By Sarah Townsend
Former expat describes his six years in the UAE in this account of a turbulent and winding career path
“Dubai has been called many things but the one thing you can’t label it with is unambitious. From the moment you arrive you’re met with a palatial, sparkling airport that makes its European and American rivals look like neglected toilets at a council-run music festival.”
British author Charlie Raymond lived in the UAE for six years, arriving in 2008 as the global financial crisis hit. In his new book, Hired, Fired, Fled: One Man's Global Quest To Beat The Rat Race, he describes the winding career path that took him to Dubai – a 14-year bid to test the elusive ‘oyster theory’ that anything is possible and you can be whoever you want to be, even the godlike film director in a pinstripe suit who Raymond spots early on his career and sets his heart on becoming one day.
He finds out the hard way (as I’m sure so many of us do) that the oyster theory has a few holes in it. His job-hopping journey takes the reader through multiple career false starts, achievements and flat-out fails – from working as a safari guide in Zimbabwe to writing mind-numbing stories of cats stuck up trees on a local newspaper and being part of a casting crew attempting to stage auditions in New York City the morning of the September 11 terror attacks.
“To a man looking for a new start, [Dubai] was ideal,” he writes. “Instead of sombre pints in London pubs, Dubai teemed with positivity, with opportunity, with proactive people, adventurous risk-takers, and those starting afresh.”
His stint working as a features writer at a UAE newspaper is a high point, he says, describing his flatshare in Jumeirah Beach Residence and the infamous Friday ‘brunches’ as well as other upsides, such as paying only AED110 ($29) at the time to fuel a gas-guzzler, not worrying about your apartment being unlocked 24/7, and living within “the most vibrant social scene I’d ever encountered”.
He also describes the days the good times temporarily stopped – the panic-stricken aftermath of the global credit crunch when crisis bankers swooped in to contain the impact of years of excess, real estate prices plummeted sixty percent practically overnight and debt-ridden expats abandoned their cars at the airport and jumped on the next flight home. The life raft for Raymond was the newspaper job offer, and he stayed on as the country picked up the pieces and recovered.
Hired, Fired, Fled describes the emotional rollercoaster that is the modern job hunt, and anyone who’s graduated in the last 10-15 years, particularly post-recession, is sure to empathise with him.
New graduates would probably learn something from the snippets of advice given in bullet points at the end of each chapter, for example: “If consumed by ‘Blind Career Obsession (BCO)’ you'll ignore alarm bells and carry on regardless. This is not advisable.” That was a lesson Raymond says he learned when fundraising on behalf of a ‘film producer’ who later did a runner with all the money. It’s a dubious turn of events that reminds the reader just how much young graduates willing to slave away for peanuts to take that tiny next step up the career ladder are taken advantage of by exploitative and sometimes downright dishonest employers. “Career moves in mysterious ways,” he sums up.
Hired, Fired, Fled is a witty and entertaining read with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and some incisive nuggets of wisdom.