By: Dhanya Nair
I wasn’t too keen on studying career counseling this summer, however it turned out be a valuable experience as it led me to carry out some self-exploration. The course also made me think consciously about the process of choosing a career and the way in which our careers affect and are affected by our unique life circumstances. Choosing a career/vocation is one of the toughest developmental tasks faced by teenagers and young adults, in my opinion. Our choice of career not only impacts our quality of life; it also influences the narrative we build about ourselves.
I grew up in India, where career decisions more often than not involve the entire family. Career choices in India are often influenced by the needs of the family; if a family needs financial stability, then the children of the family, especially the older ones, are encouraged to find a vocation which would ensure a steady source of income. The Indian education system, according to me, also plays a role in truncating career options as it encourages students to choose between the sciences and arts during high school. I was a very confused teenager when it came to choosing a career because I felt a sharp lack of congruence between my inherent abilities and the expectations of my family. There continues to be a lack of adequate career exploration among Indian teenagers and young adults and this saddens me a lot.
In contrast, the American education system does offer more scope for exploring careers and seeking personal fit with various occupations. However, America is becoming increasingly diverse and hence there is a need to combine personal agency with students’ cultural background. There is an increasing body of cross-cultural research in the field of careers, and I find this very encouraging. However, I feel that several of these studies do not include a historical perspective regarding the development of attitudes to careers in a particular culture. For example, several research studies show that among first and second generation Asian immigrant adolescents, considerations of prestige and financial stability are paramount. I would like the consumer of this information to also take into account the colonial history shared by many Asian countries, in the post-colonization period most citizens of such nations found that a career in fields like medicine or engineering, which were important for nation-building, were the surest paths to attaining prosperity.
As I reflect on ending this piece cogently, I think about the social nature of humans. At no point in time are we isolated beings, our actions constantly influence and are influenced by people around us and our social milieu. As a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of flux. As a future counselor, I hope to be able to help students and youth realize the importance of embracing their unique life experiences, life-transitions, and uncertainty as strengths and resources to draw from when making career choices.