Chasing your dreams by letting them go
MAY 28 — It is that time of the year again when the academic year draws nearer to the close for many students. For final-years, it means an end to their undergraduate days. Final examinations loom large, dissertations are printed and bound. What next?
It is an important question, perhaps lacking the consideration it deserves. We grew up hearing that a degree is the be-all and end-all. And perhaps we thus envision that getting into that Promised Land means that everything else comes to us naturally. We did it, we made it through, and our glorious destiny will thus unfold. We fulfilled our part of the destiny, now life will reciprocate.
But a few years on, we’re stuck in an entry-level job with an average and unspectacular salary. The great career prospects of our chosen fields remain... well, prospects; it’s like staring at a brick wall at the end of a dead-end alley. So what went wrong? Evidence points to that paradoxical sense of destiny itself.
A JobStreet survey, reported in 2011, revealed that employers prefer not to hire fresh graduates due to unrealistic expectations and poor attitude. Last month, The Star reported that employers also consider fresh graduates’ liabilities, since they need to be trained before they can contribute meaningfully.
“Companies would rather hire experienced and skilled professionals who can bring instant returns,” said Kelly Services marketing director for Singapore and Malaysia Jeannie Khoo.
So that sense of destiny which motivated us, drove us through hard years of studying, the quizzes and exams, papers and dissertations... once we were past the last hurdle, everything turned against us. What we thought was a land ripe with riches was in fact empty land, promising riches to those who would work it but none otherwise.
The saying goes that we reap what we sow, but the oft-missed fine print is that school was just the part where you get the tools. And that fine print is what caught most of us after graduation: we were never taught the next step.
Let’s take an acquaintance of mine. After graduation she returned to her family home, educated and successful, ready to take on the world. Two years on, she has never held a full-time job and laments the lack of opportunities open to her. Yet whenever we forward job advertisements to her, there is always one reason or another against applying.
And her favourite excuse? “It’s too far from my house.” So after a while we just stopped trying. We understood that she’ll never consider anything that requires her to move away from home, going beyond her comfort zone. She doesn’t want any risks. It’s unfortunately common these days to hear it in one form or another, a tendency to look close to home and expect big doors to open nonetheless.
Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Fauzi Ramlan, UPM vice-chancellor of student and alumni affairs, frowns on that tendency, saying in 2010 that graduates should avoid being choosy and shrug off the “bad attitude of preferring to work in ones’ own hometown.”
Maybe fresh graduates are choosy, in a way. For most of our lives, our parents and teachers and family inadvertently implied that reaching a certain point of education meant that life gets easy. That perhaps cultivated in us, deep down, specific ideas on what we think we should be, should do and should have.
And at the other end of the spectrum is what we don’t want. But then again they’re just ideas: there needs to be balance and a good measure of objectivity. Unduly restrictive limitations prevent us from exploring possibilities.
When I was in school, what I wanted to do was write, and yet I studied science in pre-university, graduated with a degree in geology and became a legal sub-editor. Along the way I learned to think analytically, I learned to be patient (staring at rocks tends to inculcate that), I learned some things about the finer points of the language. I learned valuable lessons and discovered surprising things about myself, which I might not have had I taken the direct path. Sometimes moving sideways is how we get forward.
So be open when you’re looking at career opportunities. Take what you can get and learn what you can while you still can. Chasing ambition does not always mean taking a straight road towards it. Sometimes it means taking risks, taking the road less taken, and learning invaluable things along obscure trails through the forest of self-discovery while we make for the green pastures beyond the forest.
Muhammad Ali once said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Maybe he was onto something. Maybe risking it by letting our dreams go is how we can make them come true.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.