Opinion The Youth Issue

How careers in Arabia are being redefined

"A successful career is now more than just stable financial gain."

By Afnan Alobaidli

Animation by Emirati illustrator Mouza Al Hamrani.

The path to financial and career stability used to be a straightforward affair. Back in the day, every child was told “repetition makes for the best students”. So they spent their school years memorizing textbooks by heart. At college level, the common advice to students was to go into science majors because those would land them a decent job and a good income. And if someone complained of not being comfortable with his or her job, they would be told “like what you do and do what you like”. This was not so much a glamorous path, but a safe path, nonetheless and it has appealed to many over the years. But today’s generation is faced with an expansion of career choices, particularly in the creative industry, requiring a different set of skills and stamina from those hoping to pursue them.

Technological advancements have enabled us to establish new streams of income. The Internet has changed the game. Today, it is possible to become a “Youtuber”, a “vlogger”, a “blogger”, or a “fashionista”. You can make a career playing video games, travelling the world, or reviewing restaurants, or movies, or the latest make-up trends. You can start a podcast, publish a book, set up a brand, design an app, become an artist, or teach a craft. Much of the time, all you need is a smart phone, an Internet connection and your limitless imagination. But the Internet game is predicated on winning as much attention as possible and this has put high demands on the ability to be creative and to be creative all the time.

This leads us to one of the more pressing challenges for today’s youth, that is the permeation of what I call the “culture of success” : the ability to defy expectations, to break stereotypes, to wake up at five a.m. and check every box on your to-do list. I daresay, many are putting higher expectations for themselves than their parents ever did and they are burning themselves out because who doesn’t want their own version of a TED talk? Who doesn’t want to stand on that stage and tell everyone that they too can become heroes? Average is outdated. Success is the new commodity. A successful career is now more than just stable financial gain; it is the dramatic unfolding of a fully developed character, the realisation of the individual, the unpredictable victory of the underdog… Such a career can be monetised as a story and become a contributor to the culture of success.       

The creative career paths of today have enabled us to have a voice and become more visible to the world. This might well be the first generation in the Gulf Region to have the tools and the resources to represent themselves, to export their culture and define their identity. Haven’t we always heard the complaints of being undermined, overlooked, misrepresented or misunderstood? Social media platforms have created careers for many people while also being a reflection of our society’s best and worst. This is an opportunity for us to examine ourselves more closely. With more people pursuing their careers online, the type and amount of content they put out tells us a lot about who we are.

Despite the excitement over these emergent career choices and the booming of the creative industry, it would be naive to overlook the significance of science-oriented and administrative careers. After all, it was the development of technology that has enabled the existence of these new career choices in the first place. We could say that the two are inextricable to each other’s existence. While some people are more comfortable operating in the background and keeping their success stories to themselves, others have found that creative pursuits have fulfilled their human need for self-expression. And it seems to be as important as having a roof over one’s head and putting food on the table. For a lot of us, and whether we are aware of this or not, to find meaning in work is to have a meaning for life.     

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Afnan Alobaidli is a graduate of English Literature from Saudi Arabia. She is passionate about art, history and literature. She loves to express herself through writing and plans to make it her lifelong vocation.