Misfit, Mercenary or Missionary? Examining Your Motives to Do Aid Work

The old joke that everyone in humanitarian aid is one of these three persists, but how much truth does it carry? We’ll look at these labels, how to examine your motives and where to go from there.

As in many other areas of life, labels like this may be too simplistic, though they may be useful as guideposts to anchor your ideals or motives to at any given time.

For many aid workers, it’s likely that which of these three labels fits best for you will vary throughout your career, but it’s also possible that you’ll flit between them even on the same day, as in reality, you’re most likely not fully one nor the other.

What are the misfit, mercenary, and missionary?

Misfits are those who live on the outside of mainstream culture. You’re likely to not be interested in much of the same things that most people are expected to be interested in within the predominant culture of where you grew up, and so having the opportunity to leave it all behind and focus on the lives and struggles of people in an entirely new and potentially unknown part of the world can be appealing.

Mercenaries tend to be focused on the future of their career in aid work and what they might be able to get out of it for their own benefit, be that a certain kind of work contract, better benefits that come along with the job, or even just bragging rights at having been in that place during that disaster.

Missionaries, in the strict sense, are doing aid work in the name of a religious organization, but the characteristics can apply even without an organized religion backing them. Missionary types tend to have a sense of being superior, and they alone will be able to fix the poverty, injustice, devastation or whatever afflicts the region they go to work in. In short, the “white savior”.

Identifying yourself

While it’s certainly possible that you don’t fit into one of these three roles completely, it’s unlikely that there isn’t even a small part of you that can identify with some of the aspects common to at least one of them.

Take some time to consciously reflect, looking back into your past for situations where one or more of these roles may have played a part.

In identifying the roles you’ve played, or have fantasized about playing, in your job as an aid worker, you get much closer to revealing to yourself the motives behind your actions in pursuing this line of work.

The Solution: Finding your true self

Aid work is complicated, and if you’re an aid worker it’s important that you get a handle on things like your motivation. If your motives are well-defined and positive, then you can go forward in a more professional manner.

In the end, it’s important for you to understand your own motivations.

This helps keep you focused and on track so that you aren’t surprised by any sudden turns in your personal or professional life.

Make it a goal to clarify your motives once per year and keep them positive and well-defined.

Eventually, this should help lead you towards an ideal career in aid work.

Contact us if you are a person who cares a great deal and wants to break free from a role that doesn’t fit you anymore. 


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