For the uninitiated, CA here refers to Chartered Accountant and I am on my way to become one. If you don’t know what a Chartered Accountant is, do not worry; you are not in minority here, even I did not know what a CA does when I made the fateful decision to become one. I must have been very brave back then to have chosen this career without any background research. Because as of now, I don’t even step in for coffee without looking at the ratings of a place now and at 17 I turned the wheels of my life into a completely unknown direction.
16 is the age where most Indian students make a decision as to what stream do they want to study for the last two years of school and possibly beyond school. Fun fact, I am 24 and I still don’t know what I want to do. I really don’t see how could have I known ‘the subject/stream/career’ eight years ago. The only thing I knew back then was that I do not want to be an engineer. I don’t know why and I don’t know how but I was absolutely certain that I am not going to be an engineer. If given a choice, most Indian parents want to see their children becoming Engineers or Doctors and never anything else. The other career options are residuary in nature- that is, first a child is expected to try their hands at science and then switch to another subject only if they foresee no possibility of success at science (read failure to obtain a college seat or failure to obtain a well paying job after college). And if the child has a good academic record, it becomes almost impossible to imagine them not taking up science.
I had a solid academic record. Of all the things, that I could have been born with, God decided to give me a good brain. I say that sadly because in India a good brain limits your choices and mine got limited too. Since engineering was ruled out, my parents automatically assumed that I would be a doctor. I don’t blame them. I delayed my decision till the time it was absolutely necessary to make a choice and I wasn’t very open to them about my discomfort with Physics or complete disinterest in Biology or my aversion to hospitals. If your child averages a score of 96 in every subject that he/she has studied, even you might be tempted to believe that they are going to sail off well in all of them, so why not science. Also, being one of the products of the Indian education system even I fell prey to the same reasoning that Science maybe my golden ticket to success in life.
It took me two weeks in the science class to realize that this may not be the correct choice. It took me arguments and deliberations with my parents to make them see how uncomfortable I am with the idea of permanently being in the vicinity of hospitals, sickness and blood. It took days of coming back from school with displeasure on my face. It took that Physics teacher in school to not even take the initiative of explaining a topic before asking us to solve questions because he assumed that everyone had already learned the topic at a coaching class. Finally, it took the coaching teacher to draw an itemized cost sheet of how much this half-hearted attempt at science would cost me for the first two years. And then, I switched to Commerce.
Since I was a child, I had been good with money and I had been good with numbers. I felt that I could do better at Commerce than I could at Science. Almost everyone who knew me was disappointed or surprised with my decision. My parents didn’t seem thrilled with the idea. Every time they tried accepting my decision, a neighbor, a relative, a friend or an acquaintance would express their dismay over my choice. The general consensus was that if I were truly bright, I would have opted for Science. My parents would probe me about my future after school plans. But I had no concrete answers to give because like I earlier pointed out I was quite undecided on my career.
I used to tell them that in the two years at school, I am going to weigh in on my career options; but mostly I want to become a journalist or write for television. My prime career choices somehow dismayed them a little further. Their grounds were that if I wanted to take a career in an unrelated stream, then I should have simply stuck to science in school and then switched streams later on. Secondly, my career choices seemed easy to them; they were non serious choices unfit for a person with some serious potential. Somewhere around the same time, a distant cousin in the family who had taken commerce had completed her graduation from one of the top colleges at Delhi University and simultaneously completed Chartered Accountancy. Her education trajectory came to be branded as the ‘it’ thing to do if you are doing Commerce. It sounded like a serious choice. And then it automatically came to be seen as an obvious choice for me.
I was 17 and on days I felt guilty of hurting my parents by not taking science. Or maybe I was too tired to validate my choices to my parents, teachers and a lot of other people who were finding faults with it. Or maybe I was accustomed to pleasing my parents. Or maybe I loved them as much to consider giving their choice a chance. I don’t know what exactly it was, but somehow I decided to sideline my journalism/screenwriting plans to make way for Chartered Accountancy in my life. I thought that I would first become a CA, earn some money and then make time for pursuing a career that could make use of my writing skills and my imagination. That was the plan. I did not even know what a CA did, I did not know what auditing meant. But I made that plan, based purely on some cousin’s success and an accounting teacher’s romanticized notions about Chartered Accountancy who incessantly preached that CAs people of great dignity and integrity. I am 24 today and I am still trying to stick to that plan.
I have tried to quit a couple of times, not as much vocally as much mentally. I went to the second best college in the country for my undergraduate studies. And in the final year, there was a good opportunity for me to quit. But my parents did not agree. They thought that I was scared of the effort that CA demanded so they coaxed me to continue and I continued. In the first six months that followed my graduation, I should have definitely quit. But I started feeling incapable, undeserving and most importantly ‘stupid’ to be able to find a way out of this and so I continued.
In the three years of my training mandatory to appear for the final exam, I have never enjoyed working with a CA or have come to respect them barring one person who I worked with in the last year. Earlier this year, my second principal (read boss) insulted me for 3 hours straight and made me feel so small because I asked for a favor from him and in those 3 hours of belittlement all I thought was how long can I allow an irrational decision in the name of career choice to agonize me. I should have quit right there but it was too late till then. I can’t even count how many nights have I cried myself to sleep over not having the liberty to simply switch. There are days when I just feel depressed and anxious. I have little to no confidence left in myself. I second judge all of my decisions. I can’t even foresee myself doing something related to writing because somehow my standard approach to a lot of things in life now is ‘what is the point of this?’.
I have had five years of bottling this agony inside me and now that it is slowly starting to spill in front of my parents, it surprises them, it looks like a phase to them and it even seems unreasonable to them. I think it’s only fair that they think so because after all it was my decision to become a CA; I made the plan based on a flawed hypothesis. It was my drive to make everyone happy that has costed me my own happiness. I made a stupid decision and if you’ve read this far here are a few pointers for you with respect to decision making process:
- You do not owe your career decision to anybody, not even your parents because the onus of making a life out of that career rests entirely on you.
- Once you start investing time in a career choice and you can see that it is not working out for you, quit. Do not continue because you believe that all the time and energy invested will come to a waste. Do not continue because you think it’s late because if the feeling resurfaces subsequently it will be even later.
- Never take a decision to avoid a confrontation because sooner or later, the confrontation does happen and if it happens after you have prioritized someone’s choice over yours, the hurt is phenomenal.
- Do not take a decision without listing out the pros and cons, thinking that you will make it work for you because there’s a possibility that what the decision demands out of us is much greater than what it is going to yield for us in the future.
This was my story of how a single decision turned around my perspective and approach to life. What about you? Can you think of one such decision?