Passion and priorities

Passion and priorities

At the right time: It is the responsibility of parents and teachers, to gently encourage the child to develop the skills she is showing interest in, and get expert opinion about her potential and capabilities.

Prashant is obsessed with software. He keeps developing unique little programmes as a hobby, and he has even made one for his trader uncle to track his delivery vans that go around all over the city. Though he has taken science after 10th, he is not very keen on going through a four-year engineering degree course. He feels that with a little basic training he can become a good programmer.

Patrick thinks of cricket 24/7. He believes that he can rise to great heights if allowed to just pursue his game, and is slowly losing interest in studies which he feels take away too much time and prevent him from pursuing his passion.

Then there is Shubha, a child prodigy, whose drawings have amazed people from the time she was four years old. She does reasonably well in academics but always has to push herself to study. Being from a conservative middle-class family, her parents don’t think she should give up regular studies and take up drawing or painting as a career.

Many such youngsters are facing this dilemma every year, particularly when the time comes for them to give Board exams, or decide about their higher studies. Some of them are stopped from indulging in their ‘extracurricular’ activities when they come to the final year, and they feel that the gap will result in their never being able to rebuild their skills while others would have overtaken them. They not only are passionate about what they do, but quite a few of them are also extremely talented and are far above average in their area of interest.

Uncharted areas

The question that haunts them, and more so their parents, is whether they can take the risk of getting into uncharted areas sacrificing their opportunity to study and get into a ‘safe’ career. In the past few decades, the most paying and lucrative fields (read: engineering, medicine, chartered accountancy, civil service, etc.) have been sought by students to ensure that they will earn well, be able to get a steady income and take care of their families. The thought of moving away from these is quite scary, and parents feel they cannot allow their ‘immature’ child to take an impulsive decision and regret it lifelong. I also come across parents who watch with pride the talent and potential of their child in an unusual field, but say, “First let him complete his engineering, then he can take up whatever career he wants.”

The only permanent thing in life is change. But the rate of change has increased exponentially, and most of us are not only being caught unawares by new and very promising careers but are also ignorant of how the traditional careers are likely to be in the next four to five decades of a student’s working life. Many parents worry about what career their child is going to take up when the career she is going to take up has not been invented yet!

Going by recent trends, it is estimated that millions of jobs will be opened out in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning and data sciences. A recent addition to this list is Blockchain, which first surfaced in connection with the infamous Bitcoin currency, but has now expanded into various areas ranging from digital marketing to health to economics.

So, we go back to the initial question: should a talented and enthusiastic student pursue her passion, or should she keep it as a ‘hobby’ and stick to a ‘safe’ career? The answer lies in first understanding that there is no longer anything called a safe career. Not even the best astrologer can predict which career will remain lucrative over the next 30-40 years, and which will go down. On the other hand, the good news is that innumerable fields that did exist as meaningful vocations, but did not offer good financial returns have, now begun to promise very stable and well-paying jobs. Some of these include: teaching, art, music, sports management, creative work, animal welfare, culinary arts, writing, alternative health, grooming and mentoring, special education, psychology, and many others.

Taking the plunge

The need now is to start exploring various options even while a child is in school. We need to break the mindset of pushing a child into coaching for competitive exams in engineering or medicine for which she may or may not have the aptitude, and not only wasting valuable money and time but also depriving her of blossoming in the right direction. There is no doubt that if a child gets into a field she enjoys, she will inevitably do well, progress smoothly, and most important — enjoy her work and professional life.

By the time a child comes to high school, some of his budding talents do start becoming visible. It is the responsibility of parents (and teachers, too, whenever possible), to gently encourage the child to develop the skills he is showing interest in, and get an expert opinion about his potential and capabilities. Not every child who has a passion for some field is necessarily backed up with capabilities and talent.

If it is only his passion and he does not have the potential, it is better to gently expose him to other areas where he may do better. The potential of a child in a particular field should necessarily be evaluated by a neutral and unbiased expert who can give a reliable opinion not only of his capabilities, but also the areas where he needs to further sharpen skills in order to be successful. 

Many children do not even know the difference between a hobby and a career. Playing online games (and even winning stray prizes now and then) cannot be a career, but creatively and professionally designing games can be quite paying. Playing a game like cricket or football may not last very long as the child will soon outgrow it, but getting into sports management, coaching, psychology or medicine can certainly be a very fulfilling and rewarding career. I have, for example, come across boys who say they wish to become automobile designers, but the reason for that choice they give is, “I love riding motorbikes and driving cars.” An automobile designer does not drive vehicles, he sits in his lab and laboriously works out the intricate designs, which are then converted into vehicles and the younger generation enjoys moving around in them!

Hence, instead of killing the dreams of a child by univocally thrusting him or her into mainstream careers, it is worth the time and effort to evaluate the capabilities and see how his or her talent can be converted into a long-term stable career.

Of course, one has to keep in mind that in this era of fast change, there is no guarantee of long-term stability, and the student who is most flexible, willing to and able to adapt to changes, even anticipate them, will be the most successful in the long run.

(The author is founder, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)