I could have been an Information Systems specialist today. I certainly have the degree for it. Instead, I am a former brand consultant, former wedding planner and currently a Careers Consultant. I help parents and their children navigate the uncharted waters of how to decide on what to study and what career to embark on. Why do I do what I do?
Because I have lived the confusion of deciding what to do, made mistakes that could easily have been avoided, looked for guidance and found little. You see, I love working with people, I love dynamic action environments and I should always have been preparing for careers that give me that. But instead I spent precious years trying to disentangle what I knew of the career choices open to a Marwari girl, the expectations of a slowly modernizing community and how exponentially the world was changing. They were fun, don’t get me wrong, but now I do what I do to help parents and children save some time, so they can get to a fulfilling education and career, faster.
A single child, that too a single girl child, I grew up being the center of my supremely loving parents’ lives – it was great! However, the downside was the lack of freedom to take risks and make mistakes so as to never put myself in any ‘danger’ or go ‘off-track.’ Back in 2008, not many Marwari families in my community were encouraging their daughters to be ambitious and achieve financial independence – the priorities set for them mostly involved marriage and children. I had a slightly different life goal – I wanted my parents to be proud of me, and never feel like they missed out on having a son.
At 16, this goal seemed noble and worthy in my head but I had no real strategies of achieving it. More importantly, I had no one around me who I could share this with freely and constructively. I am blessed with parents who are more like friends to me and friends who are more like family – but sometimes there is still fear of judgement.
The only thing in my control was my academic performance and I made sure I worked hard and did consistently well in school. At the time, I pushed myself to blindly study Science, taking a clue from the widely held idea that Science students were the ones who ultimately made it big! I refused to listen to my biggest well-wisher, my dad, assuming he wanted to confine me to the conventional track of what Marwari girls are supposed to do. I was rebelling because I thought I knew better and still knew so less. So I hustled and pushed through the gruelling hard work that it was.
The time to apply for colleges came, and suddenly the roads ahead multiplied from two to a million. Overwhelmed, I focused on going to Singapore, based on an information seminar I had attended – it was far enough that I could explore being independent, and close enough that my family was a quick flight away. I heard about the SATs from a few friends and studied for it by myself. I kept borrowing information from random sources, using it to construct my abstract ideas of what my next few years should look like. I even convinced my dad because Singapore was safe and there was a good chance I might have a close friend to keep me company! Notice how little future career paths had to do with how my decisions took form.
I chose to study Information Systems because it seemed like a popular choice. I barely considered how it would fit with my strengths, my interests – things I actually barely understood about myself. So I started my life in college, amazed by all the new found freedom and opportunities. However, even in the excitement of being in Singapore, 18 and free, I knew I wasn’t enjoying what I was studying – I found myself bored and unstimulated. All other courses, outside the realm of my major seemed a lot more fascinating.
At the end of year 1, despite securing great results, I wanted to switch my major. That’s the first time I learnt about the concept of inflexibility and making choices you couldn’t get out of easily – I embarked on a one year long tedious and nerve wrecking process to switch my major from computer science to management.
I wish I had known better. I wish someone (other than just my dad) had pushed me to discover my interests and strengths and personality and consider my life path more deliberately, with more information. Against all administrative odds, I did make the switch that year – but my overall experience would have been a lot more meaningful if I had taken the right-fit major from the very beginning.
Today, when I meet students and parents, their confusion speaks to me. I provide them with the required information so that they don’t have to keep shooting in the dark the way my parents and I did. But more importantly, I become the communication bridge between them – sometimes it gets difficult for parents to accept that their child is not excited or compatible to live the lives they have dreamed for them. It’s also difficult for young adults to see through and consider the better judgement of their more important well wishers. This confusion will only worsen, as the world we live in is so different from the world our parents grew up in, and our kids are going to inhabit a world so starkly different from the world we grew up in. I come in as an ally with good information and perspective, helping them understand what keeps them ticking!