The ones who are confused are not lost

When I speak at the various IITs and IIMs, one of the most common questions I am asked is on how millennials can locate their ideal career or purpose. This question is not restricted to just students but even to working professionals in their 20s and well into their 30s. While it seems a simple question, it can be extremely taxing on the brain with relentless societal pressure, peer pressure, infinite career choices and limited mentoring infrastructure in India. 

While the most common answer available is to pursue your passion, it is far difficult in real life to locate your passion. This is despite numerous career aptitude tests you can take, counselling you can seek or understand your MBTI personalities. 

This column tries to address this issue with a practical frame of mind. 

Career purpose is a difficult subject and is bound to be elusive for most part of an individual’s lifetime 

Although incessantly hyped in the media, finding your purpose that gives you joy and is monetarily lucrative is not easy. A lot of professionals in their 40s struggle to answer the question on their career purpose. The abstract notion is that locating your career purpose is a linear activity which should be cracked by the age of 18 is downright ludicrous if not immature. One’s career purpose is often a function of an individual’s experience in a specific eco-system and individual strengths along with the stage of life that individual is in, so time is necessary to answer this question. Also, the reality is that most millennials choose the first 5 years of their career on the basis of societal and peer pressures rather than what they think they might like to do. 

Although elusive, Millennials and Gen Z professionals can adopt practical measures to move toward a potential career of their choice. 

If you are a student, trying multiple internships is a great idea to see what you might like or what you might hate. The greatest piece of advice someone told me is that career choices are made by often what you hate doing rather than what you love doing. For many management professionals including me, an MBA is pursued because they are not keen on pursuing a career in coding and testing. 

An indication of the career you might like is also indicated by what you like to read, watch and what you think your strengths might be. If you are interested in shaping the future, listening intently to consumers and have the ability to handle ambiguity, a career in marketing might be the way forward. If you like reading about the fast paced life of consulting or love the series ‘House of Lies’, you might want to give the glamorous world of management consulting a try. Amongst a lot of millennials, entrepreneurship seems a solution to all career problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you think you have a great entrepreneurial idea, it is always prudent to try it with your traditional career and scale it up appropriately before you pursue it single-handedly. If you are still unsure, look at the career choices of your seniors whom you think are similar to you and give that a try. Seeking a session with a professional mentor is also a great idea. 

If you are stuck in a rut, a higher educational degree is often effective in making a shift 

At some point in everyone’s career, they seem to be stuck in a rut with respect to the quality of work or career progression or individual preferences. In case you end up in that situation, a higher educational degree in the form of a masters or an advanced leadership degree might give your career a necessary fillip with a location shift or an industry shift or a skill upgrade to succeed in your existing roles. It is also important to note that branded educational institutions are instrumental in giving you that head-start, the desired shift and nothing more. In cricketing parlance, a good educational institution ensures you finish 30 for no loss at the end of the first hour of a test match. The remaining 95% of the match is dependent on your individual brilliance, grit and courage. 

Ground reality is that most career aspirations are loftily positive but most jobs are equally challenging

The single biggest reality is that most corporate jobs are hard with long hours, challenging assignments and artificial pressure with a relentless focus on business targets. This is a ground reality that should be accepted by everyone, irrespective of the stage of your careers and the institutes you come from. The most practical advice is to pursue supervisors who treat you well and are easy to work with. It will help you to minimise the corporate drain and focus on your mental health and physical fitness to lead a better quality of life. Almost everyone chooses a career because of a good supervisor or leaves a career because of a poor supervisor. 

Locating a good supervisor is often a matter of luck. Once you have had the luck, rarely should you leave that ecosystem. 


In conclusion, it is normal and completely alright to be lost and confused, even at the age of 45!



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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