L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux

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Dear netizens,

I wanted to start with wishing people a HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope this year is filled with joy, fortunes, love and fulfillment. I have not written in a while because life was pretty hectic. No, I am as of yet not employed and even though, it hurts me to write that I just wanted to address this right off the bat.

Today, I will write mostly about a big problem which I faced in 2013– and perhaps, this might help someone out there. Perhaps, it wouldn’t be a problem for someone else. Earlier in the year, I wrote about undergraduates asking recent graduates really annoying question– please refer to this post.  In sum, I was ranting about an phenomenon where you would say hi to an acquaintance and the first thing that friend would ask is if I had found a job. The problematic nature of “Have you found a job yet?” is kind of hinted at here:

Don’t ask, “Have you found a job yet?” right before or right after “How are you?” In fact, don’t ask it at all. Instead ask, “What have you been up to?” or “How are you?” Finding a job is very stressful and sometimes people are getting traction in their job searches but it is not manifesting as job offers. Or the simple fact that people are not defined by their jobs. Whether or not this person is currently employed, they still have a lot to contribute to your life and others’ communities. If you are looking to catch up, it may be better to ask open-ended questions and let them volunteer the information.[…] Remember, people will always remember how you make them feel.

After further reflection I realized that the reason why my so-called acquaintances’ persistence at asking me “Have you found a job yet?” right after exchanging hellos bothered me, was because it reduced me to my economic status. Instead, of being Cathryn who loves books, knitting and travelling, I became “Are you employed Cathryn?” There was a feeling that these people sought to categorize me. Additionally, I knew that if I faced any anxiety or problems, these acquaintances would never really be there to help me. If and when I was employed, it would be awkward and even strange for them to spend hours asking me about my job.

My sibling told me that my problem reminded her of a passage in Le Petit Prince by Alexandre Saint-Exupery (Chapter IV):

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais: “Quel est le son de sa voix ? Quels sont les jeux qu’il préfère ? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons ?” Elles vous demandent: “Quel âge a-t-il ? Combien a-t-il de frères ? Combien pèse-t-il ? Combien gagne son père ?” Alors seulement elles croient le connaître. Si vous dites aux grandes personnes: “J’ai vu une belle maison en briques roses, avec des géraniums aux fenêtres et des colombes sur le toit…” elles ne parviennent pas à s’imaginer cette maison. Il faut leur dire: “J’ai vu une maison de cent mille francs.” Alors elles s’écrient: “Comme c’est joli !”

Translation: 

When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him. If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20,000.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”

Our society has spent so much time defining us according to arbitrary categories : employed vs unemployed, skilled labour vs unskilled labour, racial and ethnic group, economic class and so on so forth. In the excerpt above, the narrator comments on how grown-ups (which I will intepret as society) loves numbers and to attach numbers to someone. Similarly these acquaintances looked no further beyond my economic status for topics of small talk without paying mind to the impact this could have. Until recently, many people defined themselves according to their jobs– which can become a problem.

All of this is just to say remember to value the people in your lives for whom they are and not for the numbers attached to their circumstances. Lady (Un)employed recently published a touching testimony  from an anonymous contributor. I would really recommend that you read it as it addresses the devastating effect that unemployment can have.

After all, the essential is invisible to the eyes of humans.

That’s it from me.

xoxox, S.

Confidence

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I would recommend checking out the article mentioned in the blog post and the website in general. The stories shared are moving and speak to our daily conflicts.

Things I don’t understand: Follow Your Passion

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The other day, I realized that my parents never actually advised me to “follow my passions.” In fact, it often seemed that they would advise the contrary. An instance that jumps to mind was when I was confirming my final course choices for the International Baccalaureate (IB) in high school. All my classes had been accounted for, except for my seventh class, would I choose art or physics? Now it was apparent to my counselor that I wanted to choose art. I chose Physics. Why? Because my parents preferred knowing that I had a good solid ‘background’ which would keep doors open. It did come in handy later for my university science requirements, but beyond that I didn’t maintain much connections with physics after high school.

