There was a time when you would ask an individual what they did for a living and they would answer, as though by rote, that they were a lawyer, a doctor or an accountant – do you remember this? Do you recall the satisfied smile that would occur on the faces of those who asked you what you were reading at university, when you responded with engineering, architecture or economics? As opposed to the blank stare received by those who chose to study drama or women’s studies.
Today, if you ask a Nigerian what they do for a living, the answers could range from chef to fashion designer, from website developer to illustrator. So it is clear that we are becoming bolder, embracing our dream jobs, doing what we want to do rather than what our parents imagined for us at birth; or what is considered to be socially acceptable.
But there is still that air of elitism, isn’t there? Still that pause when you answer that you are a writer, a social media communicator or a graphic designer. There is still that moment when the receiver of the information is waiting for you to confess to work that is more ‘serious’. Some of them are vocal enough to ask how you earn money. And perhaps this is the main issue for those of us whose jobs don’t sound as ‘professional’ as law; whose work is considered as much play as anything else.
I would argue though, that writing, art and music are professions, far older than law. And yet claiming to work in these fields results in a series of follow up questions, such as – How did you get into that kind of work? Do you have a side hustle? Who is your father? It is more likely that one will receive a look of disbelief than a look of respect; because, the truth is, though we continue to branch out into other disciplines, we are still far more impressed by those professions with a ‘structure’ to them, that require going to work in suits and paying homage to superiors; those professions that require one to go through formal education and display a certificate before even dreaming of applying for the job.
The hours spent laboring at work by an engineer and an illustrator may be the same, but one will fetch an unquestionable amount in millions, whilst the other will find him/herself defending the value of his/her work. Can you guess which?
Many Nigerians are under the impression that these alternative career paths are chosen due to laziness or unemployment, when in fact most individuals go down these routes as a result of passion and determination. Surely, it is far easier to work as an accountant in a firm, knowing that after a year you would be promoted to another position and rotated, with avenues for networking and opportunities for training; than to choose to be an illustrator in Nigeria which means you will work for less than you are worth, strive for more contract jobs to increase your salary, spend hours working to improve your craft alone, and still have to endure that look of derision when you announce the source of your income.
At the close of business, however, it is what brings the check home that counts; be it from break dancing on YouTube videos, washing windows of tall buildings, providing security for presidential candidates, or sticking a needle into someone’s arm. Worry less about how ‘professional’ people think your job is and focus, instead, on being professional whilst you perform it.
Written by Oyinkan Braithwaite for omenkaonline.com