What Do You Care about Passionately?: The "Magic Wand Test"

Ask yourself, "If I had a magic wand, what would I do to make a difference in the world?" Lead a Council for International Visitors; build schools in South Sudan; advise international students at a university; manage a development project to establish village health clinics; organize short-term exchange programs for parliamentarians, librarians, or farmers—these are all potential answers. There are many more. Part of the challenge is comprehending the array of options. Whatever cause you find compelling, chances are there are various organizations working to make a difference in that area. Your cause is their mission.

The impetus to get a job, or to find a new one, comes from various sources. Almost always, the urge to fashion a career with an international focus stems from a particularly positive international experience, such as living with a host family on an exchange program, hosting an exchange student in your own home, participating in a short-term development project overseas, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, or studying abroad. The intense learning generated by the face-to-face encounters, the riveting conversations, and the dawning awareness of intriguing cultural differences and common human aspirations trigger our ambition to replicate this wonder-filled experience for others as well as for ourselves. The desire to help solve some global problem observed during the overseas experience may also inspire the determination to chart a career in international education, exchange, or development.

My own experience is a good example. At the urging of an AU professor, Alexander Trowbridge, I participated in an Experiment in International Living (EIL) program in 1963. (EIL is now part of World Learning—see chapter 9 for more information.) That eye-opening summer experience included living with a German family and traveling in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with a group of German and American students. My host family exposed me to so many new and exciting experiences. It was a time of intense learning and adventure. My world-view grew and became more nuanced. I came home determined to be an EIL leader and take my own group of students abroad, which I did in 1969—a memorable trip to the Soviet Union. After visits back and forth over the years, my German "sister" remains a dear friend. That kind of deep connection across time and culture continues to be an immense source of learning and satisfaction. My passion became finding jobs that enabled me to give others opportunities for similar, enduring relationships that transcend nationality and other differences.

I literally do keep a "magic wand" on my desk. I use it to remind job seekers (and myself) that it is important to suspend limitations and reflect on what you would do if no obstacles existed. Your answer is an essential clue to identifying your cause. As you consider possible causes, note your natural preferences. What events and speakers attract you? What are your favorite courses? What topics are covered in the articles you read first—whether perusing an issue of the Economist or skimming a favorite online compendium of articles? Whom do you admire? What facet of their work prompts you to say, "I want to do that—that is worth my energy and effort"?

People thoroughly content with the cause they serve often avow, "This is my calling." My favorite definition of a calling is that place where your greatest passion and the world's greatest need intersect.

The rest of this book concerns the process of identifying those organizations whose mission you can embrace and learning how to present yourself to employers so they recognize that your cause—your calling— and their mission are congruent.

Get Specific

Once you have identified your cause, it is critical to answer three sets of questions:

1. Where (in what geographic location) do you want to work? The answer may indeed be "anywhere," but be sure that is your considered answer. There are many international jobs that do not require a perpetually peripatetic existence. Of course, others require worldwide availability, or the willingness to relocate to a specific project site or other destination. Clearly, if you are working for the Red Cross as a specialist in humanitarian assistance, you are required to go wherever the latest crisis has struck. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and conflicts determine your worksites. Some job seekers know they want to be in a particular country; others must stay in a particular locale because of obligations to a family member or because they need to be rooted in a place for their own identity and effectiveness.

2. How do you want to spend your days? What kinds of tasks do you enjoy most? What sorts of skills and talents do you offer? As Adam Weinberg told us in his profile interview, it is important to play to your strengths. To what extent do you want to interact with international clients? There are international jobs where minimal contact with internationals is the norm. If you want to be a foreign student adviser, and enjoy daily face-to-face contact with international students, then you may want to avoid a job where your only contact with international colleagues is electronic or by telephone—unless, of course, you see it as useful preparation for an aspiring foreign student adviser.

3. What type of organizational culture do you prefer? Do you thrive in a large, structured environment or do you shine in an environment where being a self-starter and having initiative is highly valued? What type of supervisor motivates you to do your best? Many job seekers underestimate the role their bosses play until they are ensconced in their jobs. To the extent possible, you want to work for people who care about your professional growth and development, even if you sacrifice a bit on the salary side of the ledger. When you are interviewing for a job, you are actually interviewing with someone who reflects and shapes the culture of a particular organization. This is the person who will give you assignments. And this is probably the person who will provide a key reference at some point. The value of having a supervisor you respect, admire, and learn from is tremendous. In fact, it supersedes many other considerations, such as job title and pay.

 
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