Tired of doctor, lawyer, engineer and accountant wannabes — Cass Shan

JULY 26 — The truth is, most students don’t know much about the world after secondary education. They simply assume that the best career options are to be either a doctor, lawyer, engineer or accountant. And if they are good academically, they automatically get pigeonholed into these career paths.

While these professions are noble and worth aspiring to, too many students simply fail to grasp what it means to have a career and fall for the assumed social status and prestige associated with these careers.

And sure, some can argue that vying for social status and prestige isn’t all that bad, but surely there’s more to a career than that?

The recent spate of students complaining about not being offered courses of their choice is nothing new in Malaysia. Institutionalised racism aside, students should already know that if everyone got the course of their choice, there would be an over supply of doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants — thereby driving down the market rate and value of these occupations. Thus, demand must exceed supply to ensure the value of these professions.

For those who fail to get a course of their choice; they can appeal or look elsewhere — either going abroad or seeking scholarships (which if they are worthy, they are more likely than not to get). For others who don’t have that option, it may not be such a bad thing to look at other career options.

For one, I sincerely question how many of these applicants are genuinely passionate about these courses they are applying for. True passion is when you are willing to do something for nothing, because just doing it gives you a sense of achievement or satisfaction. I am willing to bet that if the medical profession didn’t pay as much as it does in comparison to other professions, there would be a lot less takers despite it being a noble profession.

For instance, how many people actually grow up saying “My dream is to spend my working hours looking into people’s mouths and attacking cavities?” And yet, dentistry is a competitive course. I’m not saying that dentistry is not something to aspire to but essentially, a lot of students are taken in by the “halo” effect that the medicine line has.

I know a classmate in school who studied nursing because she truly cared for the sick. When offered a chance to pursue her career as a doctor with her already sound knowledge of healthcare, she turned it down as she saw how little doctors interacted with patients compared to nurses and stuck to being a nurse for the pure joy of caring for the sick. Now, Pamela Patricia Perera can truly hold her head high as someone who is truly passionate about helping the sick. How many of our doctor wannabes, if denied the option of studying medicine, would opt for nursing and still get to care for patients? And how many would take the longer path towards being a doctor by becoming a nurse first in their so-called ambition to be a doctor?

I know a girl who loved airplanes since she was young, collecting model airplanes and watching “Airwolf” with anticipation in the ‘80s. This is someone who cuts out articles on aircraft engineering when she was in school despite not being requested to by the school syllabus. Not surprisingly, Ruth Anandaraj went on to study aircraft engineering and is now working for Airbus in the UK and will soon be working for Boeing in the US. This is what true passion is about — reading up information about your career choice with hunger in between studying for school exams.

On the other hand, I know a Mara scholarship recipient who studied engineering in the UK (and yes, he was academically bright with straight As) and came back to Malaysia only to ditch a career in engineering. It turned out a career as a sales manager was more rewarding to him and possibly the best turn of events that could have happened where he achieved money, respect and a fancy job title as a sales director at the age of 33 to boot.

Now, how many students say their dream is to be a salesperson? Not many I’m sure. In fact, among the so-called respected community of academic high achievers, a salesperson is akin to being a pariah in society.

I know of an accounting graduate who studied accounting on scholarship (yes, she was sent abroad to the UK) who called a floor of salespersons a “sweatshop” and equated salespeople to being “con artists”. She would never lower herself to that job title, yet she was happy to stay in her prestigious, high-paying, but unfulfilling job.

The point is, there is more to a career than academic results, money and presumed prestige.

A career isn’t necessarily about how good your exams results are. I’m sorry to break the news to you but scoring straight As in our education system only mean you’re good at memorising, it doesn’t guarantee that you are a critical thinker. A career is about whether your personality is the right fit for the job requirement. Many professions in Asia tend to require long hours and — before you make it — most graduates have to climb their way up the salary scale. So you better enjoy your work if you are going to be spending a lot of time in it.

The crucial test — would you do it if you weren’t paid for it — comes to mind.

In the instance of not getting a course you want, the world suddenly opens up with new possibilities. You may find out that nursing helps you care for the sick more than doctors do. Or that you really love doing PR because you love interacting with people more than you do staying in the office. You may find out that a career as a teacher is more rewarding than a fat paycheque when you see the improvements in your students. Or maybe, that “pariah” job as a salesperson is more fulfilling to your go-getter type of personality.

We face many setbacks in life and often, when a door closes, another opens.

Students shouldn’t be preoccupied with prestigious jobs and ask themselves hard questions of what personality type they have. They should ask themselves what they would still do even if there was no money on the table, and that they’d do it because it gives them fulfilment.

Too many students have a myopic view of life after secondary education and think that a prestigious job is the only way up. It may be a way up — but does it truly satisfy you or are you just looking for the next family reunion where you get to proudly mention your job title?

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online. 

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