Life lessons: There’s more to work than a fancy office

A job isn’t simply about thinking of a way to earn money, but thinking about a way you can create value in the things you’re passionate about.

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This week, the Middle East Public Relations Association hosted a majlis to discuss the new world and new approaches communications professionals find themselves facing in the ever-changing landscape of technology and digital communications. I had the honour of sitting on a panel that discussed the changing impact of regional influencers – I was coming from the perspective of sharing my journey on leaving a corporate job to follow a career in social media.

I have long been a storyteller at heart. I remember when I first left my job, my mother would tell me how I always loved to share stories. Even as a kid, when my mother had guests, I would share stories of my day at school, my views on the world – which at that time were limited to how much I thought school needed to change – or my thoughts on the latest episode of Boy Meets World.

As I grew up in high school, I put those interests aside for more realistic or traditional academic and career choices. Through the journey, I worked in the maritime sector on gas tankers, then moved on to analysing and investing in maritime companies at a sovereign wealth fund.

It wasn't until I was 30 that I took a class on the entertainment industry during my master's. It was a class that changed my life. The class took place once a week, and during each class, we had a high-profile guest, some of whom included the chief executive of HBO, as Game of Thrones was taking the world by storm, as well as the producer of Glee, when the show was coming to an end.

Then, for one class, came a man who introduced himself as a “chief storyteller” at Pixar. Everyone was pretty amazed at everything he must have accomplished, and as the only Emirati in the room, I sat there thinking: “That’s a real job? You actually get paid to do that?” I’m sure he got paid very well to do that, given Pixar’s number of success stories.

What this experience taught me is that work – a job – isn’t simply about thinking of a way to earn money, but thinking about a way you can create value in the things you’re passionate about. It taught me that sometimes you have to show why your work is valuable. A lot of the time, people or organisations may not know they need your skills until you show them and demonstrate how you can positively impact their lives or their companies – a Steve Jobs-esque approach, if you will.

Today, when I describe myself to people as a storyteller, it’s something I wear as a badge of honour, rather than hope that people will skip the whole “So what do you do?” question out of fear of being given that blank stare – the one where they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about and aren’t sure if they even want to.

I’m comfortable because I redefined what work means to me – it’s not about a salary at the end of the month, a fancy office or a senior title. At this stage, I have none of those. I haven’t received that text message to tell me my salary has been deposited for nearly a year, I work out of my house or the nearest cafe and my job title is Khalid Al Ameri.

Work means so much more to me than all those things. It’s about leaving a lasting impact on people and organisations. It’s about making a difference, and to do that, I must focus on the work that brings me to life – telling my story to the world in a way that engages people and leaves a memory that will last forever.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons.

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