After I graduate college, I want to travel and then look for a place where I can develop life skills. After that I hope to join a CSO, either in Bhutan or overseas. However, my parents are really against the idea. They think travel is of no value and feel that CSOs are unstable and so unsuitable for a career. Instead they want me to work in a government office, which they believe is more stable and a more worthy career.    

SJ, Thimphu

Well, first of all, I think it important to understand that nothing is ultimately stable or permanent. Of course, some jobs offer more security than others, but nothing is guaranteed and finally everything falls apart. In this respect, rather than clinging to an unrealistic ideal of a permanent, unchanging job, it might be better to prepare yourself for change and be ready to adapt to new situations.     

Perhaps it is helpful to think of our environment like a room. We clean it and add decorations. Then we have a choice on how we deal with the inevitability of change. We can close the windows and doors and stop people entering – definitely this will prolong the cleanliness of the room, but it will also create an atmosphere that is suffocating and lifeless. Alternatively, we can accept the inevitability of change and leave the doors and windows open and invite friends and family to enjoy the space. It will get messy quicker, but it is a living environment – vibrant and alive. The choice is ours. If we choose the latter option, then, in terms of the room, we clean it, let it get messy and clean it again. With life, we have jobs and we have relationships. They change and fall apart.  We rebuild them. At the same time, we acknowledge that they will change again. This is how we should think. 

Does this mean that we just allow relationships to end or let our health decline? No, we still do our best to maintain a relationship and we should definitely visit a doctor when sick. Still, we should recognize that no matter how much time and effort we put into the relationship or into preserving our lives, they will still not last forever. In short, we should work with the immediate situation, but, at the same time, maintain the overall, wider view.    

To specifically address your question regarding CSOs, well generally such organizations are founded on altruistic ideals, and if you share the vision behind these ideals, then a CSO can provide a very rewarding work experience. However, you need to ensure that the organization where you consider working remains true to its founding principles. If it has become burdened with excessive bureaucracy or the management are wasteful and extravagant with their funds, then your efforts on their behalf will not bring you the sense of achievement and satisfaction you seek. Therefore, before making any long term work commitments you should thoroughly investigate any CSO that you are considering to join.  

With regard to your specific question about your future career, you need to reflect on what is important to you: Basically, do you prefer a challenge or security? Of course, a secure job can also be challenging and exciting, but sometimes there has to be a trade off. Furthermore, you should bear in mind that it is not the job that is important, but how you approach it. 

As an example, take a job as a dish-washer. Many people may think of it as a boring and low job. However, with a positive attitude, it can be transformed into an inspiring experience. 

To achieve this mindset, you could perhaps make an aspiration before you begin your work: “May everyone who uses the cups and plates be happy”. Later, as you wash the dishes you can fully focus on your work and do it to the best of your ability, and to help stop your mind from wandering off you can perhaps be aware of the weight of the plates and cups and also observe the feeling and smell of the soap. Furthermore, you can make sure that each plate and cup is totally clean and placed in the rack in way that it is easy for others to pick up. If you feel a sense of irritation or shyness, observe it and ask yourself why these emotions are arising. Don’t blame others, but look to your own mind for an answer. 

Now, if you want to add a deeper element to the job, remind yourself that you, the dishes, and the action of washing them is unreal like a fantasy – ok, this might be difficult at first, but if you read about the ‘four seals of Buddhism’ you’ll get some idea. Finally, after you complete the task, send out a mental wish that any good results from your efforts will contribute to cleaning away the ignorance in people’s minds and that they will be free of suffering and its causes. 

If you can approach all your tasks in this way, your life will be alive and vibrant. Also, you will create an atmosphere that is a source of constant inspiration for you and others. 

As for travel, if done with the aim to touch the cultures of the places you visit, it is a great mind-opening experience.  Strangely, these days people only seem recognize formal study in schools or colleges as education, whereas in reality learning from wise elders and people who have experienced life is a very important to a young person’s development. When I was 21 years old, I travelled to Japan, and later to Taiwan and also India, and, if I am honest, I believe that the life skills I learned on the road were far more valuable than what I learned in formal education. In this respect, if you travel, don’t just hang out at shopping malls in Bangkok, but instead sit on the ghats in Varanasi, talk to people who survived the genocide in Phnom Penh, learn from martial artists and IT professionals in Taipei, and speak with classical dancers and street kids in Mumbai. Let your planet teach you about life. In reality, while we should applaud modern Western education’s contributions to the fields of medicine and material development, we should recognize that it has not created more peaceful and content societies (in fact, the suicide rate is rising in many developed countries), nor has it eliminated violence or war. You should think about this.  

I wish you well.       

More information on impermanence and change:             

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organizing drug outreach programmes.