Now why am I mentioning this story? Once I got to Canada, I was suddenly being bombarded with messages dictating that I pursue happiness and that a job that isn’t related to my passion is a useless job. There is some truth to the whole “follow your passion.” I have worked—like many others—a job that I despised. I would dread going to work three days ahead of time (it was a part-time job) and I would count down the number of shifts until I quit. In fact, I also hate my current job and I am also thinking of quitting.  Having gone through these two experiences, I would never recommend someone to stick to a job that causes them great anxiety, misery and which they absolutely despise.

But, there are many jobs out that there are just “meh.”  As in they are okay. They aren’t bad but you are not absolutely in looooove with them. You might just like them.

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Once, I was speaking with a friend about my first contract, at Company A and when I explained what I did, she commented on how I didn’t seem enthused about it. Now this incidence did not happen only once … but thrice. I don’t get it! Am I supposed to do a song and dance when I speak about work? Is every single job I do supposed to be a dream job? For me, the answer is no. Meh jobs are good. Meh jobs are great when you are starting out a career.

On that note, I will be starting a series of posts on why I feel that “Follow your passion” is not necessarily the best piece of advice out there.

The Africa is A Country Syndrome

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I could write another blogpost about how job-hunting is depressive; however, I just wanted to rant about an issue I have been facing while living  in a Western society. It is the “Africa-is-a-country-syndrome.” This syndrome that infects the minds of numerous people in non-African societies, consists of reducing a continent of 54 countries with extremely heterogeneous cultures into one ambiguous blob of a country.  These poor souls truly suffer a case of immappancy — meaning insufficient geographical knowledge.

Please, let us start by considering that when we are talking about the continent of Africa, we are talking about this:

Africa is bigger than the US, China, India and Europe combined!

Now, this is a serious problem. Remember that Rick Ross tweeted that he landed in the country of Africa. And then of course, there is this mess. Paul Romer is an economist suggesting highly sensitive policies –that in my opinion, are very reminiscent of colonialism– and he can’t have the decency to acknowledge that Africa is composed of countries!

Another thing, that we need to consider if that we are talking about FIFTY-FOUR COUNTRIES, then nothing warrants cultural similarities. I, myself, have grown up in five countries– Burundi, my home country, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Zimbabwe. Therefore, my knowledge of cultures around the continent tends to be broad but superficial. Yet, with my faulty knowledge, I can still tell you that each country has vast differences in foods, clothing, languages, the politics of culture and the number of ethnicities/nations within the country. Take, for example, Burundi and Kenya. Both are in the East African Economic Region, they share some of the same economic products (namely tea) and they are both democracies. On the one hand, in Burundi, there are three ethnicities– the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas– who share the same language (Kirundi) , wear the same traditional clothes and eat similar food. Meanwhile, in Kenya, there are nine different ethnicities each with their mother tongue, their own customs and their, well I suppose, own clothing.  This is to say, in one country you can find an extremely heterogeneous, diverse society where people of different socio-economic backgrounds intermingle. This does not necessarily hold true for the next country.

Which is why it frustrates me so much when I hear people make comments such as “Oh I love African fashion. The clothes are so colorful!” I actually had a fashion student tell me that, and I was perplexed. I thought about my own invutano and I could not fathom how you could describe as colorful.

Linda Ikeji’s blog, which admittedly is not a perfect resource, pointed that there are all these traditional dresses in Nigeria. The singular country of Nigeria!

Nigeria
Please click here because there were even more traditional dresses.

In Senegal, the traditional dress is called a boubou or the m’boubou when worn by women:

  

And then of course, we have our dear invutano, the “Sunday Best” in Burundi and Rwanda.

