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Degree over passion – does this have to be a choice?

#HRLADYSHIP Travel Heather Gupta • July 6, 2017
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India is one of those countries which values “job security”. Not surprising, given that there’s no government safety net, or social security system to bail unfortunate individuals out when they need it.

As a direct result of this, “safe” degrees are often preferred, particularly by parents, anxious that their offspring should fly the nest, make their own way in the world (and eventually come back to look after them in their old age).

At least half of the young people I interview tell me that they chose their degree because their parents wanted them to study a particular subject (usually engineering). I see the sadness on their faces as they struggle with that peculiar combination of relief that they finally chose a more “aligned” career path, and sadness that they eventually let their parents down.

But does choosing a degree and following your passion really need to be an either/or choice? Here are a few reasons why it doesn’t need to be that way:

1. Times are changing.

The last 10 years has seen an explosion of growth in the digital and tech space, creating opportunities for new graduates in all kinds of dynamic “non-traditional” sectors. Don’t know what you want to do? Start with something, do a few internships, and see how you go. Change course mid-way, if you feel like it and if your college is supportive.

2. More flexibility please

Employers are expecting far more flexible brains than ever before. These days, there are endless opportunities to change career depending on what excites you as you experience it. The key word is agility. Whether you’ve trained as a mechanical engineer and you’re now developing social media strategy, or whether you studied Literature and you’re now coding for a living, you don’t need to plan your entire career any more. Let it happen, naturally.

3. It’s not all work, work, work

Sure, if you have a particular specialist interest, like medicine or being a pilot then you’ll need to choose your degree carefully. You can’t become a doctor without studying medicine, obviously. But there’s way more to being a student than just cramming. Going to university, whether you leave the parental nest to do it or not, is all about networking, grabbing opportunities to join societies and clubs and practicing your new found skills as a (relatively) independent young adult.

4. Don’t rubbish the passion projects

I studied English Literature at university. Sure, I’ve endured the odd jibe about “going off the university to read books all day” (which was kind of true!). However, I also had to churn out endless essays and dissect and critically assess plays and books which helped my analytical skills and insight enormously in my career. Follow your heart and be guided by your passion.

5. Delay the decision before committing

India isn’t a country which has embraced the concept of the “gap year”, unlike the West, where students routinely take a year off before going to the university. Granted, most of them have selected their course and have their offers in place, but there’s no reason why you can’t take a year off and give your brain a rest, while you figure out what you want to do. Think about travelling (overseas if you can afford it, otherwise there are lots of wonderful places to visit right on your doorstep), working your way around the country for food and shelter, and letting your mind wander.

6. Just chill …

Above all, don’t stress. You’re at the beginning of your life, not the end, and there’s plenty of scope for trial and error. If you end up choosing the “wrong” degree then move on, get over it. Once you get to a certain stage in your career, your choice of degree becomes largely irrelevant anyway, and it’s the things you learn on the job, or in executive education down the line if you choose that route, which will really help you make those leaps and bounds.

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