No Country for Aspiring Young Folk
It is a truth universally acknowledged that, if you put in the time, effort, and diligence, success is bound to come, sooner or later. In proverbial terms, you reap what you sow. And you don’t have to be a genius to light upon achievement: it’s a combination of hard work, talent, and good luck. At least that’s what I was taught growing up in the US.
As a “grown up,” which I suppose I must own up to now that I’m a so-called professional, I still like to believe in that storybook truth. Lebanon however hasn’t proven to be the model backdrop for this “American dream” ideal. Day in and day out, I witness struggle without consummation, tragedy devoid of triumph, battle giving way to, at best, a fragile truce. And it troubles me.
When I first arrived in Lebanon four summers ago, straight out of business school, I made it a point to reach out to more seasoned graduates of my own alma mater—MIT—assuming they’d readily relate to my journey and appreciate the value of my degrees. Some from the get-go told me they had no vacancies at their places of employment, nor were they able to carve out a position for me simply based on my promising background. Others happily received me, patting me on the back so to speak for braving it into Lebanese waters where apparently few challenges existed for someone of my potential.
One sharp-tongued CEO, the founder of a lucrative multi-million-dollar real estate and land development company, told me that I’d disturb the office dynamics and intimidate his subordinates with my wild genius. No way on God’s green earth would he hire me.
The irony was insufferable. Here were some very successful businesspeople, all of whom had gone abroad to obtain a first-rate education, all of whom had returned to the motherland and chanced upon fulfilling, high-paying jobs. Yet they were all either artificially sympathetic, as if pitying me for choosing Lebanon over a first-world country, or they were too pretentious and arrogant to remember what it was like to be in my shoes.
Or perhaps they never were? Perhaps they were all lucky descendants of very affluent, very well-connected pedigrees where lining up a job post graduation didn’t even figure into the slightest of their worries. Everything had been sorted out for them years and years ago, long before they even shipped off to university. They didn’t feel an imperative to “pay it forward” because they’d bought their way to wherever they currently sat.
That is the intrinsic problem of Lebanon. You can hardly hope to take off and attain real, tangible success unless you are on the in. Even if hiring managers are able to appraise your merit and hire you, you will be sorely underpaid. Your annual salary will fall short of a year’s tuition at the graduate school you attended, so if you have student loans to repay, don’t expect to do so in the near future. Some of your peers will be paid handsomely, because their parents have clout at the institution where you work. But your compensation will be modest, with empty promises of an accelerated pay-scale once you penetrate the ranks of senior management (in your 40s or 50s).
It’s easy to become disillusioned with the mentality prevalent here. The Lebanese people pride themselves on being intelligent and avid lovers of education, yet they hardly reward intelligent people and instead scorn those educated abroad for even considering Lebanon as a place of permanent settlement. “Go back to where you were,” they dismiss you craftily.
Then why, might I inquire, do they take up residence here? Is it because here and only here can they lead ostentatious lives and indulge in luxuries they’d otherwise have no access to elsewhere in the world? Do they repel the up-and-coming generations because they fear being supplanted by them? Is it all just a big conspiracy to hog Lebanon’s top positions and horde away the cash, leaving nothing in their wake?
Fresh graduates, be warned. Lebanon is not the place to live out your fairytale dreams of boundless success and reward. It will turn the aphorism of output equals input on its head and make your labors seem petty. Not a playground for the weak, Lebanon may forge a fighter out of you, but it is up to you to decide whether the return justifies the risk.
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