Invutano

How can anyone make a sweeping comment about African fashion when you are confronted with such diversity in clothing? That is why I believe that there is no such thing as “African fashion” or “African food.” There are simply too many differences and different type. Sure from time to time , a dish– such as foufou— will pop up and you will think “Hey I eat that too!” Nonetheless, it is likely, as is the case with foufou, that the preparation and base ingredients change from country to country. It is like saying “We eat rice too!”

I feel that there is so much more that can be said on the topic; however, I want to touch base on why this ‘syndrome’ is problematic in the first place. It is problematic because it is foreigners whom make international development decisions, often made with little regards to the input of the citizens of the concerned country. These decisions are more often than not blanket, one size fits all programmes.  It can also result in policies such as the Millennium Development Goals which in spite of its good intentions sets up countries for failure.  African Studies classes talk about theories without applying them to specific case studies leaving people who have actually lived in the continent flustered at the cheap talk. Sometimes newspapers get one correspondent to cover the entire continent.

It is further problematic that people amalgamate these 50+ heterogeneous countries because there is, through the process of amalgamation, a loss of sense of individuality and humanity. My experiences and stories stop being specific to my origins and the obstacles that I have to face and instead become commonplace. I guess I am talking about tokenism. For example,  suddenly you are asked to represent the ideas of a Malagasi when you are Burundian because you are the only African person in the room . People expect your life to be representative of the typical life of the hundreds of thousands of people who live in various conditions throughout the continent. When your experiences don’t fit within their expectations on how an African is meant to live, they will try to undermine your authority. Combined with the image that the continent has in the media, it can lead to dehumanization of African peoples.

Africans themselves are by no means guilt-free. The other day I posted a quote from an article about Spaniards that stated that:

“Anyone who has ever been in a group of Spaniards knows that there’s no such thing as waiting for someone else to finish speaking before speaking themselves. If there are four Spaniards in a group, there are four people talking. And, as they talk, the volume increases as they each try to make themselves heard above the others. Actually, this doesn’t really piss Spaniards off, that nobody is listening. It’s just the way it is. It will piss you off a lot more than them.” (Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/how-to-piss-off-a-spaniard/#LEzepX8C8oseOUKY.99“)

and then a Senegalese answered that this was also the case with Africans. To which a Burundian answered that talking over someone else and interrupting people is considered extremely rude in their culture.   In a final example, this reminds me of when  Senegal was eliminated from the African Cup of Nations in October 2012 for riots which broke out after losing to Ivory Coast  and a fan had this to say “We had to save our lives. We didn’t understand what was going on – we’re all African, and we’re all brothers.” France and Germany (and their allies) waged two World Wars, dragging all their colonies into the battle and their animosity resulted in the direct creation of the European Union. And they are right next to each other! I am not saying to condone violence or to condone further divisions between different African citizens. Rather, I wish to make the point that it is okay if disagreements occur between people of different nationalities. We are not all the same; we will not react the same way to certain events.

In the end,  I know people will blame the “Africa-is-a-country-syndrome” on ignorance: “But in the media, they only show us images of the poor starving African children!” This is bullshit. In Canada, and so many other places, they have electricity 24/7, internet is broadly available, libraries and bookstores are well-stocked and there is a diverse population with people originally from African countries. In spite of this wealth of resources available to them, I still get comments such as “Oh where is South Africa?” I think it is time that we take a look at ourselves and question how much effort are we making to combat faulty geography lessons.

I left a map here (you can click on it to make it bigger) just in case you need a point of reference throughout the article.

Map of Africa

I’m back :)

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Ok, I have been gone for a minute; well not literally, because it is just another expression to say that I have not written in a while.  So where was I?

First off, I would like to apologize. There is a part of me that feels this crippling guilt for not updating this blog more frequently- not in fear that I was disappointing readers, but rather because I really want to use this blog as a platform to push my writing, and to a certain extent, my creativity, in a certain direction. Yet, there was this other part of me, the perfectionist me, that was afraid of uploading a post with less than perfect grammar. That was afraid that updating my blog meant putting less time into job-hunting and so that was afraid of so many more things.

