(16 Nov 2020) The Career Planning Note Book

Here are some tips and pointers from me for young students and their parents on career planning. Some of these thoughts are unconventional and just practical advise from own experience and from talking to many young people. I am not trying to be academically accurate or complete here.

My advise to parents — Help your children explore and collect data points for their own decision. Give them time. There is no hurry and this is not an “efficient” process. Do not compare with others (especially kids who seem to be sure what they wish to do)— this is a very personal journey.  And there is no right way!  It is very likely that you will influence the decision indirectly via your own life, choices, etc — nothing wrong in that as long as you do not want everything “your way”!

 Observations — Here are some observations to think about:

  • Your work will represent at least 50% of your waking adult life.  So should we not systematically think about how we would like to spend that time?
  • Have you noticed that in most things that you enjoy doing, you tend to loose yourself in it. No other thought comes to your mind at that time. No other worry, deadline, etc bothers you at that time. In fact, it is quite possible that it is the other way around — you enjoy those things which completely occupy your mind. You might notice this when you are completely absorbed in a movie or a song or a book or a video game or soccer game or for some people doing maths or puzzles.
  • Some children say they hate biology.  In most cases, I  find that what they hate is the need to remember many details and rote learning. It is rarely the subject matter of biology itself  — in fact, it can often be curious, amazing and relevant to understanding life around us. But the rote learning overshadows all that. The tragedy is that when people actually use biology in their careers, they actually may not need to use their rote learning of younger days.  So this is a problem of the method of teaching rather than the subject itself. Students should not confuse the two.
  • Some children say they love or  maths depending upon their comfort with the methods taught in maths. I find that very often a student with a strong start and good early teachers is able to keep pace with the new stuff being taught year on year and is not overwhelmed. Others just get lost and frustrated. Much of math has the character of puzzle solving where you learn some methods and then master them with practice.  There is  a chance that you are good in math but just did not have a strong start. So do not confuse your ability to do well in math in class year-on-year with an intrinsic ability to do math or interest in math.
  • A very important aspect of physics taught in schools is the ability to visualize a physical phenomenon and convert them into equations. Some kids have a good intuitive feel for physical phenomenon but just cannot get comfortable converting them into equations or the math associated with it.  This should not be assumed to be an inability to learn and use physics.
  • Some children develop abilities, talent and confidence in certain activities — like writing, poetry, art, dance, acting, sports etc.  These activities may capture their interest and imagination as well. When we see such prodigious talent, we are all in awe and encouraging. Many older people follow these talented individuals as fans(for ex, Sachin Tendulkar). But many of us fail to see that potential talent in early stages and understand the hard work it takes to nurture such talent.  Considering this a high risk venture and under-estimating potential, we often send young people on safer paths where the young people neither excel nor display interest.  Note that in most cases people whom we admire have taken risk at some point and not stayed with the safe path or the crowd!
  • Most children have not really been exposed to many careers or people in different careers. Most children will get exposure to careers of their family members and may be teachers.  If you come from a under-privileged family, you may not even get a significant exposure to careers from family members. It is strange that career planning is done without any “data points”.
  • You will notice that many of us have implicit biases about different professions and careers. These biases accumulate in subtle ways over time. For example, a person from an academic family may have a low opinion of the merchant professions. A person from a white collar profession may have a low opinion of blue collar professions. You will hear comments such as “why should an IIT engineer be wasting his life on selling books?” or “why should a physicist be wasting his talent on trading shares” or “why should a senior manager be doing farming in his village farm?”
  • In many cases, parents and family members can be very large influences in a child’s decision. Many children will have only the life of their parents as data points for their decisions. In some cases, parents may actively push children in a certain direction. Opportunities for greater exposure and collecting more data points are always welcome.  Nothing wrong in this as long as it does not create a lot of baggage (either conditioning or psychological pressures) for the children when they are taking their decisions.
  • In most cases, we rarely directly use the information or specific cases that was learnt in school and college. But we do use the generic methods (like how to do experiments, generate data systematically, how to evaluate data for quality, how to infer from data etc). So do not worry too much or waste your time about whether the information learnt is directly relevant for your future or not — it is probably not meant to be.

 Tips and  Pointers:

  • To give it more formality and force a disciplined exploration, start a note book titled “Career Planning Diary”. This is for:
    • Setting up a plan of To Dos
    • Noting down insights you learn along the way
    • Keep track of how your thoughts change over a period of time as you encounter new data / experiences
  • I think career planning has three main parts:
    • Internal explorations and self-discovery
    • Exploring the external world
    • Small experiments to gather insights
  • Internal explorations and self-discovery:
    • Try to start with a clean slate and minimise biases.
    • Understand how your mind works. This is a very personal  exploration. Note everybody’s mind works differently and priorities things differently because everybody is conditioned differently depending upon their life and experiences.   Acknowledge that this is also subject to change in the coming years as you experience more of life.  So, recognise your mind’s preferences but understand that it is okay to change your mind.
    • See Framework 1 below
  • Exploring the external world:
    • How can we understand a variety of professions?
      • Reading and seeing videos of them
      • Talking to people in different professions; interviews; listening to talks
      • Internships; Shadowing other; Observorship
      • Biographies and following role models
      • Browse websites of organizations or people you admire or are curious about
      • Observe your family members
    • See Framework 2 below
    • How things are changing in the world around you? Trends. New developments.  Does anything catch your fancy? How can you go about this?
      • Read newspaper
      • Follow trends via a few selected magazines, websites/ podcasts etc
  • Small experiments to gather insights about yourself, your preferences, various professions etc:
    • Organising roles in school or neighbourhood; Lemonade stands; community plays
    • Summer job/ experiences; Part-time jobs
    • Internships
    • Volunteering
    • Self-initiated projects; Shadow exercises
    • Mentoring/ teaching siblings/ friends
    • Building a tree house/ real-world solution
    • Trading cards; monopoly
    • Sports — experience in different roles


  1. What motivates you?
    • Livelihood
    • Access to resources; freedoms that it gives you; Buys you what you want/ need.
    • Keeps your mind engaged and interested.
    • Gives you satisfaction; You feel happy with the consequences of your work and the impact it has
    • Gives you purpose; You feel that people/organization/ Nation wants/ needs you; It gives you a sense of importance.
    • Gives you sense of worth or prestige or respect or power; Gives you a sense of identity/ recognition. Allows you to be part of a “club”/ community.
    • Gives you sense of continuous growth, progress, advancement.
  2. Core “nature” of work of different types (Note: Any given job may have multiple of the following “natures” encapsulated within it.)
    • Education — teaching, training the next generation
    • Research — new knowledge creation
    • Technology development — problem solving in new ways
    • Practice — applying knowledge  with existing tools to execute projects/ solve problems
    • Management — reaching end goals by “managing” resources, timing, complexity, decisions
    • Leadership — setting the vision, goals, agenda; raising/ attracting resources; motivating and mobilising action
    • Labour — carrying out routine tasks (can be physical or mental tasks)
    • Analysis — take stock of multiple pieces of information and experiences, and provide a basis for a decision or plan.
    • Trading — buy low and sell high
    • Business — buy, add value and sell
    • Entrepreneurship — foresee a future opportunity well in advance and mobilise resources and action towards tapping the opportunity
    • Services — support activities of others with valued services
    • Farming and related — grow and sell
    • Performances — performing any art form or sport, exhibiting results and seeking appreciation