Choosing a Career

This post was listed by Desipundit -

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.


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?


  • i absolutely absolutely loved it..something which i can so totally idnetify with..but its a huge responsibility..i [prove urself and prove others wrong

  • just wish 4 years would get over.. im not liknig engg that much.. wanna get it over and opt for something else
    why i joined up? parents 😐

    btw..jina ? er female ? :-s

  • Yes, Jina. There’s pressure to perform, as in any other field. But because we are studying a subject we like, or doing something we enjoy, it’s not something that we’ll want to run away from, right?

    Syam, look for the signs in your garden. May you live happily ever after.

  • I call it a different operating system because it’s not user-friendly and is intimidating

    I think this is why most of the students (including me) give up. It takes courage and good amount of self-confidence to venture into a different stream. And also, one should get that intuition that he/she has the required aptitude for this passion to take it as a career path.

  • Karthik, thanks for hat-tipping to Desipundit.

    Whichever stream you dive into, you’ll have to navigate through rapids, I bet. Since all of us jump in with misplaced confidence, might as well take a scenic route to the giant waterfall πŸ™‚ My reply to “I don’t have intuition, I don’t know what interests me” is “What do/did you do in your spare time?”

  • It takes courage, indeed. A whole bloody damn reserve of courage, if you ask me.

    To be frank with you… I NEVER wanted to be an Engineer. I always harboured dreams of making it big at the NLSIU. Especially after listening to Aju chettan & Anantha padmanabhan chettan. But parents…!! I did whatever I could; tried almost everything you wrote… but to no purpose!

    Today, I’m just another one among the teeming failed-Engineers, struggling it out in a mid-ranked Govt. Engineering College. Yeah, I might get ‘placed’ (to borrow a now-famous cliche), and I might draw twenty grand a month by the time I pass out, God forbid. But…

    To quote line by Will Smith:
    “Life’s not about the moments you breathe. It’s about those moments that take your breath away!”

    Cheer Loyola’s Sons!

  • @Hari

    I haven’t met a single soul till now who’s happy with their college life. Of course, this may be entirely due to my socially inert life. πŸ™‚
    The point I’m trying to get at is that people from my class, whether they might be doing engg med or law or anything else…they’re all cribbing about how unsatisfying life is and how there’s no meaning. So don’t get disheartened so soon. If you’re 30 and still thinking this, then it might be time to think about a career change.

    Little used dusty paths keep cropping up on the highway of life. You can choose to explore them anytime. You just have to be brave enough to traverse these unknowns!!

  • College life, like any other life, will have highs and lows. But if you are studying something that you chose out of interest — not because parents forced you to — then, on the whole, college life will be a happy one, methinks.

    I wouldn’t insist on waiting till 30. Why not give a good shot at what you are studying now, and if it still does not excite, then think of alternatives — that way, by the time your course is over, instead of getting “placed”, you’ll be ready to switch towards your interests.

    BTW, in school, if you harbour “dreams of making it big” in a field, please don’t follow that path. That’s not what you are, that’s what you aspire to be. Your real strength lies in what you are. So, Hari, consider yourself lucky that you didn’t go to NLSIU πŸ™‚ I’m sure Bimal will agree πŸ˜‰

  • Statistically speaking, Loyola has always been a training ground for engineering students. The academic best go to the IITs, the next best to CET (or one of the other Kerala Univ engineering colleges). Other professions, including medicine, law, journalism, non-engineering science, fashion or even media has always been something that was taken up by a minority. I don’t really know the exact reasons for this, but my best guess is that engineering degrees typically lead to IT/computer jobs – least amount of effort, maximum pay. πŸ™‚

  • Well, you found out sooner then later about yourself, you should feel lucky – most people end their livelyhood with out even knowing them or max. dreaming about it.
    Way to go dude.


  • Nish, in my batch 51 out of 90 students opted for Engineering within a year or two. This was before the IT boom. We did our 10th in 1991 and 12th in 1993. Ours was the first ISC batch at Loyola (since the 1970s), and there was only the science option. So there’s a bit of Engineering bias built-in in our batch’s stats.

