Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
A career choice I made 25 years ago shaped the person that I am today, my outlook, perspective, self-esteem, the way I look at the world and just about everything. Since it has been a journey of insight and revelation, I feel it’s worthy of mention. That’s not because I am on some kind of a narcissistic pursuit, but because the lessons learnt, need to be shared.
My Career Choice
Let me begin with background about my upbringing so that you can see the dichotomy between what I dreamt of and what I landed up with. I have had a fairly privileged life. I did my schooling at St. Thomas, Mandir Marg, where I had the privilege of studying psychology from the best possible teacher in an enriched environment. I had access to all the resources a student can hope for backed by extremely supportive and caring parents. I topped in the Class XII AISSCE exams. I am a product of the University of Delhi so I’ll skip mentioning it at all places. Thereafter I moved to another elite setup, Jesus and Mary College, where I completed my graduation in Psychology with honours. This was followed by post-graduation with affiliation to Indraprastha College, where again I topped in both the previous and final years. I wanted to get more research experience before I went in for my doctoral work, so I joined M.Phil in Psychology and then completed a PhD. I was an achiever, dreamt big, aspired for the best as I felt that I deserved it, I had earned it.
My hopes were shattered when I stepped into the extremely competitive and unfair world of the job market. I was so disheartened that despite being qualified for a university job, I wasn’t able to bag one for a couple of years until a breakthrough came in the form of a position in a rural college situated in the outskirts of Delhi. I remember my first experience of travelling to that college which felt like an eternity. I entered my class to find a measly group of 8 girls, 3 of whom were married and all were from a Hindi speaking background with absolutely no idea of what the subject entailed. I was aghast at the idea of having to teach in Hindi, which almost seemed like a foreign language and something that I had never imagined could be used to teach Psychology at the University of Delhi! The challenge of learning my subject afresh in another language turned out to be an opportunity whereby I published a book on guidance and counselling in Hindi, did multiple translations of papers in Hindi.
Finding a purposeful career in life
The girl students in my class were the epitome of dedication, grit and resilience. They were braving all kind of adversity starting from misogynistic unsupportive families, prejudice, gender discrimination to abuse. However, they were trying their level best to cope up with whatever life threw at them, just to be able to be allowed to attend college. One of them reported getting up every day at 4 am to take care of household chores to be allowed to leave for college after 5 hours of continuous slogging. On the day of the practical exam, one of them turned up with a newborn baby to appear for the examination and guess what, she rejected any consideration to be allowed early or any other kind of leniency as it wouldn’t be fair for other girls in her class.
It tore me down. A new revelation dawned in me that if I did well academically, it was largely due to access to the best resources, teachers and environment, but if these girls were doing half as well, they deserved nothing less than a bravery award. I stayed put in that college because of the zeal, positivity, sincerity and dedication of my students there.
Life Lessons you learn through your Career choice
Over the years, after interacting with thousands more such students from all walks of life, I have been able to map certain characteristics and attitudes related to academic success which I’ll like to share here:
- Gratitude- Being grateful for what you have is so important. Gratitude can lead to increased grit, determination, energy and enthusiasm. It’s linked to decreased stress and enhanced emotional wellbeing, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. With the simple act of acknowledging a few things you are grateful for, you become more open to recognizing these moments as they happen throughout the day.
- Curiosity -Curiosity is a signal of an active and hungry mind. Curiosity is the desire to learn, to understand new things. If you’re inquisitive, you’re open to new experiences. New experiences will take you to new heights in life.
- Perseverance- The ones who do not call it quits are sure to win sooner or later. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody”.
- Passion- Blake Mycoski, the founder of TOMS shoes, said, “Focus on your passion. Nothing else matters.” When you are truly inspired, you experience the purest form of passion and this passion will reveal you opportunities when you are faced with obstacles.
- Resilience- The ability to get back on the horse with the same enthusiasm after you have fallen is important. Resilience determines whether or not someone can rise above difficult situations while refusing to give up till they achieve their goals.
- Listening- When we actively listen to others, our capacity to understand increases. When you show genuineness to listen, the speaker inevitably catches the cues and he will tend to tell you much more than you bargained for.
- Willingness to fail– Quitting after failure is the easiest thing to do, it is the usual behaviour that everyone follows, but if you are willing to learn from each failure, you are bound to succeed in wisdom, if not in that particular endeavour. Remember failure will always be the first step in your path to success.
- Adaptability- A willingness to change as per the circumstances and trends and to reinvent yourself is what gives you the edge.
- Vision and mission– Enjoying the journey because you are doing something that has meaning in your life while never losing sight of your aims and goals.
- Fixing accountability-To take accountability for yourselves and your actions. Internal locus of control whereby you are willing to take responsibility for outcomes of events in your life. If you make a mistake, the power to own up to it and immediately think of ways to improve next time, not making the same mistake twice.
Dr Priya Bir- Associate Professor, Department of Psychology.
Dr Priya Bir has been teaching at the University of Delhi since 1996. She is extremely passionate about counselling, positive psychology and gerontology. She’s been a life and wellness coach and a counsellor for the last 3 decades who has taken numerous workshops, expert sessions and conducted internships across India in the areas of life skills and counselling. To know more about her visit her LinkedIn profile.