Career

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman on making courageous career choices

''The best advice I ever got was to never worry about following the straight and narrow path.''

"The best advice I ever got was to never worry about following the straight and narrow path in career, or in life. I always had a bit of rebellion in me when it came to working in the law.
I didn't go corporate – I took the winding route of becoming a barrister, with all the limitations of legal aid, working in the chaos of courts and prisons. My dad never stopped asking if I might like to give it all up for a nice corner office in a fancy law firm. But those law firm recruitment events we were all invited to at law school always gave me hives.
We were handed brochures with pictures of your entire life laid out in glossy print. Here's the gym you'll go to, here's your yet-to-be-born children's crèche, there's your retirement plan. It was the life we were all meant to want but I didn't relate.
So I took a few detours. To everyone's amused amazement, I even gave up my place in a nice chambers to go off and do a Masters in the UK. Not in a practical area like tax or contracts or even criminal law, but human rights. It's not the most lucrative, employable specialisation.
I lived in student flats for years after becoming a lawyer, so I could save and took unpaid jobs or short-term contract work with the UN in Africa and the Hague. It was all incredibly interesting but as everyone got ahead on the corporate ladder, fixing a mortgage and having big white weddings, I was still taking every adventuring opportunity that came my way. Finally, I came home and that's when the advice came in handy.
Months after moving back to do the settling down I thought I should do, I was offered a job in Cambodia to work as Assistant Prosecutor in the UN mission to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. It was a prestigious appointment but it also meant moving, yet again, and taking up a job with no guaranteed longevity.
I felt like maybe I had had my folly, so I should just do what 'normal' people do and start saving for a house and looking to get married – mostly, get back to climbing that safe career ladder.
Luckily, I talked this all through with my friend Kate, who herself had dropped out of the law to do a PhD in political science. I remember she calmly listened to my panicky rant, put down her cup of tea, and asked, 'But can you think of anyone whose work or life you really covet, who you think is really amazing, dead or alive, who took the straight path they were meant to take?' and there was my answer.
I moved to Cambodia. I got to live in the most incredible country I have ever been to. I met some of my best friends in the world. I got to prosecute for the first time ever. Eventually I got to move back when I was ready, and a couple of years later I dropped out of law into the wild world of politics. No regrets."

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