Career choice: Five insights for parents and youth

By Hassan Saeed

One of the most common Rumi quotes goes like this:

“You are born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

Every one of us is capable of great things on our own. We have the potential to reach whatever peak we aim for.

Yet we depend on too many people and too many ‘things’ to realise our dreams. Some among us look for opportunities instead of creating their own. We speak of ‘luck’ as the elusive ‘hand of God’ that elevates or pulls people down.

In reality, we are all victims of cultural narratives that our society had been perpetuating for decades. Too many times, in collectivist societies, career choice is heavily influenced by parents and family. Guidance and inspiration is not necessarily a bad thing but too many parents secretly wishing that their children follow THEIR ideal careers instead of pursuing the children’s’ own, is depriving too many young people of wonderful life experiences. When parents, in most cases, unknowingly start guiding, nudging and emotionally blackmailing children to choose a particular career, this results in many career and personality mismatches.

We live in a complex world. Uncertainty and insecurity are part of the 21st-century world. Adaptability is an important trait for survival and success. We all try to find meaning in what we do. Some of us find meaning in things in which others see nothing but a triviality.

Every community needs many different professions. If we wish to promote a culture of equality and respect, we should not consider one profession to be better than the other. Every working individual adds value to society.

Help the child get out of societal narratives

It is perfectly alright for parents to wish the best of everything for their children.

As a society, we have set ways of doing things. We have certain professions that we value above others. Many parents encourage their children to read law, study science to become engineers and doctors or pursue a PhD. We are implicitly biased towards certain professions and no one will admit to it. More often than not, we are not aware of this bias. The role models we see are those in the news or who are famous.

Children do not have to fit into a certain narrative. A family of doctors doesn’t always need to ‘produce doctors’.

Children go through phases – many of these are short-lived

School systems promote professions. Very often we see young boys and girls dress up in colourful costumes. Many dress as firemen, air hostesses and nurses. If you ask little girls why they would want to become air hostesses, they often respond that they are pretty, their dresses are beautiful and gives them the opportunity to put on makeup and lipstick.

As these children grow, they change their minds and become interested in other things.

I used to fancy becoming a meteorological officer as we listened to weather reports on the radio. At one point, I was interested in becoming a horticulturist. Plants are fascinating and as kids growing up, we helped our dad with planting banana trees and caring for the giant lime tree in our backyard. I changed my mind a few years later.

A kid’s first interest can just be a fleeting sense of curiosity. If we as parents reinforce this, we may, in the long run, end up doing more harm than good for the kid’s life.

Encourage children to try new things

The Roger versus Tiger approach to parenting is an interesting phenomenon. David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World, explains the case of Roger Federer, the Tennis star and Tiger Woods, perhaps the best golfer of our time.

The parental approach from Federer and Woods in stark contrast to each other. While Tiger was nudged, encouraged and rigorously trained by his Dad from a very early age, Federer did not play serious tennis until his late teens.

While early specialisation may work for some skills like golf and chess (kind learning environments), many professions are more complex and life is a wicked learning environment. Those who are exposed to many things from an early age go on to develop a greater appreciation for life and others around them.

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness

Career counselling is new in some societies. Whenever I come into contact with young people, educators and their parents, one thing becomes very clear. We all have sets of expectations from one another but we aren’t always ready or willing to take the other person’s perspective.

Most young people are not sure about many things. They know that their parents have certain expectations when it comes to their careers and lives but do not necessarily agree with them.

When there is no constructive dialogue between these parties, many differences go unreconciled until students leave school and start living.

We have to facilitate career guidance and counselling for young people. Schools, educators and parents must understand the need for allowing young people to have doubts and encourage more conversation so that these doubts can be cleared and for them to have clearer visions of their future.

It is never too late to learn a new skill

The pace of change in technology, economic downturns and globalisation mean some of us will have to retrain to pursue different careers sometime in our lives.

This global pandemic we are living through now has already made some of us redundant. Adaptability and flexibility are one of the most important skills for the 21st-century worker.

Lifelong learning is an important paradigm that our children will have to become comfortable with. I have a son and daughter who are pursuing business degrees and one of my wisest friends have asked me to advice them to defer their business degrees and start working full-time in an industry that will likely flourish through this economic recovery process. His advice is that you can always go back and complete that degree.

Earning a decent living for oneself is perhaps a greater accomplishment than degrees and certificates. Time, knowledge and skills need to be put to good use.

My career is filled with zigzags and shuffles. From hospitality to failed entrepreneurship to politics to teaching and back to hospitality.

I did not follow a typical career path and my advice to young people is that they need to try as many things as possible before settling on one career path. We should not punish ourselves for choosing a career that we later find out is not as exciting as we thought it will be.

People change, things change and our outlook on life changes many times during the course of our lives and there is nothing wrong about it.

As parents, our role is to guide our children and show them the pros and cons of many professions so that they can choose one that suits THEM best.

Note: Hassan Saeed is a highly experienced hotel/resort manager from the Maldives. He currently serves as the Resort Manager at Dhigali Maldives, a luxury resort in the northern Raa atoll.

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