Therefore, I am going to treat this blog as my personal challenge to become a better content creator, to un-learn the stodgy rules of academic papers and to rant about my ‘feels’ for unemployment. And I want to start by cleaning up the blog– posting the posts that I promised I would, learning to customize the design, learning the backend of the blogosphere, and most importantly, scheduling my posts.

In the past month, I have started yet another contract position, to explore the industry of agriculture (if confused, please check this post out). The first two weeks went well with me appreciating certain aspects of the job and disliking others. Somehow, this descended into a strong dislike for the position, and a persistent questioning of where I stand vis-a-vis my ambitious goals: “Look at X, Y, Z they got jobs in reputable places, doing reputable things while I am still stuck typing in data for this agriculture firm. What do I want to do with my life? Why am I not finding a permanent job? I need to push harder.”

After getting four of my wisdom teeth extracted last Thursday– oh yeah, that happened– and getting two sick days off, this Sunday evening I am toying with the idea of asking for yet another day off. Thoughts of Monday rolling around fill me with anxiety, a stress for too little time to wrap up random errands, and a dread for going back and punching numbers. I now realize that it may not be smart to talk about this publicly on the internets; thus, I shall stop there.

Of course, I want to mention that there are some things that I appreciate at my position, which is more adequately put in a list form:

  • I appreciate that I get paid the equivalent of an entry level marketing assistant’s yearly salary… for punching in numbers.
  • I appreciate the sorta-egalitarian treatment of the workers. Of course, as a contractor, taking personal time off, means catching up every single hour that was meant to be worked (like why!?!) BUT
  • Unlike organizations where I have previously worked, every worker had a security access card to the building that worked after-hours. Everyone has a work email and access to the programs that they need for free. You, as the worker, are provided with a work computer (yes, some organizations with big budgets don’t provide that). You are given the same swag as everyone else. You have an hour long lunch (I live for lunch breaks). Oh and you are paid.  Yes, I am talking about unpaid interns.

So that is it for me. I am saying good-bye to that attitude that kept me away from blogging. I think the last bullet point would make a good blogpost. What do you reckon?

Love, S.

Bits and bobs

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Hello blogosphere,

I feel pretty bad for not having posted anything on this blog for a while. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is not that I do not have ideas for blog posts but rather that writing can be difficult for me. This time, my struggle was perfection. I have tons of amazing blog posts that remain unpublished because I felt that the grammar was bad, the writing was average, that it required more research etc, etc. ENOUGH! I have been reading great content on other people’s blogs and I am dying (not literally) to share some of my thoughts.

In sum, this blog post will be a collection of random anecdotes, thoughts and rants that I have had throughout the week; in other words, do not expect much coherence between each story.  I will also be posting a “Things I’ve been digging”/ Favourites post either today or this weekend.

K, here it goes:

On Consignment Stores:

Over the past week, I went on an insane shopping spree spurred by a dress code that my soon-to-be-employer, agricultural firm B, had sent me.  And by insane, I mean that it depleted my bank account. So I  tried to be reasonable and to sell/consign a few of my ill fitting clothes to second hand stores. According to Wikihow, these were some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • “Vintage” stores usually prefer clothing over 20 years old. This is a great way to profit from your families fashion disasters from the 70’s.
  • “Contemporary/used” clothing stores usually prefer clothing currently in-style or less than a couple of years old.
  • Consignment stores sell your clothes for you for a commission. Like the other stores they may only take in certain seasonal items at certain times. Call ahead. These stores are great for getting rid of formal gowns, bride’s maid dresses, etc.
  • If you have clothes that are nearly new, then many cities in America have a Junior League “Nearly New” store. They are willing to pay a lot of money to get clothes that are basically new.
  • Note: Thrift stores re-sell donated goods.

