Posts Tagged ‘Indian’

The Risk-free Indian

Posted: February 6, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Indian, life
Tags: , , ,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

The Road not Taken by Robert Frost

Multiple horror movies have shown “The Road Not Taken” as a scary path to walk on – full of shocks that will spring upon you out of nowhere, a dangerous route where every step needs to be taken with utmost care. And we, the current Indian student generation, consider the vision shown by these movies as the truth. Thus, we live all our lives, trying to follow the footsteps of previously successful people who have gone down “The Road Most Taken”. A large majority of us aspire to be engineers, that too IITians, and then MBAs, that too IIMites, and then consultants, I-bankers, traders. Those who go to commerce or other engineering colleges regret not having an IIT degree, those who go to the MDIs and the XLRIs of the world, wish that they had cracked CAT and many who go into marketing wish that they had got a Day 0 job. The people on the other side of the line gloat on and on about the perfect life that they have managed to create for themselves. But this is a glossed-over version of the truth. In reality, several of those IITians are misfits who could have done much better in an Arts degrees, several of those IIMites would have been better off doing entrepreneurship or doing an MS in their field of engineering, and several of those Day 0 candidates would have been much happier in an advertising career. The only reason for these skewed career paths in our generation is our basic risk-aversion, which pushes us towards certain well-known and successful career paths and keeps us averted from other so-called “different” career paths.

Risk aversion is inherent in the Indian culture. Even our ancient scriptures preach against risk-taking – they speak of Yudhishtira who took huge risks in the game of Chaupar and lost everything and show how that one incident caused the biggest war of those times. This risk aversion is an accepted fact, but the interesting thing is that we have a habit of continually praising its merits, without looking at its downside. The recent recession and India’s stable situation in it, especially relative to US, has given us even more reasons to praise it. We shy away from loans, we save for the future, we build stable personal careers, and we love MNCs: we seem pretty smart don’t we? The downside is that we grow at a much slower rate, we prefer to jump onto the bandwagon rather than walk alone, we rarely start-up new businesses unless we have an extremely strong financial background, and we almost always take “The Road Most Taken”. Hence, the same risk aversion that we boast of, is the reason why India has had limited returns in the past. And contrastingly, it is the risk-philic nature of US populace, which has led them to be a superpower, that has helped cultivate a culture of innovation and fostered the creation of companies like Google, 3M, Ford and Pfizer. But we tend to concentrate on the Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and choose to exemplify them to show the iconic failure of the “American dream” rather than appreciate the school dropouts who created Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. What we fail to realize is that by our risk averseness, though we have ensured that there will be no Lehman Brothers in India, we have also killed the possibility of creation of hotbeds of innovation like Apple.

Let me clarify that I am no different in this regard. I am an engineering misfit who has chosen the conventional path in the lure of assured returns, one who has not had the courage to try things closer to the heart. In fact, that is why I sat down today to think of the reasons behind this phenomenon. One of the prime reasons is that we are an emerging economy, not a developed one yet. As a consequence, a lot of us have seen our parents in constrained financial situations in our childhood. We do not want to go through similar difficulties; hence continual supply of money is an important factor for us, which drives us away from the perceived risks in entrepreneurship. Another reason is that in the professional job-space in India, a Curriculum Vitae (CV) holds more value than people themselves. And that is because the interviewers are themselves risk-averse, hence they trust a CV more than a personal interview. This drives people to try and acquire maximum number of good brands on their CV, thus driving them towards the conventional path again. One reason is also that our society and peer group places certain professions on a pedestal as compared to others, thus societal pressure pushes everyone to go for those professions where there is more perceived respect. In fact if a graduate goes into entrepreneurship, we all tend to believe that it was because he/she was unable to land herself a good job. An overarching cause is also that the above reasons combine to create a vicious circle – since some career paths have been more treaded-on they have become more developed and hence more profit-making. For example, the probability of a CA earning a high salary is higher than that of an artist, just because the art scene in India is still in its initial stages.

In this situation, I cannot expect a utopian transformation to occur in this generation – that we suddenly start valuing the “different” career path and all of us start doing what our heart truly desires. In fact I am not even sure whether the next generation will be very different in this regard, whether we will give them enough space to try alternate careers. But I can only hope that with more stability in their backgrounds and more confidence in their personal selves, at least some of them will hopefully venture out to explore those untreaded-on paths with more courage than we did.

As for me,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and a generation after:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one more travelled by,
And that was recipe for disaster.

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