Tag Archives: career

Choosing Career(s)

We spend about 80,000 hours of our life engrossed in our chosen careers; and a majority of those hours, for a majority of people, are spent being disengaged at work. One reason may be that we end up being round pegs in square holes.

Our initial career choices are mostly determined by parental expectations, peer pressures, financial security concerns or status and prestige of those professions. For some of us, it may be driven by an overarching interest or passion; but for most of us, a highly paid job with least amount of stress seems like a good deal.

But that doesn’t explain high levels of disengagement and lowered fulfillment in many people holding high paying jobs or a sense of boredom and ennui in those holding routine jobs requiring little stress. We may figure out that probably such lives are lacking in meaning and hence not fulfilling – and to make our work lives fulfilling we need to add meaning to it.

And we are right to an extent. But how do we add meaning to our lives? and is that the only answer?

The right answer, imho, lies in choosing a career such that it satisfies the four major goals of life:  Happiness, Success, Meaning and Morality/Integrity. Let me elaborate.

  1. Happiness: Happiness, in the moment, can be thought of as a plethora of positive emotions over a scarcity of negative emotions. One aim of determining the right job for yourself could be answering whether that job will feel pleasant while executing and will have least amount of stress/ anxiety/ negative experiences. However, a better predictor of job satisfaction would be answering which are the jobs in which you lose sense of time, perform at your peak and are in the zone. In short in which types of work do you have more opportunities to have ‘flow‘ experiences. We have more flow experiences at work than at home and its important you chose a career that affords possibility of such experiences. For e.g. 2 years ago I had a mid life career crisis and had to decide between remaining a  software professional or move to life/ strengths coaching. I enjoy coding, I enjoy managing people and especially coding and debugging allowed me to enter focused flow experiences often; similarly whenever I am with a client or conducting a workshop, I am in flow, so both options provided and will continue to provide flow experiences. So couldn’t decide on this alone.
  2.  Success: Success is often a result of excelling at what you do. And a lot of factors affect your performance and excellence.  While some believe that excellence is a function of aligning your work with innate talents, other believe talent is overrated and things like deliberate practice and plain old hard work are really important and that the skills you have developed over the years are to be the guiding principle. A similar strand suggests that one has a unique passion/ overarching interest (just like talents), and discovering that is a panacea; others believe that passion has to be cultivated and developed slowly by investing your time and energy and committing to something.  A middle ground is to discover and honor your strengths (which is a combination of talent +investment + skills + knowledge) and your potential (aptitude rather than mere interest or skill). In deciding between a software job and a psychology based career my strengths like maximizer, individualization, relator made me lean towards coaching while arranger was a good fit for management career in software.  Also, pragmatically speaking, you need to consider your odds of success while choosing the career. For e.g. as per study with college undergraduates, about 90 % had strong interests in arts, sports or music but there were less than 1 % jobs for the same. That doesn’t mean you should not try if you have good aptitude/ strength in that area, juts be cognizant of your odds of success.
  3. Meaning: Meaning often results from doing something that either feels very subjectively fulfilling or can be objectively seen to be making a real impact in the world out there. That is why teaching can be so meaning filled activity, as its highly subjectively fulfilling, though perhaps the real world impact can be seen much later only.  Similarly, doing social work directly can feel so enchanting and meaning suffused as it provides opportunities to see real world impact in the here and now. However, without getting entangled and caught up in whether  the work you are doing is either subjectively fulfilling or objectively impactful, you can use a simple metric: does it help people and if so how many (quantitative) and to what extent(qualitative difference). For e.g. in my role as a manager, I was perhaps touching the lives of a few peers and direct reports, but as a coach/ workshop facilitator I could perhaps touch a larger number of people and make greater contributions.
  4. Morality/Integrity: Finally, your work should be such that you can look at the man in the mirror and be proud of what you do on a daily basis. You can do this either by choosing a job that requires authenticity (being true to yourself- your values, potential etc) or by choosing  a job out of a moral imperative of what is required of you (- your duty to others). Again without getting too much caught between whether your dharama is what is authentic to you or what is your socially sanctioned duty, a good thumb of rule may be to find the fit between you and the world.  Where do your values align with the needs of the world. In my case it was clear that coaching/ workshops will provide me more avenues for aligning my values with what I needed to do.

