Careers advice from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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I can’t be the only person who has been watching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with interest. After beating long-time incumbent Joe Crowley to the Democratic nomination for New York’s congressional district Ocasio-Cortez has quickly become the standard bearer for a new progressive, forward looking American left.

Of course suddenly being elevated to national leadership or the ‘voice of a generation’ doesn’t always go well. The streets of politics are littered with former big hopes and future presidents. But, despite some fairly heavy guns attacking her Ocasio-Cortez seems to be holding up pretty well so far.

I listened to a couple of her pieces on Instagram this morning and was amazed to hear that she was talking about career development.

In You Can Do It she talks about her own career story. How she worked in low wage jobs, experienced family set backs and moved around. She offers a message of hope and optimism, but also one that is tinged with a recognition of inequality and the fact that life isn’t fair. She advocates for people to take control of their lives and make a positive change, but she also talks about the power of solidarity and working together.

In Pep talk she talks about the challenge of moving into the public eye and politics for someone from a working class background. She argues that the expectation that people will be immediately and totally perfect is an unreasonable one, and that we need to recognise that people can learn and grow in life and work. She also talks about how people are keen to criticise and diminish others and how politics has become highly negative. Her ultimate message is that you need to accept yourself and focus on your strengths as this is what will empower you to change yourself and the world around you.

I found all of this to be powerful stuff. She takes a lot of the tropes of ‘inspirational speakers’ which tend to be very individualising and recontextualises them as a way of challenging oppression and connecting your experience to wider struggles.

You don’t have to share all of Ocasio-Contez’s politics to find her career stories interesting and inspiring. I think that these can serve as some useful resources for careers education and particularly for people who are looking to engage with issues of social justice and community and to make cross-curricular links to history, politics and citizenship.

 

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