Reflection Questions

What’s Your Job Story?—Reflection Questions

If you’re reading My Job in a book group or class, with your family or office colleagues, you may want to explore what your own “job story” has or hasn’t in common with our narrators. The following questions can spark conversation or writing. You’re welcome to me or our narrators, and to share your thoughts, within our Facebook community.

Book 1–My Job: Real People at Work Around the World

  1. Who was your favorite narrator? Why?
  2. What cultural differences did you notice in comparing chapters from within U.S. states and across other countries?
  3. How has the setting in which each narrator lives (culture, economy, religion, government, urban or rural) shaped their career path?
  4. How do the editor and narrators of My Job define a job? Does this book provide a philosophy of work?
  5. Give some examples of ways that the narrators’ jobs have resulted in health and financial challenges.
  6. Give some examples of ways that the narrators’ jobs have resulted in greater prosperity, creativity, or leadership.
  7. What is the role of family in each narrator’s story? How have their families uplifted or drained them as they pursue their career goals?
  8. List some myths about jobs that were debunked for you as you read the true accounts of real people in various occupations.
  9. Describe how the voice of each narrator varied from each other and from the editor. What would this book be like if it were written in third-person narrative; e.g., by a journalist reporting on her observations about each narrator’s work and life?
  10. The My Job Foreword and Prologue both note an intrinsic correlation between one’s workaday life and one’s deepest personal life and cultural values; i.e., the professional is the personal. Do you agree?
  11. Did any of the fifteen jobs described within this book appeal to you? Why?
  12. Talk about a person in your life with a fascinating job—whether because it’s dangerous, controversial, inspiring, or glamorous.
  13. What was your first job? What did you gain from that experience?
  14. What is your current work—whether across multiple jobs, traditional or volunteer? How has your own cultural background and economic reality shaped the job you now hold?
  15. If you had all the money and time in the world, how would you spend your days?

