Risky Business: The Unspoken Guilt in Service

By: Kiara Abdullah


Little ruins a senior’s final hoorah like the realization that college is coming to an end and despite the numerous courses taken and thousands of dollars invested you are still unprepared for ‘the real world’.

When we were children our parents asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” With confidence we gave answers like, “cowboy, president,” or in my case, “a princess.” This was ok –and maybe even cute– when we were little but as we matured the expectation was that our answers would become more serious. Our parents, community leaders, and the world watched our generation grow with the highest expectation that we would be and do better than they did.

So I went to college with the intention of majoring in ‘changing the world’. I quickly realized this major wasn’t an option and settled on anything that would get my parents to stop leaving voicemails about ‘choosing a suitable career’. I switched majors 6 times in college. I was everything from Pre-Med to Poli-Sci when I finally realized all I wanted was to not be broke forever. I knew I wanted to help people, fight injustice, and afford a decent lifestyle. So I brainstormed careers I thought met these criteria. This list included professions like: therapist, journalist, social worker and teacher. I was proud of my list and excited for the future. But my academic counselor said I had “far too much potential to waste on certain careers .”

Looking back, I don’t think my academic counselor knew how crushing her judgments were to me. She had cross examined the life-span of each career against the current job market and sinking economy. She averaged salaries and benefits against more reputable career choices. And then she looked at the numbers and explained that these careers were simply not worth the risk.  She was just doing her job.

For a long time I listened to her, and everyone like her who said, “Teaching is for those who can’t do.” In fact, I listened to her until about a semester before graduation, when I changed my major to Human Development and Family Studies deciding that I was willing to take the risk. I applied to several jobs and internships, knowing that my diploma would be less worthy in most careers but, hopeful nonetheless. Then I started saving money realistic about the possibility of getting hired nowhere. I did all of this alone.

I received my offer with City Year in December of 2012 but didn’t come out to anyone about this decision until late April.  I didn’t want to explain that money wasn’t a factor in my happiness or that being at a job I love and helping people who need it is far more important to me than the car I (don’t) drive. I didn’t want the judgment and I wasn’t ready for the guilt. I share this story because I’m no longer ashamed of the dedicated and sincere work I do every day, regardless of pay. I’m here because I want to be here and I believe in the power of young people. I recognize now that I didn’t have to do it alone and I shouldn’t have done it alone. The payoff isn’t monetary but, definitely worth the risk. There are thousands of dedicated, sincere, idealists across not just the nation but the world living the exact experience as I am. And that is a beautiful thing.


8 thoughts on “Risky Business: The Unspoken Guilt in Service

  1. I’m so incredibly inspired by the work that you do. Your dedication to and love for everyone who walks into your life is something that I envy and strive to emulate. I wish there were more people who could understand that life is not about money, but about the legacy that you leave behind. I know you’re already leaving a wonderful bit of yourself on every life you touch — I’m one of them!! — and I’m excited to see what the future holds both for you and those whose lives you have affected.

  2. This is great. Thanks for sharing, it can be a little sensitive when it comes to this kind of stuff. I myself have changed majors three times and I think about my future nearly everyday and worry if I will be able to get a job and if I will even be happy. On top of that, the questions and constant concerns from family, friends and community members can be at the least, draining. As I quickly approach senior year (yay?) I am concerned about not only things like my (suffering) GPA, how I’m going to pay my bills, and scholarship deadlines, but also about things like what kind of things do I need/want in my life so I can be happy and feel good about myself, my (flickering) level of spirituality, and how much will this matter in 10 years?

  3. Love the phrase “coming out.”

    I was recently accepted into CY and have been struggling to find my way to having this convo with my parents. So I just printed this article and decided to send it to them instead. Thanks.

  4. I am so proud of who you have become and who you strive to be. You have more value than any degree could hold. As an individual, professional, and woman of faith and integrity you possess so much strength. Hold your head high, because you’re doing what you set out to so and the cost of that is invaluable.

  5. I am so proud of who you have become and who you strive to be. You have more value than any degree could hold. As an individual, professional, and woman of faith and integrity you possess so much strength. Hold your head high, because you’re doing what you set out to so and the cost of that is invaluable.

  6. I’m mesmerized by your dedication. It takes serious strength to be able to just follow your dreams regardless of what others might think. This just goes to show that taking a risk and going with your gut can lead to an awarding and humbling experience. I hope those kids can appreciate everything you’ve done to help them achieve their goals.

  7. I am very proud of you for following your passions. A job ain’t nothing but work, but doing what you love supercedes any monetary gain. Thank goodness you learned this early in your life. Some people discover way too late that no one can dictate to you what career to choose. You should always follow your passions. Your students are lucky to have you. Continued success and happiness.

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