I meet many parents who tell me that their teens don’t know what they want to do in life. Their complaints surprise me. Weren’t we confused teens too? We push our kids too early to choose what they want to do when they grow up and they sometimes end up making rushed, expedient choices. Forget teens, many of us discover our calling later in life. In reality, a career is an ever-evolving thing.
If you or your kids are confused about career choices or what to study, do get your hands on Pramath Raj Sinha’s new book, Learn, Don’t Study. The book answers many of these questions and helps students make important decisions. Sinha is also the Founding Dean of Indian School of Business and one of the founders of Ashoka University and Harappa Education, making him well-placed to talk about a work-world in flux.
The book comes at a crucial time. Your kids are moving into a remarkably different, cross-disciplinary world of work. After Covid-19, the world experienced the Great Reshuffle, which is when people updated their skills and moved to industries that were of greater interest to them. The book explores this changing world, where interests and work trajectories intersect in many ways.
Students will love Sinha’s empathetic and curious style. He truly understands their problems and confusions. Each chapter also has key points and exercises for students to apply these strategies to their own lives. There are sidebars that talk about other exciting prospects:- fellowships, how to specialise the right way, and the power of mentorship. There is something for parents, too: the studies mentioned in the book, including reports on psychometric tests, the skills gap, and employability in India serve as interesting signposts to the future.
In general, we nurture many misconceptions about subject streams and careers, and the book busts them all, giving us a clearer, more balanced picture. Here’s one such misconception: most Indian parents believe that only the STEM careers set the foundation for a secure life with great earnings. Sinha gives us statistics to show us how the STEM advantage can fade as employees get deeper into their careers.
Do we choose a career based on how much money we will make? The answer will surprise you. If we choose a specialization early, does it give us an upper hand? Not really. Does the institution matter or the major? How do we find the right job for a unique skill set? Why and when do you choose a liberal arts education? If you cannot afford one, how do you still pick up skills and curate a similar learning experience?
Real-life examples of non-linear careers
The author also features nine Indian working professionals who have very interesting and unusual career trajectories, including a PhD student who moved from a career in biomedical sciences to the non-profit sector, a liberal arts student who pursued law because of his passion for critical thinking, and a business journalist who moved to corporate communications and ed-tech.
I enjoyed reading about Siya Sood, a young professional in the education space. She started off as a bright school student who never took her education seriously until her first job truly challenged her. At work, she cultivated deeper skills and discovered that her strengths were collaboration and the ability to communicate complex subjects through different mediums. These skills shine in any industry.
All of the nine professionals featured talk about common strategies that helped them succeed. We all have multiple careers and multiple loves, and we need to diversify our education and experiences. Carly Fiona, for example, who was the CEO of HP from 1999 to 2005, majored in philosophy and medieval studies at Stanford University.
The book has some important advice for parents: It’s impossible for every child to know what they want to do in life; so, instead of only worrying about which stream to choose, we must encourage them to develop diverse interests, profound capacities, and transferable skills; we should also help them build agility and resilience.
I have a daughter who loves art, gaming, and geography, and likes to watch news about the financial markets with her dad. While she must choose a major that gives her a good foundation, I don’t think her interests are disparate at all. Geography, art, gaming, and finance? They can surely coalesce in interesting ways in the future.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist in Mumbai