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Repeat after me: Children can die when parents reject one of the most meaningful parts of their life – the work they (want to) do.
It's 2023. We are talking up a storm about the brave new world of work in the age of AI. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the pressure to take up hoary old careers like medicine or engineering continues to eat our young. News reports on student suicides in vaunted higher education institutions and coaching centres where parents pack off their kids to prepare for some of the planet's toughest entrance tests have become numbingly routine in our part of the world. For every dead child, many more yet end up in the hell of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Remove ceiling fans to save the kids, they say. What about removing our prejudices and listening to our children for a change?
Today's edition is as relevant for parents whose children are already working or are about to start their careers, as for parents like me whose kids will join the unimaginably different world of work 20 or 30 years from now. Read, share, and write back to me with your thoughts. And support my work by clicking one of the buttons below.
Decency Rajput's father was ashamed of mentioning her field of study in public till her postgraduation. She attributes this to 'the whispers from my extended family'.
"It's fascinating to talk to them about what I do," she tells me over chat. "Especially when they are scared to sit next to me."
Rajput trained herself in psychology and now works as a clinical psychologist in New Delhi – a bewildering career choice for her family who come from a village in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.
"The biggest worry for the whole village was, 'Shaadi kaise hogi tumhari? Tum toh paagal ho jaogi paagalon ke saath kaam karke'." How will you get married? You'll become mad working with mad people.
Granted that this is 2023, and the list of careers seen as 'mad' is shrinking (if you have appropriate reserves of privilege). But if the path you take doesn't fit into society's definition of normal – government jobs, medicine, engineering, education, MBA – you could still be signing up for a life of loneliness.
The disconnect when the people in your life, especially your parents, don't get what you do for a living and why – it's an underrated source of emotional pain that we don't talk about.
For this piece, I invited people to share their experiences of working 'strange' careers. What kind of reactions does their work trigger in their families and their wider communities? What is its emotional toll? And how do they cope with it?
The vast majority of those who responded to my call were women, who are charting independent careers in the face of societal apathy, ignorance, and self-doubt. They told me about the role compassion plays in beating back these demons. And about the joy and gratitude when parents lose their own baggage and make the effort to truly understand their children.
This is their story. In telling them, I found the permission to share mine too. I hope it does the same for you.