I was discussing my hectic travel schedule with one of my friends. I was telling her that it was difficult to balance both work and home given the way I was traveling . She replied “ Why don’t you then switch to teaching in a school? It is not very demanding, has no travel, even has vacations every year” I was horrified to hear that! For starters, I am not a good teacher. I do not have the patience that is required for the job and I am not interested in transferring knowledge or testing its assimilation . Yet I realize why she had said it. She was speaking as my well wisher. Like so many in our country she was advising me on looking at a profession driven by personal convenience and not by individual passion.
This, is the actual reality behind the professional lives of people in our country today. We all have objectives when we decide to take up a particular occupation. Aptitude, interest and passion for something are last among the list of reasons why a person in India opts for an occupation. This is particularly true when it comes to women, as we are expected to manage a home along with a job.
So what is the result of this kind of conditioning? A horde of individuals who are extremely mediocre, doing something that they are forced to do because of their circumstances and not because they enjoy doing it.
Actually, this conditioning starts right from school days. Children are forced into taking science after their Xth standard and parents secure a seat for them in engineering colleges preferably in computer science. They are then driven into getting jobs in the IT sector , work like bees, make money, get married, buy an apartment ( or two if possible) , produce a child and complete the circle by inculcating the same values among their children. While IT is paradise that one aims to enter there are those who make some deviations becoming accountants, doing a MBA , joining the government or getting a public sector job.
Sometimes this circle gets broken when a woman is unable to manage work and home, particularly when she is part of a highly demanding corporate sector. There are other women who are unable to get into what are considered “prime sectors”. Most of these women end up as teachers in schools . Given the fact that education is one of the sectors providing the maximum returns on investment, there is always a demand for teachers. So, no matter what your skill sets are, there are schools willing to take you as a teacher. This leads to a situation where there are individuals highly unsuited for teaching trying to mould young minds and provide them with “education”! Children generally adapt to whatever situation that they are faced with. Mediocre teachers I guess, is one of them.
However there are, what I call the more individualistic and thinking children among this vast majority – a product of parents who refuse to conform to mainstream expectations who are the victims of this system. They are the ones most harassed by such teachers and it is their parents who deal with the stress of challenging the system every day. But in the long run it is these children who grow up to be brilliant and follow their dreams and ultimately get paid for their passion.
But this is only a miniscule minority. The vast majority of Indians today prefer to be mediocre performers in an occupation driven by their economic necessity or personal convenience. It is sometimes driven by heredity too. A doctor generally forces his/ her child to study medicine because the idea is to hand over the practice like their property to a legal heir. The same goes for lawyers.
So we end up with a large number of individuals who do not actually like what they do. They trudge along bearing with them the burden of their occupation, often taking it out on people at work or recipients of their services. Some of them are able to cope because of a personal life that enables them to practice what they actually enjoy – be it writing, music or art. For others who are not able to delve into their hearts and bring out what they like to do it is a more difficult life.
I think the fault lies with the way we bring up our children. We discourage them from talking about their dreams and following them. Even when it comes to hobbies, we force children to follow what we think are appropriate hobbies. I find that in Chennai, given its obsession with Maths, parents force their children to learn to play chess because chess is supposed to improve concentration abilities !!! Sometimes, children are forced to learn music even though they may not have interest in it. And in cases where they do have interest , they may not be allowed to choose the kind of music that they want to learn. I can cite my own example here – I was forced by my mother to go to Carnatic music classes though I was not interested in it. Today when I hear this form of music I have to shut my ears because it reminds me of those torturous afternoons and evenings spent in a music class that I was not interested in attending. I promised myself that I would never do this to my child !!
Every person has an interest and aptitude for something. While interest is inherent, aptitude can be cultivated. But an aptitude for something does not necessarily mean that one is interested. It just means that you can perform well in that field even though your heart may not be in it. Let me illustrate it again through a personal example. I had an aptitude for maths and science which convinced my parents that I could do a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. However I realized later that my interest was in social sciences and not in science though I was performing very well at the University. I received a national fellowship from the Indian council for Agriculture research for pursuing a Master’s degree in soil chemistry. It was while I was in that phase in my life that I realized ( like the Buddha) that I needed to get out of this! I could not see myself in a lab analyzing soil samples. I must thank my parents for supporting me at that stage to make a career switch to social sciences. I guess that saved this country from having one more mediocre soil scientist, waiting for the work day to get over, taking out her frustration on some poor research associate!!
I find that we do not have an understanding of what constitutes a dream. It does not mean owning a fancy apartment or a fleet of cars. It means something deeper. It is something that gives you happiness when you see it taking shape in front of your eyes. As a society, our problem as I see is that since we do not understand what is a dream we are able to articulate it. We do not recognize it when we our children speak about it.
Is it surprising therefore that as parents and teachers we are perpetuating a generation of mediocre individuals ?