Last night, I go out to dinner with my friend Jerôme and his girlfriend. He proposes an Italian restaurant, in the most crowded part of the city.
“It’s super trendy right now,” he tells me, when we see each other.
I’m afraid it’ll be all pasta and pizza, standard fare at Italian restaurants outside Italy, but I keep quiet, trying to be open-minded. They’ll have options, I tell myself.
We meet in the queue, entering together. I order beef carpaccio, and it arrives on a dish so big it occupies half the table. I pick my way across the plate; Jerome, sitting next to me, helps himself to bites. When we’re done eating, more than half remains.
“Ask for a doggy bag,” Jerome suggests. I wrinkle my nose at the name, but ask the waitress to pack it up. The next morning, sitting in the the forest while on a 27 km hike, hunger makes the carpaccio delicious, and my hiking friends are envious.
1. Trust what you like.
A few years ago, I went to Haiti to work for an engineering NGO. The job and its possibilities excited me, and my boss could sense my enthusiasm. Engineering, however, didn’t, and he sensed that, too. As with Italian food, I’d known since childhood that designing buildings wasn’t my passion. But, as with Jerome, I ignored my preferences in favour of an experiment, and it failed. I left before my contract was over, and joined an organisation that worked with smallholder farmers. My new colleagues, passionate about agricultural issues and climate change policy, reminded me of my closest friends from college; unsurprisingly, the job was an immediate fit.
2. Redefine displeasure as expertise.
Six months after leaving my job in Port-au-Prince, I’m standing astride my blue bicycle with the CEO of my new job in Germany, talking about mango exports from the island. “You are the only one we have who’s worked in Haiti,” she tells me. “You’ll be able to advise us on the strategy.” It didn’t matter to her that, like with the carpaccio, I hadn’t enjoyed it. Simply having firsthand knowledge set me apart; suddenly, I was an expert in the eyes of the organisation, a valued member of the team.
3. Next time, be more picky.
Haiti, Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan are hotspots for NGOs, and the job opportunities in these countries are incredible. Scrolling through job listings, I am sometimes tempted by the chance to impact serious change, and to thrive doing work I love in a historically-significant context that stretches and challenges me. Then I remember the mountain of mud outside our apartment complex in Haiti that seemed to grow by the day, the unbreachable economic gap between locals and expats, and not being able to walk on the street, and I realise, those jobs, like Italian food, are not a fit for me. There’s different, and better.
Photos by my friend Victor. Thanks Victor!