How to choose your career?

It is that time of the year in India where teenagers would be bombarded with this question from various directions –

So, what are you planning to do after your 10th or 12th?

It invariably starts discussion about ‘What’s in demand’,  ‘Which has better scope/prospectus‘ and so on. There are very few teenagers who actually figure out what career they would like to pursue in their life, and rest of them simply choose arts, commerce, science if they are in 10th or engineering, law, medicine, architecture etc. if they are in 12th (PUC). This choice of their field of study is seldom based on what they are planning to do ahead in their life.

However, as a student the best advantage you have at this stage is your age that allows ample time to explore and experiment. It is all the more important not to rush into any decision and give yourself enough time to really figure out what you are, what you really love doing and which career would make you happy in the long run.

This is my take on ‘How to choose your career’. I am going to keep it simple and practical. Here is what I’d recommend youngsters when they are choosing their career after 10th or 12th standard. Come to think about it, it is not only about your career – in many ways, it defines your lifestyle and shapes your personality as well.


Ikigai is a fairly popular Japanese concept by now – it means ‘a reason for existence (or being)’. That’s same as Raison d’être in French. According to Japanese culture, everyone has an ikigai. Ikigai can also be translated as ‘a reason to get up in the morning’. The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. However, finding it requires a deep and often lengthy self-exploration.

For me finding ikigai is to ensure that you don’t have two jobs – one for the kitchen and one for the soul. It could be just one thing that’s immensely gratifying.

I am not going in the philosophical part of it. But in simple, practical words – it means finding your purpose that is at the center of intersections of the following four circles –

  1. What do you love doing?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What the world needs?
  4. What can be paid for?

The following illustration shows these four circles and all their possible intersections as well. It’s a good idea to spend some time looking at this Ikigai illustration and ponder why the intersections are named the way they are given the circles (and associated questions) that they bring together. It is interesting to see how profession and vocation are different and what circles/questions they connect.


Ikigai - Reason for being
Ikigai – Reason for being (PC:  Pinrest)

As you’d notice the first two questions are internal and related to yourself and the remaining two are external or related to the outside world. Each of these questions can be represented by a circle and their intersections offer really interesting insights – for example, combination of ‘what you love doing’ and ‘what you’re good at’ can be summed up as a hobby/passion.  Likewise, combination of ‘what you’re good at’ and ‘what you can be paid for’ may become your profession, but you may not really love it.

If you’re curious about this model,  it is based on Jim Collin’s work. Where all these circles come together, there is a sweet spot at the center that could be called as your purpose or ikigai. This is quite similar to Maslow’s concept of Self-Actualization. The explanations given for intersections of three circles are really intriguing, and they highlight what one would find missing in such a career.  For example, a small intersection that combines three questions/circles – ‘what you love doing’,what you’re good at’ and ‘what you can be paid for’  is described as –

Satisfaction, but feeling of uselessness.

And it is completely understandable – I find myself resonating with that in unison! 🙂 This explains why some people tend to get associated with more meaningful work where they can influence the world for better after they have achieved a certain stature and satisfaction in their own career. Usually, combination of any three is good, but one can always strive for that  sweet spot – Ikigai.

From practical perspective, it is quite useful to prepare 4 different sheets/slides with answers for the four ‘What’ questions that I have listed above. Start with what you love doing.  Make your own circles and discuss with your friends, family or coaches how you can gravitate towards your own ikigai. Here is a short video that shows one such example of working through these four circles of ikigai –

However, often at early age one doesn’t really understand what the world needs or what can be paid for. And parents’ knowledge is often limited to their ambit of experience and exposure. One of my acquaintances who worked with a large software company insisted that her son should take up engineering in computer science just like her because she thought it paid well and had more opportunities. Her son on the other hand was keen on design and aspired to study at National Institute of Design (NID) or Industrial Design Center (IDC) at IIT, Mumbai. When she discussed it with me, I explained her in details why I think design is likely to be far more rewarding and lucrative in the next few years. I also shared my experiences from my short course from IDC at IIT, Mumbai and asked her to speak to some of my friends working there. She was convinced, and her son is preparing for design entrance exams now.

Choosing Career Wisely

It is useful to talk to professional coaches to get a better idea about the opportunities and figuring out your own interests, personality traits. It is all the more important to meet the real professionals from the fields that you are interested in and get their inputs, not only about the career but also about how is lifestyle, schedule built around it. Try to meet as many people as you can and note down their inputs. Those conversations would be invaluable. I’d recommend that you do this even before you start preparing your lists or answers for the four circles.

As you go about choosing your career in early stage, here is what I’d strongly recommend

Build your skills and expertise around who you are and what you really love doing – that’s how you get good at it. If you love something and you’re really good at it, there would be plenty of existing and nascent opportunities to ensure that you can be paid for it. Don’t just choose your career based on what pays well or what your friend has chosen – if you don’t love it, you’d not be happy in the long run. You can always develop expertise,  that cannot be said about love though!

I emphasize this for students because when you’re 16 or 18 – you really should be thinking for the next 50-60 years of fulfillment in your chosen career. You can take your time to explore, experiment and develop your expertise in the field(s) that you really love.  We are living in interesting times, lot of things that were not possible a decade ago are not only possible, but commonplace now. There would be lot of options for you to build satisfying career that pays well if you stay with what you love and continue getting better at it.

