”So do you want to become a doctor or an engineer my dear; what do you like the most?”; a sentence exposed to any child growing up with Middle Eastern parents at least a dozen times during their childhood. And I was definitely not the exception. I still get a: “you said you wanted to become a doctor as a little girl, do you remember?” from my mom once in a while. I therefore, despite growing up in Denmark — a country with a laid back attitude towards education in comparison, am a victim of my Middle Eastern heritages outlook on educations ability to pave the way for the good life. I therefore was (and to some extent still am) convinced that a prerequisite for leading a happy and successful life is getting a degree. This would land me that perfect career; encompassing a perfect job, that is challenging (yet still chill) and where I can make some money along the way. However, close to graduation my belief was shaken up a bit…

Because I am from a culture where only the smartest (read richest) kids in class are entitled to attending a recognized university, an education is equivalent to winning the lottery of life. As there is a big difference between rich and poor, a great way out of a less fortunate destiny is getting a degree (preferably a doctor or engineering degree). Can you imagine the value of that diploma? Also, as there are less people with a university education, it is a little easier to get one of those cool jobs as there is less competition. The thing is, as it might be true for third world countries that education is essential to obtain a great career and life, it is not as applicable for Denmark anno 2016, which is the country I grew up in… Denmark is a country with one of the most well educated populations in the world. Can you imagine the intensity of the competition for those cool well-paid jobs? Yikes! I experienced the fierceness of this competition first hand when applying for my first full-time positions right before graduation.

I was always told by peers, former bosses and colleagues that I should not worry about landing a great career since I was considered above average. I had a lot of work experience, participated in many extracurricular activities during my studies (including a series of failed start-ups), had a great point average and was multilingual. This made me certain that I would be indispensible for the Danish labor market. Oh, the naivety…. While I am still very proud of my accomplishments (also those failed start-ups) I came to realize that most of my peers were also above average. So, I wasn’t that different from the bunch after all. Also, as I was about to find out, landing that perfect career is not only determined by your education and work experience. It is also determined by your personality, your network and a combination of good timing and some luck…… Growing up in Nørrebro (the Danish equivalent to a “ghetto” — which is probably more like a small suburb if compared to international standards), my network of successful business professionals was a bit humble, so I needed a little luck in my job-hunting process.

So what is the lesson? After some failed attempts at getting one of those really cool jobs that I’ve always wanted, I came to the conclusion that just because I have a master’s degree from a top university, I wasn’t entitled to sh*t…… This made me very humble. As opposed to my cultural belief — an education is not equivalent to getting a career served on a platter. It could have been really nice though. Nonetheless, a great career is something that I have to work for; just as I worked for my degree. The only thing I am entitled to post-graduation is entering the intense competition with my ambitious peers for all of those cool jobs. And in that competition not only hard skills are of value, but soft skills as well….. So, while I still believe that a degree is a great starting point, it is not a prerequisite for getting a great career or a life for that matter…. One day though, I am certain that I will reach my own definition of success as I still have the same high aspirations and work ethic. But until then, I’m humbled enough to not expect it.

What’s your view on my lesson? Comment your thoughts below.

Work and progress,
Hana

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