A career in gambling?

“Should you do what you love? Or love what you do?”

The other day I came across this article on career counselling – it laid a lot of stress on the importance of choosing a career path you love, based on your particular skill set. That’s absolute drivel, I thought – feeding this to kids in school, or even in college – giving them the illusion that they actually have a choice in the matter. It made me laugh.

I mean, let’s be honest for a minute – most of us did NOT plan to be/have the skill set necessary to become an Equity Researcher, Investment Banker, Accountant, or whatever it is that we are doing – at least I didn’t.

If what the article said was true, here’s how we’d make career choices in the Ideal World:

You take up the subjects you actually love in school. You follow it up with specialization in one of these (or anything else that inspires you) during your Undergrads. Depending on whether you want to study further, or take up a job, you either appear for competitive exams like GRE/GMAT/CAT or you sit for placements. You could even go for less conventional options like Creative Arts, Designing, Architecture, or Social Work at an NGO. You may even consider taking a year off to decide what it is that you really want. During placements, you only ever apply to a few hand-picked companies – in the field of your choice. And since you have the right set of skills, and the ‘passion‘ for it, you get through into the B-school/organization of your choice. Some of you drop out of the rat race and even start a venture of your own!

Thus, you end up with a career you chose, and one that inspires you, for the rest of your life – one that is 100% your choice.

“A pleasant illusion is better than a harsh reality” – Christian Nestell Bovee

And here’s what Reality looks like:

You are forced by your parents/teachers/peer pressure to take up Science (or at least Commerce!) – obviously Humanities (*shudder*) is not even an option. You either struggle with IITJEE to get into at least a Tier 2 engineering college/or take up B.Com/BBA at a decent place. You then while away the next 3/4 years of your life in an endless blur of friends and decadence. This is followed up with tuition classes for GRE/GMAT/CAT/XAT – by now, it does not matter whether you took up Science or Commerce – 90% of you are going to strive for the same B-School. You manage to get into one of the schools in your list and after 2 years of late night study sessions, presentations, and more decadence, you finally get your degree (yayy!). Then comes the struggle for placements. By now, ‘passion’ has been replaced by ‘package‘.

Whether you want to, or not, you apply to every single company that comes to campus, ‘coz you simply cannot afford to be left out of the rat race (duh!). You add fancy words like Bloomberg/Reuters/Financial Modelling to your CV, and write decorous cover letters – in fact, you even have multiple versions of each – for different fields. After all, you have to sound ‘passionate’ for each company you apply to. You read current affairs to appear smart (even though you hate it!) in desperation, ready to take up whatever job you get. And hopefully, you land one in the back-end of an MNC.

Things you wanted to do when you grow up

Add a couple of months more if you have a degree from abroad (where there are no campus placements), during which you make calls to all your kith and kin, beseeching them to forward your résumé to whoever it is they know, for what other way than ‘jugaad‘ to get a job in India? Again, you take up whatever offer you manage to get. To hell with qualifications, degree, or passion.

A year or two down the line, you start getting calls from Naukri, and realize that not only are they all from similar companies, but maybe even the exact profile! You are now left with two options – to either try for a new profile elsewhere from scratch, at the risk of wasting the experience you have acquired till now, or to switch jobs in the same role, which only gets narrower and narrower with each move. And that becomes your career for the rest of your life!

It’s 100% luck – that 20 minute interview for your first job decides your career for your life – you have zero choice in the matter. To hell with passion, drive, or interest. As for your package? That will always be an XX% above your last drawn salary. To hell with caliber, merit, or inflation.

They call it a career. I call it a gamble – for are we not gambling with our lives, our energy, and our time?

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