With all this information, I went off to sell my basically new clothing (most of them were acquired between September 2012 and January 2013) to consignment stores only to meet the most pretentious people I have ever (like emphasize the EVER) met in my life.  They were like “Oh, we only take magical, decadent and colorful clothing. I would probably put those in the free pile” or “We want fall items or vintage” or “If it is not kooky then we don’t want it. ” Meanwhile, their stores had clothes that would make anyone scream with horror and they managed to keep a straight face while looking at my clothes with contempt!?! I wasted a whole two hours of my life and I missed an appointment with a personal trainer because of these trifling Vancouverites. I kid you not I even cried in frustration (cringe)

This incident not only made me realize that there is a lack of a re-use culture in Vancouver but also there is a lot of falseness and pretentiousness amongst people.  So I am stuck with either donating my clothes or selling them on Ebay. In the end, I returned some of my purchased items because well, I could always use the money.

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On Sailing

The other day, my friend took me out sailing on Jericho Beach. I wish I had a picture but I am not that forward thinking yet. Sorry. Anyways, it was my first time sailing since high school; though, we were off to a rough start I must admit that there is something magical about being in nature. It even made me consider starting sailing or water sports as a hobby. Then again, there is the whole money-is-a-little-tight-now situation.

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On the colour black

The other day, Teju Cole, a famous Nigerian writer who tagged the expression “white saviour industrial complex, ” wrote an article and a series of tweets about ignorance and language. Before you read on (I’m surprised that you are still reading), you should take some time to check out some of the words here.

One of them stood out to me: MOCHA. Term used to describe black women’s skin. No other meaning known.

Which inspired me to write an entire Facebook status:

Things I don’t get:
When did “black” become a bad word? I am not talking about the N* words, but saying “I’m black, she’s black, he’s black, we’re black.” Have you notice how instead of saying “black people,” the media prefer referring to our skin colour either as food– “Her chocolate/mocha/caramel/cafe latte/ plain drip coffee skin” — or as woods (ebony, mahogany) . Even worse, the word, deep: “Oh we don’t carry makeup for deep tones.” Like why? What’s going on?

I know you don’t believe me. Check this out: Makeup Ideas for Deep Tones or Try Pintrest. And there is also that time, that someone was so afraid that the word black is politically incorrect that they called Nelson Mandela an African American.  Houston, we have a problem.

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An update on Job-hunting

Ok, if you have managed to stick around until this point, you deserve a pat on the back. Because there were only words on a white screen (I know, how aesthetically draining, right?!?). I am just going to give a quick update on my job hunting.  I have conducted three informational interviews which ranged from motivating, eye-opening and inspiring to slightly frustrating.  Since I have a contract starting up soon, I have been slacking off a little on contacting people for informational interviews. It is just so damn difficult and apparently, it seems to people that I have no clue what I want to do. Which sucks. Oh and it reminds me I have a bunch of resumes/cover letters to send. Which also sucks.  I start work next week at what the interviewers described as a data entry position.

On that note, I will wish you a pleasant Friday.

xox, S.

inCOnSistEncY

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Hey blogosphere,

So, I haven’t written in a really long time. Yeah, [insert awkwardness here]. Anyways, I have been working on some blog posts– including one on my first impressions of Canada which could take a while before it is posted. However, in the meanwhile, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer and I, instead, wanted to talk about communicating what you are looking for.

Recently, I completed a three month research contract for Company A which left me, as we say in French, déboussolée.  I guess the term would roughly translate to desoriented but the difference is that déboussolé etymologically has the root word boussole, which means compass. Therefore, for me, it conveys losing the path that was set by the compass.

Anyways, prior to the position at Company A, I had completed all the exercises in What Colour is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles and I felt that I knew what types of jobs I wanted. Nonetheless I feel that I have changed ever since taking this position and that most of my self-reflection may no longer be accurate– leading to a problem of people perceiving me as inconsistent.

How is it that one minute, I state that I want “business development, marketing or market research positions” and the next I apply for a job in a seemingly random industry– agriculture? Okay, I didn’t apply for an agriculture position, but, you need to understand that I have to keep this blog as anonymous as possible; hence, I will not mention the actual industry where I sent in an application.

