Few things can leave you feeling as insecure about yourself as the job searching process. Putting yourself out there professionally is not that different from putting yourself out there on OKCupid. You want to seem confident, but not arrogant. You want someone to recognise your (what you imagine to be unique) sense of humour, but you don’t want to come across as a loose cannon that is unfocused. You want people to know your great qualities (which as you list them you realize you kind of like yourself), but you want to remain humble because you value that quality in others. Interviews are like going on a first date: you are suddenly aware of your lack of etiquette, you spend several hours deciding what to wear, you don’t want to overdo or underdo your make-up, and you are either up for commitment or you aren’t. All in all you are a constant bundle of nerves and more than once you’ve envisioned yourself cold and alone and aimless in a not too distant future.
For me this process is particularly grueling because I’m on the verge of knowing where I belong. Career-wise, region-wise, people-wise. Having grown up in a small town, worked across South Africa and then studied abroad in the USA, my first post-master’s job is meant to set everything alight for the very vague idea I have of my life. It is the shoulder boosting me into either a journalism, public relations or non-profit field. It is the boot kicking me either to Cape Town, dragging me to Pretoria or shoving me to Johannesburg. It is the pull to old friends, new friends, colleagues, community and the combination of them all.
So what is it then that I want out of this big (no-pressure, pffft, of course pressure) new job? At first it was clear that money was going to be the deciding factor this time. I don’t want to drive around extra carefully because I haven’t paid third party insurance for years. I want to eat my own sarmie at Mugg & Bean, even if the portions are unnaturally large, I don’t want to share. And I want to be able to tip more than 10%. I want to be able to pay the car guard more than R2 without thinking of how I probably won’t make the end of the month without my coins. I don’t want my stomach to make a double twist everytime the petrol price goes up. And most of all I don’t want to spend a lifetime paying my medical bills.
But, speaking of lifetimes, I find this one to be short. So, after putting on tight knee-length skirts and frilly silk shirts to show the corporate world that I can play this game too, I was bugged by an annoying voice that follows me everywhere I go. This voice is supportive and kind, but socially awkward and persistent. This voice is the sound of my passion. My passion prevented me from committing to a corporate communications position and my passion distracted me when I started googling journalism jobs. My passion is wise for its age, and I think that rubs off on me some days. So, as the recruiter asked me about my writing and editing experience, it was my passion that responded. It was my passion that elaborated on my work in climate change, in development, in human rights, in community organisation, in gender-based violence, in empowerment and in understanding the South African context. My passion was the one that put the smile on my face as we spoke. My passion put the stars in my eyes as I thought back to the days where I did research about things I cared about, when I could talk to people about what I cared about. When we could put together ideas and work work work until something somewhere started to look like a beautiful plan.
Even as I write about my passion right here, for social justice, for equality, for acceptance, for understanding, for compassion, I feel like I am in love. Blood rushes through my veins as I remember the faces I have learned and still learn from, as I remember anyone and everyone that has ever had a genuine appreciation for my work. My passion teaches me who I am. On my idealistic days I believe that those of us with this kind of passion, no matter what shape or size it comes in, are actually changing the world.
It is true, finding a job can be like finding a life partner. And in the same way that I hope to one day find passionate love, I am now hoping to find passionate work.