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As class-teacher of final-year students, Ms Deepa Pillai used to invite old boys to interact with her class. In 2003, when she invited me to Loyola, she hoped that it would get her students to think positively about careers other than engineering and medicine. Nobody (including me) knew what I was — an economist? a political scientist? a journalist? — but I was clearly neither an engineer nor a doctor, and my pedigree hinted that the guys would be excited. As it turned out, they were not just excited, they were agitated. I barked at people and things the class held dear, and they complained that old boys like me should not be given the platform thereafter.

It was there for the first time I heard Loyola students express their career preferences. Engineering was an overwhelming favourite. Law was on the radar — a few old boys had recently joined the National Law School. Only one said that he wanted to be an economist at the World Bank. I came away concluding that students were opting for occupations they knew little about. They desired the fast lane, or to emulate somebody who had been praised in family or society. It was more about things and others, not about work or themselves.

Source: http://flickr.com/photos/hb2/124275318/

Here, at this Loyola blog, many readers have commented on the engineering-medicine tunnel that Loyolites find themselves in. On his blog, Jiby (1998) recently wrote about his life crisis. I suspect that the roots lie in what Geo wrote in response to Jiby:

After LKG, it was always UKG. After 3rd standard, it was always 4th standard…Till about 10th or 12th we all had well laid out paths in front of us to traverse. We knew our goals and benchmarks.

The way I see the career confusion is: “Loyola-CET” is the default setting in a final-year Loyolite’s operating system. And few know how to change it.

I thought of a few conventional ways for students to reboot their system:

1. Get information on what exactly your parents, relatives, family friends, and well-wishers do in their jobs. Talk to them. Don’t just harbour a wish to be an IAS officer; find out what that guy does from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Gather specific information (micro-actions), not general and vague ones like “administering a district”. This is an essential step for all who believe that they want to be engineers.

2. Read biographies and autobiographies, or profiles in magazines. They tend to glamourise people and jobs, but hey, you need inspiration after hearing your mad-hat cousin in advertising, who’s fed up with his job.

3. You’ve seen teachers and you’ve seen the school gardener. Now, pick up the Essential Guide to Careers in India to know what other mainstream careers exist.

Once you know what you want, and (more importantly) why you want it, find out how to get there. And click “Restart”.

What I’ve written will help to change the default setting of your system.

But, but, but … you’ll still be running the same operating system.

How about chucking Windows of ready-made opportunities and choosing another system? Let’s learn from a fashion-designer in Chennai, a cinematographer in Bombay, and a cricket-writer from West Indies.

School-mate Vivek Karunakaran (1998), the young fashion-designer who continues to make waves, told us a year ago:

I have always been interested in art, craft, design, music, dance, etc.. I always looked forward to the Youth Festival [at Loyola]; loved the interhouse competition and all the fun that came with it.

Film-maker Santosh Sivan (1976) blogged about watching clouds and predicting rain as a kid:

But unconsciously what it did was, while watching these clouds build up or disappear I also started seeing different shades of green and blue, and how this plant looked against this kind of blue, or against this kind of cloud that green is beautiful. I started seeing magical moments in it.

And look what C.L.R. James recalls from his school days, in his much-admired book Beyond a Boundary:

When we moved into Port of Spain, the capital, I read two daily papers and on Sundays the green “Sporting Chronicle” and the red “Sporting Opinion”. I made clippings and filed them. It served no purpose whatever, I had never seen nor heard of anyone doing the like. I spoke to no one about it and no one spoke to me.

Each seems to be telling us: Yes, I do well, thank you. I enjoyed doing this, even as a kid.

Gently, they are reminding us of the young fashion-designer, the photographer and the cricket-writer in them, long before they pursued their passion. Please note that they are not drawing our attention to examination marks or their favourite subject in class. Instead, they are pulling us out of the classroom and showing us what they did in their spare time.

Recalling a hobby in which you immersed yourself for hours, and plumping for it as a career, is akin to pursuing a sign.

I call it a different operating system because it’s not user-friendly and is intimidating — you might start with a low income, and waltz with unknowns. No wonder most of us stick to traditional windows.

But see it differently, if you can. “One has to follow one’s passion — it shows in your work output,” says Deepu John (1986), Principal at venture capital firm iSherpa Capital, and a former Best Loyolite. With the passion you bring to the job, you will most probably excel in that field and rise to the top. In all professions, there’s a lot of money at the top, at least a lot more than you really need.

Our heroes probably did not realise all this in their youth. I certainly didn’t in mine.

As a teenager, when I published a neighbourhood magazine or a family newsletter, I didn’t imagine I would be an editor or writer. I did all that for fun. While studying for BA and MA, I would always find time to publish newsletters and articles. Still, I did not take up wordsmithy. A few twists and turns later, I now write and edit for a living. I am no genius and nowhere near the summit. But I often catch myself saying: “Yes, I do well, thank you. I enjoyed doing this, even as a kid.”

Did I go about writing or did writing come to me? I do not know. But there were signs in my garden. What about yours?