finally no longer breaking down every so often, sobbing and thinking of my life being flushed down the drain. I am finally away from negative energy that drained me, from jealous shallow individuals whose only aim in life is hating and spying instead of living their life. Until a few months ago my validation was laying in the hands of people, I will never make that mistake again. Right now I am able to spend time with my growing children, the single most important thing in this world, no amount of money will ever compensate the time I have lost, and I intend on catching up on that time by giving them my all. Right now I am not worrying about alarm clocks and traffic, about messy laundry and no time to cook meals, about the occasional long lunch break to tend to my children’s school affairs. Right now I am focused on my freelance work, connecting with people, networking with like minded individuals, living outside the box.