Book 2–My Job: More People at Work Around the World

  1. Chapter 1: Mike Kenward recalls his childhood in London, England as one of full of laughter, love, and happiness but lacking in financial security and a father. He has set his career path in direct opposition to that of his wealthy workaholic father in the U.S. Has there been anyone in your life who’s modeled for you what you do not wish to devote your time and effort toward, in your own career? Also, although Mike works as a gambling addiction-recovery counselor, he purports that gambling has beneficial impacts for many people and that everyone has addictions (his is peanut butter-and-jam sandwiches). Do you believe that “addictions” ever can positively enhance one’s productivity and health?
  2. Chapter 2: Kevin Zazo directly credits his trauma at age five in Puerto Cortés, Honduras, of witnessing his father murdering his mother, with his current desire to care for as many people as possible through nursing. He says that he does not regret the pain of losing his mother, or anything else he’s been through, because it’s made him who he is today. Can you track your own life story to find places where suffering and loss have shaped whom you’ve become? Did your experience influence your choice of your current livelihood or future career goal?
  3. Chapter 3: Sandra López made a series of clear decisions that led her away from organized religion and the machismo culture of her upbringing in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, toward education and freedom. Her experience of giving birth sparked her desire to become a midwife, and now she believes that the circumstances of our birth set the stage for health and peace throughout our lives. How might the way you were born, your birth order (if you have siblings) and family dynamics, and the presence or absence of healthcare and home resources, impact your current level of stress or serenity? If you have given birth or assisted a birth, did your life change, as Sandra says that hers did when she decided to have “Juansie”?
  4. Chapter 4: Nadine Niyitegeka sees herself as proof that any girl can become whatever she dreams. She recalls being very shy and quiet, struggling to learn English to apply for college in Kigali, Rwanda, and evolving into the confident public speaker and admissions counselor she is today. Nadine credits her boss’s son for perceiving potential in her, and the curriculum at The Akilah Institute, for helping her cultivate her leadership skills. Do you believe that everyone has the ability to become a leader? What does leadership really mean? Describe three pivotal people in your own life: someone who convinced you that you had it in you to follow your dreams, someone whom you see as a leader you would like to emulate, and the type of leader you’d like to become in your own family, church, community, or workplace.
  5. Chapter 5: Kelly Kang exemplifies the contradiction she laments about Korean culture: the relentless pursuit of academic success pushed onto young students has equipped her with the skills to teach, yet it also saddens her to witness how exhausted and stressed her students are as they muddle through after-school tutoring until 10p.m. Kelly wishes they had more free time to play sports, learn music, and pursue extracurricular activities; and she decries her nation’s emphasis on memorization and rote skills. Yet in South Korea, 93 percent of students graduate from high school on time, and they rank among the highest in the world on global standardized tests. What’s the tradeoff between obedience and discipline there? How is education imposed (or not) where you live? Which careers might be well suited—and not—for youth who’ve matriculated through the Korean system?
  6. Chapter 6: Misozi Mkandawire never stops strategizing ideas to add more kiosks to her mobile-banking business in Lusaka, Zambia, and designing new mobile-phone platforms to empower women and young people to launch new businesses. Where do you think she gets her energy and ambition? What aspects of her life in South Africa resonate with yours, and which do not? Is it easy to obtain funding and guidance to launch new startups where you live? If so, what resources support entrepreneurs; and if not, what’s needed to support a more robust ecosystem of invention and industry?
  7. Chapter 7: Srey Pouv Kai describes her early childhood in the refugee camps on the border of Cambodia and Thailand, left fatherless at three months of age and emotionally motherless as well, as severely lacking in both material and familial resources. Nevertheless, her first idea for a career was in nursing, and her two current jobs entail helping villagers attain microloans and providing rice seeds to farmers.—Everything she does seems motivated by her desire to help her extended family and community members to “stand up” as she did, from poverty into power and prosperity. Can you find any clues in her story as to how she wound up with such deep compassion when her own childhood was bereft of it? And in your own work, are there ways in which you pull others forward into greater financial or personal empowerment?
  8. Chapter 8: Sena Ahiabor managed to combine his family’s legacy of farming with his personal affinity for engineering (“designing equipment”) in his agri-processing company in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. What’s your family’s job legacy? List as many of your ancestors’ occupations as you can recall. Enlist the help of family members if possible. Does your own current work connect back to any of their skills and contributions? If so, would you credit that solely to a sort of in-house apprenticeship learning, or do you believe you have inherited specific talents from them? Is there such a thing as “occupational DNA”?
  9. Chapter 9: Mary Gibutaye receives a mobile phone from a nonprofit program and learns to operate what she calls “the computer” to study weather patterns and market pricing, to resolve crop diseases and implement crop rotation. Thinking at first that she was too old to learn, Mary ended up delighted with her handheld database, and she now teaches other farmers what she’s learned. Her informed innovations seem pretty radical in rural Uganda, where her neighbors still farm with hoes and hands and, living in an area that lacks electricity, Mary has to use a solar cell just to recharge her phone. How do you react to new technology in your field? Do you embrace or resist new applications and programs?
  10. Chapter 10: Alberto Alaniz recalls an early experience of racial prejudice in Chicago, Illinois in an encounter with police officers and joins the Latin Kings, simply because his mentor and friends are already in it. Later, inside prison, Alberto has a revelation when he sees opposing gang members helping each other out. He symbolizes his new vision of multicultural unity and strength by transposing a Mexican eagle over top of his gang tattoo. Soon after being released, Alberto goes to work for The Center to teach art to young black men emerging from jail and gangs. How did his prison experience prepare him for the career he now has? Can you track a series of adversities that led you to your current work? As a first-generation immigrant from Mexico, Alberto achieves the American dream of obtaining an education, career, family, and home ownership. Has your family faced hurdles due to your cultural background? Finally, despite the impactful work Alberto does with youth, he cites fatherhood as his most important role. Can you imagine an economic system in which caring for family members receives remuneration and benefits?
  11. Chapter 11: Tania Wong teaches many modalities of dance at her studio in Toronto, Canada. She asserts that, with sufficient practice, anyone can learn the technical moves of choreography; but that when dancers allow the music to evoke emotion in them, their movement becomes art and has the power to heal both audience and dancer. She envisions a program of therapeutic dance, in which students could overcome low self-esteem, depression, grief, and family and psychological issues, through self-confidence acquired through dancing. What are the ways you use your art and skills to nurture people with whom you work?
  12. Chapter 12: Michele Peregrin works in Washington, D.C. at the über-bureaucratic State Department. She’s one of 70,000 worker-bees who pass through high security every day with the intention of improving U.S. relationships around the world.—Yet she brings full color to her story with her love of hip-hop and her cat Marbles, her tale of meeting her husband at a bar in New York, and her wanderlust for travel that must wait until she has more money and time. She’s humanizes her work by describing transnational projects with visual artists, musicians, and museums, and insisting that only through person-to-person cultural exchange can nations hope to succeed in governmental conflict resolution. Would you classify Michele as working top-down, from the most powerful government on Earth, or bottom-up, connecting grassroots artists with one another to create empathy across difference? Are there feasible ways to work as an activist within the “system”?
  13. Chapter 13: Junior Walk chose the most controversial job in coal country, as an activist striving to save the last mountaintop in West Virginia. His neighbors have slashed the tires on his pickup truck, hurled rocks through his apartment windows, and made threats to kill him. Does your job have physical or mental dangers inherent in it? When Junior talks about the “true” legacy of Appalachia as hunting and gathering, music and self-reliance, is he kidding himself to hope that locals can find work outside coalmining? How is the tragedy of deep poverty, ill health, and job scarcity in West Virginia reflective of other areas in the U.S. and beyond? When Junior states that he would support only industries—whether in coal, wind farms, or anything else—controlled by and paying full profits to locals—can you think of any examples from your own past and present work built on a model like that? Is there any cause that you believe in so strongly that you would work for it, even if some people disowned you, hated you, and threatened you? How best can activism achieve goals?
  14. Chapter 14: Greg Khalil says that his appearance as a Palestinian American allows him to “pass for so many things” in other countries. He calls it both a blessing and a curse, because “when people assume you’re something you’re not, they’ll often open up in ways that reveal their biases and prejudices.” Although the racism he experiences on the job as a Middle East peace diplomat sometimes feels like a knife in his gut, he utilizes the information to further understand how to help people get along. Have you ever experienced on-the-job racism, sexism, homophobia, or other biases based on your appearance? Can you discern any nugget that could inform your work or relationships; or was it purely baleful abuse? How does the way Greg interacts with people of opposing views contrast with the approach taken by the governments in Israel, Palestine, and the U.S.?
  15. Chapter 15: Mickey Bergman works more jobs than we can count—teaching at Georgetown University, consulting for The Aspen Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative as well as a few nonprofits, and managing his own enterprise. He’s made a conscious choice not to be “full-time in an office, working on Excel,” but to serve as a contractor only to projects that advance his personal mission of “Fringe Diplomacy.” However, in developing economies, according to the International Labour Organization, three of four workers endure “vulnerable employment,” cobbling together multiple odd jobs with no benefits or security. What’s privilege for one person is dire necessity for another. What factors contribute to the growth of the informal/gray/gig economy? How fast is this job-sector growing, and why? Have you worked in the gig economy or juggled multiple jobs? How, for better or worse, has that affected your sense of identity and wellbeing?

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My Job: Real People at Work Around the World, by Suzanne Skees

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