    Reemas, yes, there’s quite a bit of luck.

  • Hehe.. My bad. In retrospect, 30 does seem too old an age to think of a career change. Especially if its a decision that can be made earlier with enough confidence.

    But I would like to disagree with Ashok on a point. Aspiring to be is an integral part of being. It’s not in human nature to be satisfied with what you are.

    And, NLSIU isn’t all that bad!! πŸ™‚

  • It would be better to aspire in a profession, i.e., after you’ve identified or chosen the profession you enjoy. Aspiring to a profession might lead you up the wrong path, if you disregard your aptitude and skills. That’s what I meant.

    Disclosure: Back in 2003, when I was invited to Loyola for that career talk, I was unemployed! Now when I pose as a career-guidance guru here, I’m on long leave. 😈

  • Now, I was a 2003 pass out, and I don’t remember your talk at all. But I’m sure I would have pooh-poohed it then. When only 51 of 90 took engineering in your batch, other than 3 of us, the 2003 batch was all engineering and medicine. I’m glad to know that there is a certain interest in law as a career amongst the kinds now, its a whiff of fresh air. I, for one didn’t know that I wanted to be a lawyer even when i wrote my board exams. There were a few classmates who’d wanted to go to the NDA and ha worked towards it, and sure enough, they got in. Being aware and prepared is a big plus. And ya, sometimes I feel pissed off with my college too, but it passes. College is not the time to complain. πŸ˜‰

  • I think the mistake we make is when we put pressure on ourselves to make a “career” decision. Instead of seeing it as some kind of life-altering decision, if we can ask ourselves, “ok, what would I like to learn in the next few years”, it may be a better approach.
    For me, NLSIU was a default choice because I’d done quite horribly at engg entrance. Plus, parents were quite supportive once I’d read and explained what exactly these new law schools were. Even though I was pretty sure I’d end up being a lawyer, I was also convinced that a law degree gave me enough options, to forget lawyering f I ended up hating the profession.
    At the end of five years at NLS, I had a greater range of choices, though not as much as I’d have had if I had paid attention to grades. Regardless, I found myself opting for something ‘unusual’ and perhaps a little ‘risky’ – given that I had several ‘safe’ options as well.
    I guess, I haven’t made a point, so sorry, if you’ve been reading so far in the expectation of some insight. None to give. Except that maybe people should not look at their decisions as water-tight. And oh yeah, try and pick up additional skills while you’re in school or college, that can give you the additional option.

  • Ashok,
    Again a good one, and a thought-provoking one from you.
    I like the way you come up with such good write-ups.
    I keep waiting for your next post to come.Though I comment only on a select few.

    Whatever you have written here holds true for everything in life.
    Like what you have quoted,”After the LKG, it is UKG..”, and so on.
    It happens for everything in life.
    If you wish to move out of the cliched domains, in whatever you do, then you are looked down upon. Is this what we earlier used to call generation-gap?
    Well, if I write more, I think you find me a cynic. So stopping.
    Keep the good ones coming Ashok.


  • Jian, you don’t remember my talk because I addressed the batch after yours. I met the 12th in July/Aug 2003.

    Aju, yes, one needn’t see decisions as water-tight. There are some of us who search around till we are in a profession that we really enjoy. We move from one to next depending on what we think interests us. But instead of reaching by twists and turns (like I did), how about converting our hobby into a career?

    Vijay, glad to hear that you like the write-ups hereabouts. We often see that the young are risk-takers, unlike the old — maybe this is one aspect of “generation gap”. But in Loyola, we find that even the young accept ‘safe’ routes, despite belonging to well-off families. I hear a lot of ‘blame the parents’ sentiment, but I think it also has to do with insufficient thinking on the students’ part — probably a reason why they are not able to convince their parents, allay fears, etc.

