This is for all those people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the phrase “log kya kehenge?” (“what will people say?”) with respect to academic and career choices. Disclaimer: This is not an attack on parents, guardians, teachers and other concerned members of society. We know you mean well.
Do you know that for every child who turns eighteen, two adults (plus a few unnecessary additions) start asking, “Engineer ya doctor?” They get bonus points if they start this charade at sixteen. (After all, coaching classes get filled up pretty fast.) It’s ironic how we are often told not to succumb to peer pressure by those who end up putting the worst kind of pressure on us: expectations.
Let’s get real for a minute. If my friends invite me for drinks and I turn them down, the worst possible outcome would be that I would no longer get invited to social events. Chances of them ever bringing it up on a later day are slim to none. But if I score the 74826916346th rank in CET, you can bet your life savings that no one would let me forget it. I would become the talk of every birthday, wedding and funeral. (Here lies ____’s career. RIP.) I would become a social pariah, a cautionary tale, the monster that parents tell their children about at night. I would get shunned for being the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
For future reference, here is an extremely sarcastic and wildly exaggerated list of sins according to the average Indian family, ranked most to least abominable:
– Not doing engineering or medicine
– Failing an exam
– Talking back to your parents
– Crossing your legs in front of elders
– Swearing/Using profanities
– Drinking/Smoking/Things that may actually kill you someday
“But what’s wrong with studying what my family wants?” you ask, shaking your head in disdain. “It makes them happy.” Yes, I understand that every child aspires to make their parents proud one day. Most of us would rather do something we don’t particularly enjoy than disappoint those who believe in us. But it doesn’t end there. Pretty soon you’re met with, ‘engineering degree toh sabke pass hai, tum MBA karlo’ (Everyone has an engineering degree, you should do an MBA.) Or ‘MBBS kafi nahi, MD bhi karlo’ (An MBBS degree is not enough, do an MD.) And knowing that our parents and theirs before them were also once subjected to the same societal pressures (some still are) makes it extremely difficult to point accusatory fingers. The truth is, expectations form a part of every human interaction. I expect the bus driver to take me to my destination safely, I expect the waiter to bring me what I ordered, I expect my partner not to murder me in my sleep. Hence it is perfectly acceptable for those who have invested their time, love and money in me to expect some return. But it’s important to draw the line somewhere. There’s a clear distinction between wanting the best for someone and wanting someone to be someone else. (Not that a career defines who you are, but if you’re going to spend a substantial amount of time doing something, it might as well be something you love and not merely that which looks good on paper.)
Man (herein includes woman) is expected to work so that he may provide for his family, for which he must learn a profitable trade. At one point in time it was hunting, farming and money lending. Today, the opportunities are endless. A profitable trade may even be carried on from home. You can make money by uploading videos on the internet. You can inspire people by drawing comic strips and caricatures. Your fan fiction might just become the next bestseller. Your song cover might get you a record deal. We are constantly reinventing the conventional definition of a ‘job’. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to become established in that line of work. It takes time, patience and a strong internet connection. But then again, what doesn’t? Life and its many exploits are dazzling only in retrospect.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re one of the many people who have chosen their field of study out of pure unadulterated interest, I applaud you. If becoming an engineer makes your heart sing, or if medicine is your calling,kindly disregard everything I’ve said so far. But on the off-chance that you’re not one of those people, I would like to remind you that you will never change the world by trying to be like it. The world needs ambitious, motivated, passionate individuals who hunger for more and do not settle for any less. So I implore you, visionary, to follow whatever it is that keeps you up at night, no matter how utterly ludicrous it may seem to others. Become artists, rock stars, personal trainers, ornithologists, photographers, sportspersons, architects, chefs, professional translators, screen writers, masseurs, masseuses, astronauts, actors, therapists, YouTubers, and bloggers. Become engineers and doctors and lawyers. Just think of how many national treasures we would have lost had their relatives simply said, “That’s not a real job.”
And here’s something else, it’s never too late to change your destination. (If you listen very carefully, you’ll be able to hear the sound of my CET coaches grinding their teeth.) At the risk of sounding philosophical, I ask you to chart your own course. Pun intended. Let your life be an admixture of different adventures. Make mistakes, but do it with passion. Do no wrongs but for the right reasons. Neither success nor failure has a predetermined formula. We’re all just making it up as we go.
And there’s more than one road to the top.
Learn because you want to know more. Study what you believe will make you the best version of yourself. Do whatever it is that you find meaningful. Work towards making the world a better place. Succeed on your own terms. Create something of value. Become an inspiration to others who come after you.
And watch your approval ratings go up.