I envied the premed students their precocious certainty. If the purpose of life is to find purpose, they already had the answer to life’s great mystery: what are we to do with ourselves? They, like the budding engineers, bankers, and architects, seemed made of sturdier stuff—the last descendants of our fathers’ generation, capable of firm decisions and lifelong dedication. While we, the ambivalent and harried children of the digital age, with our short attention spans, strong opinions, and wavering convictions, took jobs that paid the bills and bought us time to think, or forestalled the decision altogether and went to law school.
I couldn’t know then that my career would take me to Rwanda and that I’d be producing a musical here, of all the improbable things. When I graduated, I didn’t have the comfort of certainty. All I knew was that I wanted to put my political science degree to use. It made sense to join the annual migration of interns looking to make a name for themselves in the nation’s capital.
After jobs on Capitol Hill, I joined a think tank to launch its first podcast program. Interviewing Washington personalities afforded me the opportunity to narrow my own interests, so when NBC called to ask if I’d be a political producer, I thought I’d just about made it. But six months later uncertainty struck again—I was asked to leave Beltway politics and go to New York to work in business operations. In my new job, I discovered it was unfashionable to discuss politics at parties and downright unprofessional to do so at work. For want of civic engagement, I started volunteering with Kiva, read development blogs, and kept up with this economic theory and that aid debate.
I was thriving in my new position and my hobbies were rewarding, but uncertainty nagged. If we’re supposed to find and follow our passions, why had I become a digital media professional instead of working in development? It was time to turn off the cruise control. I applied for a fellowship with Global Health Corps and accepted a position in Rwanda.
Purpose, I realized, is not a deadline-driven endeavor. It takes experience to uncover career choices one never thought existed. The work with GHC opened an array of possibilities to capitalize on my talents and passions. But my prior work was not wasted time. My training in business management made me a strong candidate for a challenging job in Africa, and my policy work made me an effective advocate.
There was a French musical that I’d fallen in love with some years back. I’d translated it into English to practice my language skills and had always wanted to see that version staged. Les Dix Commandements, Moses’ story of oppression, injustice, and hope, suddenly took on new urgency in Rwanda—a country that experienced the worst of human cruelty in a most horrifying way not so long ago. The timing was right to produce a work about struggle, love, and reconciliation in a country badly needing opportunities to rally around something inspiring and beautiful.
Almost twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda is a changed country. The streets are safe, tourism is again thriving, and the world is increasingly seeing it as a place for commerce and investment. But development is more than staffing hospitals and building schools. Civil society also matters, perhaps even more so, and the real indicator of the health of a country is the happiness of its people.
My Kickstarter campaign to secure the initial production budget received full funding. The project was also featured in Rwanda’s daily newspaper, The New Times—a testament to how starved this country is for creativity and the arts. My seemingly motley career progression had distilled into a self-directed project with social purpose, professional challenge, and personal passion.
One can go to school to be a doctor or an engineer, but there’s no major for producing musicals in Rwanda. The path to career satisfaction is not always straight and predictable. It can take unexpected turns before you find the thing that gives you meaning. Seize your opportunities, explore your options, and learn what you can. And when in doubt, consider that Joy Behar taught high school, Andrea Bocelli was a defense attorney, and Julia Child spied for the government before she cooked on TV. Not even our enviable doctors lead lives of certainty. Just ask Charles Darwin.