October-November-December: This is the season when many students are forced into some soul searching and career planning as they take important decisions about their future. Very often these are triggered by thoughts on which program they should apply for and if certain choices will close certain doors. Often, it is a “Statement of Purpose” or similar essay that forces them to think.
I have been talking to young people who approach me asking me for inputs and advise. In this blog, I am picking up one theme that comes up quite often —- do certain career choices align with a person’s financial aspirations? Here are some observations and simplistic points.
The framework to think
You will notice the following:
- Level 1: The richest people in the world are owners of scalable businesses or owners of property (financial, land, building etc or intellectual). Example: Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas, Trump, Saudi kings, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, JK Rowling, etc. Occasionally, a prolific inventor like may be Lemelson. Can include rich land owning farmers.
- Level 2: The next rung are business people with relatively smaller business (but fairly big businesses), folks who leverage their skills/ talent (including entertainers like actors, sports people, successful artists etc) beyond looking at regular employment
- Level 3: Highest level managers, professionals in various companies. CXOs. Presidents. Vice Presidents etc.
- Level 4: Middle level employees in high paying sectors/ MNCs. Ex: In india, mid management IT jobs or bank jobs, finance / consulting jobs etc. May be successful small business people including doctors, consultants etc
- Level 5: Government employees, civil servants, defence employees, teachers, professors, scientists (unless they own any property) etc (many public service roles)
- Level 6: Skilled labour/ workforce; small marginal farmers; Lower level IT work
- Level 7: General labour; Farm labour
Each Level is associated with certain preparation, certain risk taking, having access to certain resources (including funds, networks, knowhow etc). For example, it is easy to prepare to be in Level 1 for second generation entrepreneurs whose parents have already put them in Level 1 orbit. A classic example is Mukesh Ambani who was put in Level 1 by his father (Dhirubhai Ambani) who moved from Level 7 to Level 1 in one generation. Dhirubhai Ambani had ambition and took immense risks. Mukesh Ambani has the benefit of resources at his command, knowhow, networks etc.
Many of us in the Indian middle class, belong to Level 5 and often try to push their kids to Level 4 and Level 3 via (for example) the rat races called IIT-JEE, NEET etc. Occasionally, one first generation entrepreneur makes the jump to Level 1 and 2; and we celebrate those cases. (ex: Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart etc).
Some of us are content being at the Level we are at and others are not. JK Rowling was at Level 5 or below as a teacher. But she believed she had a talent which will take her to the top league. Fortunately for her, she created intellectual property that was valuable and she has been propelled into Level 1.
You will also notice that:
- When the government or large companies or even some foreign governments promote skill development activities, they are just trying to populate Level 6. This may be okay for people in Level 7 (unskilled labour) but what if they are aspiring to be in Level 5, 4 and above. Of course, there will be unhappiness. Classic example is of a lower middle class urban family or a middle class rural family wanting their children to get “high paying IT jobs”.
- You will also notice how many middle class families in India want their kids to become IITians so that they can graduate into Level 3 and 4 jobs. Many kids are quite unhappy in those roles (which can be mundane line functions) but they do meet the aspirations of their family.
- And then you have those who were left with no option (that is did it not because they were very keen on public service careers but because they had no other option!) but become government employees/ professors etc, and then feel envious about the guys who chose to go to Level 1, 2, 3,4.
Now, if you wish to be in the top bracket (Level 1), you cannot be preparing for roles more suited for Level 5. And if you have chosen to do Level 5, you have to find satisfaction in the role and its contribution to society and not constantly compare yourself with Level 1 folks.
For students, here are the implications:
- In school and college, choose the right path for yourself. If you are increasingly focusing singularly on academic excellence and seeing your teachers/ professors as you role model, you may head to Level 5.
- If you wish to reach Level 1, you will need to learn things to take you there and select those activities which help you build resources, networks, knowhow etc to take you to Level 1. For example, for many first generation entrepreneurs, the ticket to Level 1 is creating, owning and exploiting valuable intellectual property. (Note — I am saying “owning”! ) . Then clearly you need to know how to create and exploit intellectual property.
- Many young people with entrepreneurial aspirations, need to often steer clear from Level 3/4/5 careers and actively move towards Level 1/2.
- Do not confuse entrepreneurial training (for Level 1/2) with skill development (Level 6).
- If you find great satisfaction in public service, research, teaching and the general glory/ respect/ fame it brings or can bring, be comfortable with the idea of being at Level 5. And also convince your family that is where you wish to be.