  • True, Ashok.
    We are always made to believe in the safe route.
    The well-beaten path is what people prefer, rather than taking a risk or venturing into the unknown orless-known.
    I have also been part of the multitude that goes with the general flow of things.
    In hindsight, I can proclaim that I could have done this, that and what not!
    That is not going to change the state of affairs anywhere.
    There is an inherent disability to accept change, at large.
    I remember DP used to tell me not to be a horse with blinkers. Now I understand what she meant. Not that I have become ‘enlightened’, but I begin to understand that the world is not entirely what you see.


  • Since the discussion is going that way, let me tell you Asok, I didn’t have the slightest clue of any sort of career opportunity outside of the narrow engineering field. And I call it narrow because even then I hated it enough and was human enough not to be able to make it to the IITs, which I still hold requires 2 years of consistent and hard work. As many people have already commented on the general flow of things, “UKG to LKG, Loyola to CET”, was also assumed in my case especially since my dad was an engineer from CET himself. I regret not taking the initiative to educate myself about career opportunities then. But I also believe that I didnt have the maturity required, at that age, to think of a life and education outside of kerala and engineering. I would have liked Loyola School to have made me aware of a few options I had when I was in middle school. But most of all, I wish that they had inspired me to set my aims a little higher. Which brings me to the main point I wished to make.

    I remember a discussion I had with DP and Aravind from the 2001 batch about how Loyolites aim too low for their own good. At that time I didnt agree with the both of them and thought that there was nothing wrong with kerala engineering. But soon enough I realized that there were other things, for example law entrances, for which my education in Loyola had prepared me more than adequately. I realized soon that what you studied was not as important as where you studied it. As Loyolites, we often do not realize that it is possible to get into an IIT or an AIIMS or an NID or a NIFT because they are too exclusive. But the one thing I’ve realized is that dammit, we’re bloody exclusive too. We get a very fine education, and we are the kind of people who SHOULD be getting into these so called “exclusive” institutions. I wish that Loyola would instil this sense of entitlement into the students.

  • I would have liked Loyola School to have made me aware of a few options I had when I was in middle school

    Jian, I really wish that people who say that the school is not a counselling centre get this idea into their thoughts. It has been neglected for a long time, not just at Loyola, but at most schools in the State.

  • Karthik,

    With all due respect, I do agree that the repeating of those views might seem whiny, how would the fact that it has been neglected for a long time, or that most schools in the state also do the same thing make it acceptable? In all our haughtiness, did we ever think ourselves to be like any other school? πŸ˜‰

    Jokes apart, I do believe that the school should give the students a wider outlook towards careers, though at no point did I expect it to be a counseling center. But that said, if those facilities are available, it would be a good thing, and I’m sure we can agree on that much. If so, then how does the failure of other schools justify us not doing it? I dont know, but I personally think that if we had a couple of people coming down and giving talks in say eighth standard, it would have helped, in my personal case at least. I do get that it might seem whiny, but isn’t that a presupposition in a discussion like this? And its not like this is something that is so out of the way that you cannot expect a school with the sort of resources and pull that Loyola has, to do it. So hey, why not? The worst that could happen is that some kids wont listen at a couple of guest lectures. The best that can happen is that someone becomes aware of options he didnt think were ok. So, hey, why not?

  • Well,
    It seems to me that Law school isn’t quite so much an eccentric career choice now as it was when I graduated, way back in 2000. Then, I knew exactly one person (not a loyolite) who went to NLSIU and a couple of others who went to other law schools. That it is more popular now is not very surprising as law school graduates seem to be drawing some hefty pay packets; and I do hear of law discussed as a viable option by kids nowadays. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that kids who choose law (now) are breaking the mold. As far as I am concerned, 16/17 is too early to make a career choice. One needs more time, more exposure in order to make an informed choice. A very good friend of mine did his Engineering, got a very good job at a very good company (not IT) worked for a year or two, decided that the place he wanted to be was the Ad world, worked towards it and is now happy making ads. He was 22 when he shifted fields. Of course he faced obstacles (not least from his parents) but he overcame them. Realization came late in his case, I remember he was very enthusiastic about his field the first day in engg. college.
    In my own case, I was lucky that engineering was after all what I wanted to do. I had to make corrections in my path (who doesn’t?) but it was minor compared to what I’ve seen other people do.
    Early twenties is too young to be stuck in a rut and feel sorry for oneself. There is a whole world waiting to be explored. But, as the author says, realization of one’s true calling needs to come, but, in my opinion, that realization isn’t served to one in a platter. Children who are forced to follow the crowd deserve sympathy, but they also need to wake up and realize that their lives are theirs to lead.

