You’ve done it! The all-nighters, the local author textbooks and the piles of Xeroxed notes have finally paid off. Admittedly, you’ve passed a big hurdle. Well, you made your mom proud. Hopefully, she’ll stop comparing you to Sharmaji’s son now, or maybe not! Now you belong to 4.5% of the population (less than one among 20 people) in India that has ever graduated from a college! However, don’t get too comfortable, though, because it won’t be long before someone casually poses you the million-dollar question: beta, what are you planning to do next?
I am glad you’ve taken the time to read this. Let me start off by presenting some statistics to put the problem in perspective for you. These are drawn from All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) Dashboard. Each year, there are about 1.5 million students graduating out of colleges in India, just like you! As you can see, more than half of them couldn’t find immediate placement. In fact, TOI published an article in Jan 2016 claiming that over 80% of engineering graduates are ‘unemployable’. Aren’t degrees worth anymore!?
They most certainly are. But degrees are just as highly overrated as a Starbucks coffee in our country. Sure, a title under your name looks great on the nameplate. But does that guarantee your ‘success’ in life? People like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, they all certainly went to college, but just getting a college degree was very low on their priority list. They approached the problem differently than the rest, from the very beginning of their professional career. Now you are too at ground zero of your professional career. This is a crucial juncture, the place where life filters out most of the average ones from the good ones. If you are at this juncture, this article is written just for you. I hope you find some insights which help you in making the most of coming years.
Firstly, let me address a minor concern. If you have already graduated and have no idea what you want to do with your life, that’s ok! Most people don’t. You shouldn’t be stressed about that. At your current age, you have the most energy, the most time and the least of responsibilities (Oh trust me on these three!). Even biologically, you are in the prime period of your life. So let’s acknowledge the fact that you are entering some of the best years of your life.
The greatest three-year window
If you ever played a video game as a kid (or if you still do), you will remember fetching a superpower/invincibility (Magic stars in Super Mario, S,L-powers in Contra etc.). The thing about these superpowers is that they last for only a short amount of time, so you need to make maximum use of them in a limited timeframe. If you haven’t noticed already, this relates to you directly now.
This is time for you to realize that this is the greatest 3-year ‘window’ that you are ever going to pass through. Of course, there’s a reason to call it a ‘window’. This limited time period is most likely the one in which you achieve the steepest learning curve. You will learn to fit your family, relationships, finance, responsibilities and your career- all into one equation. You will be set on your path by the end of next 3 years (more or less) and once this opening is closed, it is much difficult to start over. But the good news is, if you can get this right, you will be in the driver seat for the rest of your life.
The ship in the harbor
Okay, you might have heard this one before but it literally applies to you now. Please don’t be a ship in the harbor. It is the time set your sails for a journey out into the ocean. This is not the time to play ‘safe’. This is NOT the time to get the job Dad always wanted you to get. This is NOT the time to try to maximize your earnings so you can save up money to buy a piece of land in 25 years. This IS the time, however, to realize that people you’re going to meet now are more valuable than your paycheck. The best thing you can do now is to find successful people in your niche, go work for them (for free, if necessary!) until their stardust rubs off on you.
Secondly, you may not have noticed this, so let me say it. As a fresh college graduate, you haven’t really got much to lose. At least not as much as you would in next five years. So think of this thought experiment- I want to place a fair bet with you (where you have 50% chance of winning); if you win you’ll get 100 bucks, if not you’ll lose 100 bucks; will you go for it? Probably not. What if I say if you lose, you’ll have to pay only 10 bucks? You would gladly comply! How about we apply this common sense to our own lives? Assuming that you’re in early-mid 20s and from a decent family background, what have you really got to lose? Nothing but this opportunity.
A word on debt and risk taking
I included this section when I came across this scary article in The Wall Street Journal. Although it talks about American college graduates, I can’t imagine why the situation is any different in India. But let us get one thing clear. This article isn’t to back you off paying your debt or ignoring it. It is about learning the right approach to ensure your professional success despite your debts.
However, if you have huge debt, you need to work harder than others for an extra cash flow and pay off your debt. But consider this, in 10-15 years you’re likely to make the same amount of money in a day, of what you earn in a month as a fresher (assuming you’ll be a fairly successful person). So you will be trading off 3 crucial years of your life for 1.5 month’s salary, now that’s a pretty bad trade!
I just want to encourage you to take calculated risks NOW because once you’re married and have a family, these risks don’t involve only you anymore. You need to risk the well-being of your entire family. Undoubtedly, that’s the much harder thing to do.
Imagine that you are standing in a city bus-stop. If you know where you’re going, you won’t simply board the first bus that arrives or the bus with most empty seats. You would only step in on the ones headed towards the right direction. The same analogy goes with our careers. But for this to work, you should know where do you want to go. Here are two articles (1, 2) which might help you to figure that out.
The choices that you make now will change the course of your life. Also, since it is ‘your’ life, make sure that someone else is not making these choices for you. If you think that other people’s opinions are getting the better of you, remember this Quote by Frank Zappa:
“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
Lastly, let’s remember that you will pass through this period only once. The ‘time’ you have now is your number one commodity and it is a non-redeemable commodity. When you are 40, if someone has invented the time machine by then, you would want to come back to this exact moment and tell yourself these words: You can be anything in this life. Do not succumb to the apparently overwhelming anxiety, family or societal expectations. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life yet, spend every minute of your next 3 years in trying to figure that out. If you let this opportunity pass, even time machine won’t be of much help when you’re 40.
You must have heard people saying “Life’s short!”. Well, the truth is, for an average person, life is long enough to make him feel regretful about the opportunities he missed in his early 20s. So don’t let that happen to you. Finally, I wish you a magnificent life. But I also know that it can only be achieved by making simple but hard choices. If you agree with me, do start taking action today and change your life for the better.