When it comes to choosing a career, there are no easy answers and each individual’s journey will be different and unique; but hopefully thinking about your career in these terms will make you best suited to make your mark on the world and have fulfillment too!

Indian parents prioritize career success over happiness for their kids

As per a survey [pdf] done by HSBC of 5,550 parents in 16 countries, Indian parents prioritize career success over and above happiness for their kids. Now, this is a small sample size ( ~ 350 Indian parents if one assumes equal sampling from all countries), but I am not surprised. This rings true from personal experience.

Now, the procedure was very simple, parents were asked to pick top 3 goals for their kids. In India, ‘Be successful in their career’ was picked by 51 % parents, as compared to ‘Be happy in life’ (49 %), ‘Lead a healthy lifestyle’ (33 %), ‘Earn enough to enjoy a comfortable life’ (22%) and ‘Fulfill their potential’ (17 %).


Now, by itself, the results may not  seem striking…after all there is only 2 % more Indian parents choosing career success over happiness and about half of the Indian parents are choosing happiness as well as career success, so what is the big deal?


It becomes a big deal when we put things in perspective. The average percentage of parents who have happiness as a major goal for their kids globally is 64%. That is, two out of three parents globally want their kid to be happy at all costs, while only half of Indian parents do. Moreover, in some countries like France, as high as 86 % want their child to be happy, first and foremost!

Contrast this with a focus on career success. Globally, only for 30 % parents, career success is a cherished goal for their child; or stated another way only 1 in 3 parents is focused on the career success of the child globally, while this figure becomes 1 in 2 parent in the Indian context.

What does such an extreme focus on career success, to the detriment of being happy, lead to? High suicide rates in the education hub of India : Kota.

I hail from Kota and know first hand the tremendous pressure that children are subjected to as they prepare for engineering/ medical entrance exams conforming to their parents wish.

The HSBC report also talks about career ambitions parents have for their children. Its a worrying fact that globally 4 in 5 parents(83 %) have a specific career in mind for their child and in emerging economies this number is even higher. What room does it leave for the child to pursue what their own dream/ passion is?

I coach students too and make it a point to be true to my clients interests (the student) rather than their parents interests ( the party making the payments) cause often the interests may not align!!

The report also talks about how traditional streams like Medicine remains a popular choice (of parents for their child) globally (19 %) ; while Indian parents prefer Engineering ( 14 %) and Computer Science (18 %) over Medicine (14 %) for their kids. Also as many as  89% of parents have either paid for, or plan to pay for additional tutoring. (no wonder coaching business in Kota, and elsewhere, is blooming).

I have nothing against getting additional tutoring or coaching for your child( given the reality of competitive entrance tests, that is unavoidable) and I myself had taken coaching with a Kota institute for clearing my JEE (way back in 1994);  but what I find unacceptable is the subtle, and at times not so subtle, peer and parental pressure to  either become a doctor or an engineer.

By not considering what the interests, passions and strengths of the child are , we preclude them from being truly happy and successful in their adult life.

What the report uncovered was that globally, about a third of parents base their career preferences for their child based on income generating potential while an equal number base it on benefit to society or how well suited the job would be to their children’s strengths. With just 29 % parents globally having ‘Fulfill their potential’ as a major goal for their children, this sorry state of affairs is understandable (but not acceptable).

It might sound like preaching, but if we can learn from the appalling case of the numerous suicides in Kota, it is perhaps evident that unless we align students strengths and interests with their future career and ensure that happiness and fulfilling one’s potential does not take backseat to a sole focus on career; we will not only continue playing with precious human lives, but also leave many more to keep living lives of quiet desperation in their adult life.

One solution comes to mind: Making well-being and character strengths a focus early on since school and that is what the promise of positive education is. Its hard to reach out to parents and make them change, but perhaps we can make the children themselves aware of their need to prioritize happiness and equip them with tools to discover and capitalize on their strengths for resilience and well being throughout the life. IPEN is a step in that direction and I welcome you to reach out to me to take it further in India.