  • If parents are asking you to take a safe well beaten path, its because they have got the experience of seeing many failure and successes in their life. Students who pursue their dreams falling down like the bird shot down by a hunter and students who are forced to join the crowd making good. They also have a point. we also have a point.

    I think the main reason is parents who may be termed as “narrow minded” do not want their boys to fail like their neighbour’s son who went after his dream. I am not saying that everyone who goes after their dream fails. but that not all people who go after their pasion succeed. There are a few who succeed and it is because of the uncompromising commitment and the passion to take on their dream career to any levels. Unles you have that much passion and commitment do not follow your dreams. If the niche market you choose to compete is flooded with more passionate people than you then you will face the highest level of competition and in the end you come to realie thaat u oul have followed your parent’ advices.

    Joining the crowd can be asured of a good job but not your liking one.. For those guys who could not take their pasiona s their main stream can still make it big by imparting your skills in the field that was alloted to you. Like person interested in ads can do the same as a part time by maintainng contacts and establishing it as side business or say open a website and get in clients and once you feel you are confident enough of making a fortune you can leave the job an make head for it.. Its win win situation. If it is not making enough business you can as well continue your job an be satified that you have chosen the right job. May be this does not uits all careers like a person who wants to do alaw and did engg may be he cannot do this kind of thing.

    I am not making fear in the guys who wih to take up risks but i am trying to bring you the realities and risks involved in choosing the career. In short you need that kind of passion and excellent skills which will assure you you are the most competent one in the filed you choose or else i would say go the current trend – LKG UKG ..5,6.. 12, ENGG, IT JOb, ONSITE,marriage..

  • Srikanth,

    You have a valid point there. I appreciate that myself, and totally agree with you the possibility of changing fields a little later in life, but I think that there are certain general modes of behavior that commonly shows itself in situations like this. It IS true that a lot of Loyolites I know, and I’m not talking numbers here, made their career options at 16/17. Especially the ones who wanted to go the way of a professional degree. While I do agree that a decision taken at 16/17 could be the wrong one, it still is no reason why the information should not be provided. My initial point was that. Provide the information. 16/17 year olds still do have to choose the college they go to. Why let someone who wants to do something like Visual Communication at 22 have to go through 4 years of engineering or five years of law or 5 of medicine because he didn’t know that vis comm was available as an undergraduate course? I’m not talking about sympathy here, I’m talking about a simple step that will not hurt and could possibly help. Thats all.


    Your post sorta shocked me. There were far too many harsh truths there. But truths they are. There’s absolutely no use remaining in any niche field unless you are passionate about it.You know, even thats information. These are things that need to be told to these 16/17 year olds too, but then again, who will? Nice views though, especially the simple 10 point map you’ve made at the end. Conveys it very well.

  • I think we all should owe it to the Media and Television boom (starting ’95-’96) and the Internet (although am sure that there are many like me who havent had the luxury until i landed up in my first job in 2000). Am sure that NLS’s existed even before all this, but the concept of information sharing and information for all started happening only some 15 years back…
    we should remember that our parents didnt have the same luxury… they didnt have the TV or the Internet to mentor them… and am sure they are still catching up …especially the Internet… there was also the tradition of looking up to the seniors … especially when u hear in the Assembly that xxx made the cut into IIT or IAS …u tend to follow in the same foot steps…
    U get the hang of it when u r actually at it… and soon you find out, that what u were taught in college hasnt got much to do with what you are doing on the job… i have learnt that the real learning starts especially after you have landed up in a job…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *