Becoming a Chamelon

By Abrahim Harb

I have been influenced by a wide range of people, but I always find inspiration in anything I do. Work was something that always had to be meaningful to me. I will never take a job because I need the cash and if I do, I make it meaningful. Throughout my 23 years on this earth, I have lived life like a sponge, soaking it all up—observing, but never sitting back idle. I have had many mentors, but my AVID teacher stood out due to her honesty. My mother has been there for me every step of the way and every boss I’ve had praises my abilities in general. My persistence has kept me on a path to success (as defined by learning and sometimes money) and my personality has made me a person who everyone (okay, mostly everyone) wants to work with. While developing my interests, I received a variety of mixed messages—but they were rightfully mixed, coming from a genuine place. In the essay, I intend to explain some of the experiences that have shaped my attitude and values about working, careers and vocation.

The major successes in my life are usually based around my mother. From day one, she has been my biggest fan and my worst critic—yes, in all its clichéd glory. My mother was a teacher in her home country of Palestine, but struggled to find a job as a teacher here due to the credentials. But she never let that stop her, she found a job wherever she could. She would use her experience to find a meaningful job to bring in the extra money needed to help maintain the household costs. That is where I learned the ability to become a chameleon, to blend in, but not be forgettable, in regards to vocation or work.

In 5th or 6th grade, one of my teachers (I don’t remember who) spent the last few weeks of school focusing on vocation. At the end of the two week long mini-seminar, we were asked to come in dressed as if we were going into that vocation. I don’t remember much, but I do remember, I was interested in becoming a toymaker. I don a suit jacket and briefcase borrowed from my father. I shoved a stack on blank paper, a pack of pencils and a few of the small McDonald toys I had hoarded. I proudly walked into the classroom the day of the event. Each of us took our seats in our homeroom, which had a different chair arrangement for the day. We sat discussion style, each of us wearing different garb—we were asked to provide a basic 5 minute speech about our job, to accompany the paper we were assigned to write about our vocation; the jobs ranged from dancer, scientists to inventor and teacher.

That is my first memory of discussing vocation and the messages received throughout that entire experience are positive. But as an educator, my teacher was most likely coming from a superficial, yet encouraging point of view. Obviously, we would most likely change the vocation we wanted to pursue multiple times, this was just a way to immerse ourselves in the options out there. At this point, I was still developing as a person, but the reinforcement was positive. Nobody was told you couldn’t achieve that or that isn’t realistic—instead, each person received a variation of “with an education and hard work, you can do it”. This is somewhat negative as well, because there is the rarity that a person can work hard, but may not have completed their education. Sometimes, additional education, beyond high school, is not the way to go. While preparing for this presentation, my mother had a discussion with me. That was the day I realized that my mother made it clear that she would support any vocation I wanted to pursue and make sure I left no stone unturned.

During my transition from grammar school to high school is when vocation became a priority to me. I was in a program called A.V.I.D, which stands for Advanced Via Individual Determination. That program can receive all the credit for shaping me to be the person I am today. I took regular courses, but the program was a framework used to help the AVID students succeed through high school. The accolades extended beyond that, AVID students were treated like celebrities at William Howard Taft High School—we were put on a pedestal, but much was expected from us. The four-year program guides students through their high school career and cultivates well-rounded, aware, eager, inquisitive, motivated, college ready and college bound students. On a regular basis, my mentor, Angela Pittman was available for a chat. She was constantly pushing the class beyond our comfort spot, which is why the messages received ranged from positive, positive glorified messages and negative; they remained consistent in the sense of honesty. The director of AVID and my avid mentor (technically, she was a teacher—but I don’t consider her one) took an interest in each of the students. The messages weren’t clichéd or generalized. Her individualized feedback genuinely is something I will cherish forever. She was honesty, but never rude. Tough, but never endurable. Smart, but never conceited. Friendly, but always professional. She pushed us when we needed it, offered a tissue when we needed it and excused us from class if we showed up clearly shaken up.

In the last year and a half of our program, the first half was spent researching colleges, having field trip visits to the popular schools and eliminating colleges/universities by the vocational offerings our top picks had. During the four years at Taft, I began to harness my talent in writing and being creative overall. Anytime I was assigned a project in class, somehow, my teachers would always love my projects and of course, being the mostly self-aware person I am, I took notice. The final quote-on-quote project: emceeing and organizing the final ceremony for the AVID program. I wrote the script and enlisted two co-emcee’s (who were also my best friends at the time). My mentor was surprised in how fast I could create a script and have it be workable. From the start, anything creative piqued my interest. Reading, writing, singing, creating was always something I enjoyed—and thanks to the messages I received, and the talent honing I have conducted, I have been able to take a hobby and make it a vocation. And what do you think my perceived vocation may be—a writer and journalist. But I extend my vocation beyond that. I am a learner, observer and critic of myself. I consider those my second vocations Why? Because (a) my art form requires it and (b) I am naturally curious and hard on myself.

At first, I truly didn’t have a clue about anything related to my first vocation as a writer and journalist. I just began to write after learning about it in various capacities throughout my grammar and high school career. At some point, being a print and on-air journalist became something interesting. It all hit me at once. I was happily bombarded with many opportunities in my three years attending Wilbur Wright Community College (one of the 7 City College of Chicago). Side note: do not scold me for the following statements. I did it once. Throughout these experiences is when I perfected my ability to become a chameleon, without losing my voice. I constantly had to adapt my talents to the situations I was in. My second year at Wright I joined the newspaper after being urged by a classmate in which I wrote 2 pages of his 6 page paper and got paid $40. He was then the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper and praised my writing—we are now close friends. During my time on the newspaper, I was given positive messages because I had a talent for noticing the small mistakes and quickly. I wasn’t given many negative messages, because I can recognize my weaknesses and ask for help.

The following year, I was elected the Editor-in-Chief of a literary magazine, The Wright Side. At the end of my tenure, I was awarded for my achievements twice, being given the Harold Wilcox Award for Literary Excellence. Also in that year, I wrote my first play and was artistic director for a play festival. I hope to continuously use my writing abilities in all the various mediums available. I started out writing poetry after briefly studying poetry in high school, then it shifted to writing papers to achieve my high school diploma. After starting at Wright, I began to study poetry again, and then delved into journalism, something new I wasn’t familiar with at all. Then lastly, I began to bring out the short story writer within me.

Overall, my vocation has remained within a creative/entertainment inclination. The messages I have been receiving lately are positive. Ironically, I recently posted on the Facebook page to promote my writing/journalistic endeavors the well wishes and feedback I received from friends I have made along the way—friends that will not sugar coat the facts. Due to the free reign I have been given and the positive reinforcement I have received from my mother, my mentor and the various people I have encountered my attitude towards work/vocation has never changed much, I am never apathetic or lazy and even when I am prompted to, I can’t be lazy. My work ethic is very strong, that at some point I feel like I will have a meltdown and need to take time off. Great material for writing my second play! I currently am the Editor-in-Chief of Seeds Literary & Visual Arts Journal, in addition to office manager and social media coordinator, staff writer for the Independent, a full-time student, stage manager for the Children’s Theatre Workshop at NEIU. I maintain my website where I post reviews, poetry, prose and post my newspaper articles, I also have home responsibilities. I am pursing my Bachelors in Communication, Media, Theatre at NEIU and later this year, I plan on interviewing for internships at Windy City Live. I hope to get a job with them or ABC, where I can stay local and still pursue writing, in the various mediums Chicago offers. I have long and short term goals and I will add more and more to the list. Thanks to all the people I have met, the friends I have made and the experiences I’ve had, I can proudly say that continuing down the path I have been walking on towards my ultimate goal is something I look forward to on a daily basis. All these sources that I have received messages from have encouraged me to pursue the natural talent I have as a writer and creator. I have humbly accepted feedback and implemented it—whether it be positive or negative.