I suggest this model based on ikigai for your career, it is a bottom-up pyramid that essentially builds on who you are and what you love.

Building Career for Ikigai
Building Career for Ikigai

Exploring Who You Are and What You Love

I have intentionally kept ‘Who you are?’ along with ‘What you love?’. We all have some inherent, some developed personality traits and it is imperative that we take them in consideration while we choose our career or pursue specific field of interest. For example, it would be a bad idea for someone to choose work that involves working directly with people often such as front-line managers, executives in a bank if he/she doesn’t particularly enjoy meeting lot of new people and brief interactions. There are many such examples, but by the age of 16-18, one is well aware of his/her personality preferences and this is where personality inventories could be useful along with consulting with a coach/counselor.

Develop Expertise Around What You Love

Once you are more or less clear about who you are and what you really love, it is time to explore and develop your expertise. However, as I mentioned before, it is important that you talk to the experts, professionals to get an idea about what pays and what the world needs. That would help you choose the courses that build the right skills. For example, if one loves food but not keen on hotel management, food technology is an excellent option that would be satisfying as well as lucrative. My friend Pratiksheet runs a wonderful venture called in Pune that deals with dairy as well few vegan food products. The more you interact with diverse professionals from the fields that you love, the more clarity you’d gain about what courses you can pick up to build your expertise.

What World Needs and What World Pays For

I believe these are two largely overlapping circles though they are distinct. There are some things that the world needs, but you don’t necessarily get paid for it (yet). This is ever-growing, one cannot really imagine what would sell tomorrow – entrepreneurs have made fortune by innovating and creating products, services that we didn’t know could sell. So the best you can do is to decide building your expertise around what you love and then find or create ways of creating value in the real world. No matter what you love or what you choose, there are plenty of opportunities in the world if you do different things or if you do things differently. Just start with what you love.

Wisdom From Outliers and Other Stories

There are far more interesting options available if you are really courageous. One option is to actually take a gap-year after 10th or 12th standard and explore all possibilities in the fields that you are interested in. In one of my workshops Young Feet, I had discussed story of Rahul Alvares who took a year-long break after his 10th exam and travelled to various parts of India to work in the snake park, crocodile breeding center and few other similar places since he was interested in reptiles. He decided on his further education after his exploration in this gap-year. He is a renowned wild-life expert in Goa now. He has documented his gap-year story in his book – Free from School. Entrepreneur and renowned techie Dr. Naveen Kabra has written a beautiful blog post discussing this with more such examples – Should you encourage your child to take a gap year before college?

Another girl Samyuktha finished her bachelor’s degree from open university and meanwhile worked with textile weavers, which was her real love. She finished her masters in textile design from prestigious NID and she is running a successful enterprise now with Andhra weavers. She has written about her wonderful learning journey in her book Learning the Heart Way. There are many such outliers who chose career with their inner wisdom instead of following conventional choices.

It is also useful to read some wisdom from a fellow mid-lifer and entrepreneur Anjali Gupta who has written this in her wonderfully penned article: If I had to do it over, I would skip the MBA.

I’ve seen him through it all — building telescopes at the age of 11, spending his weekends at the IUCAA Astronomy Center in Pune, rejecting a socially prestigious engineering seat for a simple B.Sc. in Physics, later moving to IIT-Mumbai for his M.Sc., and finally to Caltech for his PhD. This boy started gazing at the stars very early….
Why do I feel spontaneous envy when I bump into the 60-year-old painter who lives on my floor, or the 70-year old scientist who loves talking about his projects? To me they have something that wealth or power or luck cannot bring — vibrancy until death. (read it here).

She is essentially talking about being an expert instead of a generalists, which of course depends more on what your own career concept is and what would you like to become. Knowing yourself as well as you could at any given stage, cannot be overemphasized.

If you understand Marathi, here is one lengthy but wonderful discussion about Career with three eminent personalities from Maharashtra – Dr. Anil Awachat, Dr. Abhay Bang and Dr. Anand Nadkarni – पुढे जाण्यासाठी मागे वळून पाहताना. There is yet another short, insightful and immensely useful career selection advice in Marathi by Dr. Dhananjay Kelkar from Deenanath Hospital, Pune.  He emphasizes active experimentation and exploration for career choices and also suggests that you should consider demands of the profession as well.

Swaraj University is a unique university that offers 2-years self-designed learning program in its Udaipur (India) campus. The participants are called khojis (seekers) and at Swaraj University they get a chance to create self-designed learning processes in a safe and nourishing environment. The participants themselves decide what they want to pursue, find resources and mentors who can help  them in their learning – they also strive to become socially relevant. I have seen these khojis transformation and they are amazing in terms of independent and critical thinking. Swaraj University will be running its orientation programs for the 2017 admissions in June & July 2017. If you’re interested you can get in touch with them through their website.

If you decide to choose your career with your inner wisdom, you would find many avenues opening up for your learning and working.  The world really needs people who have come alive. So go head and do what makes you feel alive!

About the featured image:

The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features a quote by Rumi. I am using this free wallpaper here on with gratitude and it goes so well with this article –

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

2 thoughts on “How to choose your career?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.