How is it that I am considering doing a Masters in Management but that I am working all over the place? Where is the consistent narrative in my past work experience? Why the lack of directions? If I really want to be a management consultant, why don’t I just apply for that?

I find this perceived bias incredibly frustrating– even more so than the stupid questions, students ask recent graduates. There are two ways, I could explain this : first, I could backtrack and explain my randomness or I could explain why the idea of inconsistency is frustrating.

Stick with me here and I will explain both.

My dream job is as a management consultant for Firm X. However, finding an entry level position in consulting is incredibly difficult, not only, because they want you to have experience from renown companies, but also because if you do get extended an offer, your application will not be evaluated for two years. That’s right! You are basically black-listed for TWO years. Let’s be honest. It freaks me out that I could accidentally lock myself out from my dream job for the next two years. Therefore, I never applied.

Moving onto the Masters thing. A Masters in Management is not equivalent to a Masters in Business Administration (MBA); the former is a one year program that students from non-business backgrounds can use to strengthen their business acumen and add prestige to their resume. Considering that such a program offers both practical, hands on business knowledge and networking opportunities, I think that it is an attractive option if I want to go into my dream job.

Then where did the biz dev, marketing and research come from? Until I get myself together to apply for either the Masters program or the consulting positions, each of these options present an alternative, and, dare I say, more accessible entry level career. As a Political Science graduate, I have been trained to be an analytical, problem-solving, kick ass communicator. Marketing is about connecting brands with consumers and biz dev is connecting firms with future markets (ie for consumers).  During my  undergrad, I conducted original research and sat through a boring seminar about methodology. I actually want to learn stats and I have an interest in it.

Meanwhile, the agriculture position all started because I feel in love with a firm that offered a Recent Graduate Rotation program wherein, the graduate would work in a variety of arenas while being prepared for a position that is analytical by nature.

To summarize, I am a people-oriented communicator who enjoys work that is analytical (includes problem-solving) and non-repetitive.

Most of all, this consistency issue annoys me because it essentializes humans. As an avid reader and a social sciences student, I know that humans are complex and that their behaviours do not always fall within the good/bad dichotomy. We all wish we were “good;” however, we know that facing situations of great adversity we may do shitty things. I find that economy as a discipline, often reduces humans to a set of simple maxims. It is perfectly normal that, as complex creatures, we have diverse interests and that we do not necessarily breathe solely for one type of industry. So yep, I may seem inconsistent but from where I am standing, I am damn proud of my complexity.

xox, S.

Quick Post: On being in a limbo

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Hey my invisible readers,

So I have to be honest. I haven’t really been feeling like writing in this blog mostly because I feel like shit. Yes, I feel terrible. This aren’t new feelings and neither are they abnormal according to psychological studies on unemployed people’s wellness (and this article).  Nor am I suffering from a lack of inspiration: I have so many ideas for blogposts and so much to share out there.

I feel that what is blocking me from writing is whether my feelings are valid. As you may have guessed from my previous posts some of my closest friends have not finished their studies yet and therefore, are somewhat oblivious to the pain of unemployment. There is a person, let’s call her Adeline, who found a job in two weeks– a corporate job in two weeks– who therefore, feels qualified to dole out advice. Mind you she found this job within two weeks of finishing classes. Not even graduation. Just classes.  All of these factors beg the question: “Am I normal?” Is it just that I am not trying hard enough? Why is it that I simultaneously seek and dread the word, “networking.”

I know that it is often recommended not to compare oneself to others, yet, part of me thinks that it is inevitable; we have been compared to each other since we are children. Who has the best toy? Who is the brightest? Who is the cutest? etc etc etc. Unemployment removed my points of references and the whole “have you found a job yet?” is an inadequate goalpost because one can progress in their search without scoring the holy grail of contracts.

Anyways, this post was about everything and nothing. I just wanted to mention why I am not as motivated to write.

That’s it from me, xox. S