We all want our children to make the best career choices. But we may not realise all the ways in which we play a pivotal role in this decision. While they should have complete freedom to make this decision, we can equip and prepare them to make an informed choice, best suited to help them realise their version of a ‘good life’.
Let us be clear on a few things before we proceed further:
- 15 years is no age to decide a career for the next 50 years. It was not the case when we were growing up and it is perhaps even less applicable today, given the 'information glut' on the most isolated of career opportunities. As children are bombarded with multiple options, it is a very confusing issue for them.
- There will not be any career choice applicable 'for life' in the unprecedentedly sci-tech times we are living in! It can only be one step at a time – the best career choice for a few years in the immediate future, and then the best for the next decade and such successive decisions.
The best career choices represent a journey in life. Here is a list of the dos and don'ts for the journey to discover them:
- Encourage your children to pick a career option based on their passion, skills, and interest. Give them the emotional support and strength to make 'unique' choices, if required, rather than telling them to follow the herd.
- Help your children pick a career based on the quality of life it provides rather than its financial compensation and other perks. Discuss the pros and cons, as objectively as possible, of the alternate lifestyles of families in the neighbourhood and in the extended family. The main goal here is to enrich the children with the knowledge of as many alternate lifestyles as possible and the manifestations of said lifestyles on the spouses, children, neighbours, etc. Relate all this to varied career decisions taken by those people.
- Educate your children in a way that they have access to multiple career options to choose from. Ensure a whole-person development so that they can realistically explore and appropriately support ANY professional choice well into their 20s. Unfortunately, most children are forced to seek engineering, medicine, law, economics, etc. because they do not have any other real options in terms of knowledge, skill, aptitude and attitude at the end of secondary school. And of course, we don’t have enough confidence on them beyond the well-trodden paths, because we know that we didn’t prepare them for any such options.
- Do not try guessing what the 'hot careers' will be 10-20 years down the line. Even Bill Gates or Elon Musk cannot. For children entering the school system in 2020, we would have to guess the ‘hottest’ career in 2040s!
- Do not start looking for 'hidden' or 'natural' talents in your children without first having nurtured their talents and intelligence. The broadest range of nurturing care is a must till the teens.
Since this is such an important decision, it can be overwhelming and confusing for parents and children alike, but it is critical for parents to be supportive and understanding at this stage.
We would also like to highlight that success does not come overnight, regardless of the career. Depending on the field chosen by the children, it may take them more time to establish their presence and make a successful living out of it. Careers in liberal arts, in particular, can take a significant amount of investment (and patience). While MBA students can start earning and living well much sooner in life, MFA students have to spend years in apprenticeship. This could mean limited financial security for an extended period and delaying life decisions like marriage, or starting a family.
There have been observations linking parents to the kind of career choices their children make. It is commonly said that ‘being middle-class’ is a construct of the mind. It is nothing short of astonishing when the most intensive global research on creatively-accomplished people ends up proving that in a 30-year longitudinal study of over 90 creative individuals, which included two Indians – the late maestro Pandit Ravishankar and neuroscientist V S Ramachandran - Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that nearly 90% of his subjects came from either the upper or the lower class of the society. The inference from the research was loud and clear – the middle class is very averse to taking risks. It does not actively allow or support children to take up long and unpredictable creative pursuits.
It is in this context that we can now see why the overwhelming majority of educated middle-class parents want their children to pursue the supposedly ‘safe' careers such as software engineering, law, medicine and MBA – all similar to their own profession. In the end, these children may end up underachieving their potential because they would be pursuing careers similar to their parents, in times radically different, without making the best of the life that they enjoy as products of the 21st century.
Another trend observed was the difference in parental influence; fathers are ‘conformist’, strongly preferring their children to seek ‘safe careers’, while mothers tend to be more liberal in educating their children. There is a gender bias too – daughters face lesser pressure to pursue ‘safe' careers.
As parents, you must make sure your children are aware of the pros and cons of the many aspects of their choices, especially when it comes to the hardships of choosing an unconventional or low-paying career. Support them but also allow them to make mistakes. Some of the greatest life lessons come from failure, and few lessons are better internalised than those experienced first-hand.
Finally, you also need to be mentally (and, if possible, financially) prepared to be able to support your children's decisions for longer than what you received from your parents.
Excerpted from the book ‘You, The Unsung Hero’ by G S Madhav Rao, Sandeep Srivastava, Saloni Srivastava