Working life full of surprises

I have a cool, well paid and stable job, where I work with people from many different countries, get to travel and am still allowed to have a personal (read family) life. This is not (meant as) boasting, but it is probably more than many people of my generation can say. I am also happy I have this job and am (a little) proud of it. I have worked hard for it and I work hard at it.

I sometimes get young people (trainees, children of friends, students, etc…) ask me what they have to study to be able to get the job I have, or more generally, to do what they want to do. They want advice, they want a rulebook, they want a method – a step-by-step guidance if possible. What to study?  What diplomas and skills to get to reach that job that they imagine is the fulfillment of their professional dreams?

I am usually very honest in replying that there is no valid rulebook. There are unexpected ways that can bring you towards professional success. And there are things your job will require of you, that no amount of training will be able to prepare you for. Think Devil wears Prada… with less stylish clothes.

To illustrate this, I have listed below some of the unexpected things I have been brought to do in the course of my work, that I have definitely not been trained for or could ever have studied for even if I had a crystal ball and could read the future in tea leaves. Some were fun, some were random, some were impossible, and some were just crazy. In advance, I remind you, I am a political science/public administration/international relations major:

  • In my traineeship with the UN, I have been asked to arrange the Director General’s photo album of pictures with important guests from around the world.
  • I have been given a professional camera and asked to replace a professionnal photographer (stuck in traffic) at an official visit.
  • During my traineeship in a french administration, I have attended a mass for the celebration of the patron saint of the fire brigade, inspected a prison and organised a meeting with district’s sheep farmers and various muslim organisations in view of preparing the Aïd celebrations (this included cleaning up the smelly crumbling sheep poo that the farmer’s brought in the meetign room on the bottom of their wellies).
  • On the first day in my job at the ministry of environment, I have been asked to ensure the czech-french interpretation for an opening of an exhibition sponsored by the French embassy.I have never done interpretation in my life before. Full of technical terms too… On another occasion I was to help out interpreters translating names of birds – for a conference on bird species in Czech republic…
  • In a workshop on decentralised cooperation, I have been asked to translate a (thank God for powerpoint! ) presentation by a lady from Slovenia – from Slovenian of course into french (because Czech is so similar), as the interpretor was running late.
  • On an official visit with a minister in another country, I have spent three hours trying to find and buy a charger for his phone, on another, my only contribution to the whole negotiation was to provide another minister with a Panadol for his headache –  an exploit that actually almost earned me a serious promotion (it was offered, but not accepted).
  • In my last job, and with one other colleague, we had been asked to design and to deliver on stage a “game” on the subject of sustainability to 400 people of our administration during a teambuilding day.
  • I was asked to develop a Data Strategy for our administration. My level of Excel is – beginner.
  • Latest in these small surprises a working sometimes life brings, was giving a presentation at a conference full of scientists (meteorologists) on the European Copernicus Programme -network of Sentinel Satelites used mainly for environment and security monitoring and discuss and explain resolutions, data access and various scanning techniques.

And some further reading on a similar theme here.



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