Career Choices

Life is full of choices – so goes the oft quoted cliche. But some choices are more important than others. Your spouse, for example. Or your friends. Or your phone (maybe, that’s just for gadget freaks like me). Career choices are quite important too – maybe not as much as your spouse but pretty close


Sure – you might say – what’s the big deal with that? Each year students and their parents spend a great deal splitting hairs over whether one should become a doctor / engineer / pilot / public servant / media personality / actor / lawyer …Then once you’re in a job, folks spend hours bitching about their current job and looking out for other options. To some, career/job switching seems like almost a pleasant diversion to escape the daily boredom of a job!

So, yeah, maybe I am stating the obvious when I say career choices are important. My nuance (and the reason for this post) lies in 2 specific elements of that choice: timing and level of risk! Explanation follows:

Most kids in booming economies like ours face a lot of pressure from parents who have grown up in scarce economy years. These parents have two fundamental beliefs:

  1. Jobs are scarce and hence, you must fight for them
  2. Their kid must get a highly paying job and thus get ‘settled’ in life

These two ideals are steadfastly held onto by most middle class parents – which leads to two phenomena:

  1. Kids take minimal levels of risk in making career choices – smart ones will prep for careers in engineering, medicine, MBAs, law,… . The not so smart ones will prep for careers in engineering, medicine, MBA, law,…
  2. For most kids, parents make / influence career choices early on which very few have the guts or gumption to undo

Yeah – you might say, we have seen 3 idiots too, you know. We get the point – ‘Give me some sunshine, give me some rain…give me another chance, I want to grow up once again.’

Unfortunately, I do have a different point – I do not intend to change the mentality of countless, desperate-to-get-their-kids-settled parents through this post. I have some advice for kids growing up in the economic context such as ours where India is likely to be the epicentre of global economic growth unless we do something really, really stupid! This is a very different context to one in which our parents grew up and hence most of us will get by and sustain ourselves quite admirably. The advice stems from my personal experience and those of my many friends. Not all of these experiences or choices have been prudent or turned out right – hence the advice so that others don’t make the same mistakes. Here goes:

  1. Make your career choices YOURSELF as early as possible: if you wanted to be a pilot since you were 7, stick to it. It’s probably a better call – much better than when you are sending 14 forwards a day to your “friends” from Infosys!
  2. If at first you don’t succeed, try again: So your dad decided you should do engineering and become a software tester in Cognizant – and you obliged. Now it sucks so much it’s unbearable. Try something else – it is never too late to change – and I am not talking jobs here -since that would just postpone the misery by 6 months – move careers! Give a chance to the stand-up comedian you always wanted to be! Also, if you don’t succeed in that, don’t go back to “accepting reality” and joining Cognizant again! And this is where I go where 3 idiots doesn’t – don’t worry if your career change doesn’t work out, try something else that you like. Sooner or later, something will stick! If not, you can remember Baz Luhrmann’s advice and feel better : ‘Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.’ But seriously, we all work 12-14 hours a day and only when you’re truly happy/satisfied with what you do for 65% of your waking time should you stop giving up looking for it!
  3. Take more risks early: Most people in their twenties believe marriage and kids are ‘uncool’ things meant for OLD people! Trust me, most of you will get married. Many of you will have kids. And your propensity to take risks drops exponentially as you age! So if you don’t want an engineering degree and want to write and learn English literature, quit your engg. degree in the 1st year. Go learn English literature and write your novel – because not all of us can be Chetan Bhagat! And even if we could, for every Chetan Bhagats, there are at least 100,000 closet littérateurs and novelists who will never see the light of day! So jump while the world can call you young, brash and stupid! Later, they will call you irresponsible and escapist – and frankly, there would be more pressing concerns like deciphering Hemingway for your son than becoming one yourself!

I wish it were that simple to help people make right career choices – the fact is, it isn’t. Nor is the intention of the post to make it seem thus. The idea was to take the collective wisdom of ‘failures’ of sufficient number of people to identify patterns and learnings. So that younger ones feel re-assured in taking more risks, making mistakes and correcting them (rather than making those mistakes their live-in partner).

A career, fortunately or unfortunately, for most of us is what defines our existence (unless, of course, you are Muntazer al-Zeidi and will forever be remembered as the man who threw a shoe at George Bush). It is  absolutely fine, hence, if you actually have a greater say in it than your parents, friends or neighbours! Choose well!

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