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Updated: June 16, 2013 13:51 IST
BACKPACKERS GUIDE: LIVING & LEARNING

Traffic lights and crosswalks

Usha Raman
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Get it right: Take the cue and move ahead. Photo: K.Pichumani
The Hindu Get it right: Take the cue and move ahead. Photo: K.Pichumani

Approach your choice with the right frame of mind.

It’s that time of year when many of us are either worried or excited about new beginnings. The flurry of entrance examinations is over and we are now facing the results. Some of us know for sure what we are going to be doing, while others are still wondering. Some of us have clear choices and it’s a matter of using our judgment to pick the right one. Yet others feel that there is no choice, that they have to “settle” for whatever is presented to them.

It is a tough period of one’s life — this time between high school and college, or between one level of college and the next. Our future seems constrained by a variety of factors, ranging from where we live, what we can afford, to what sort of school we’ve had the opportunity to attend, and very often, what our parents have decided for us. And of course there is the huge burden (or advantage) of the history of our own academic performance.

There is not much we can do about how we’ve approached our studies up to this point. If we have done well, by the standards of marks and grades, perhaps we can pat ourselves on the back and look forward to a good start at college. If we haven’t done so well, we could pause to think about it and try to analyse what might have resulted in the poor performance. While some of the reasons we haven’t got good grades may have to do with how much effort we have put in, there are also aspects of the system that may have limited our ability to do well by the normal standards. But this crossroads — between school and college — may give you the perspective to look at this carefully and maybe understand yourself in relation to the system of education.

The right perspective

Why is this important? Because it can give you clues to planning your course of action over the next few years. Most of us just race through college and university without much introspection, without thinking widely or deeply enough about who we are and what we might not only be good at, but what engages us and moves us. We see these gaps — between tenth grade and intermediate, between high school and college, between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees — only as brief pauses during which we can either take a holiday or prepare frantically for the next long dash.

Most of us do not have the option of taking time off to think about these issues. Parental pressure, the imagined and real expectations of society, our own self-imposed ideas of having to get somewhere quickly, sometimes serious financial constraints, all keep us from taking this pause. But even without taking time other than what is naturally provided to us with summer and semester breaks, it is possible to think about these questions.

Asking these questions helps us get a better idea of how we might approach our choices in the next phase of our education. Recently, one of my graduating students wrote to me asking for advice as she faced a three-way choice: between two jobs and an advanced degree. Should she take one of the jobs (and they were quite different in nature, though similar in pay) or continue with her education? My answer: it all depends on what you want. Which of the choices would get her closer to that? If she took the time to list those out, she could answer the question herself.

Now, that is really the crux of the question. How many of us know what we really want? Do we pause to think about it carefully, removing all the layers of expectation, peer/parental pressure, ideas drawn from the media, and so on? The answers to these questions are sort of like the traffic lights at the crosswalk as we approach the next stage of our lives.

Red: Do we stop and see if we can go in another direction because we hate what we have been doing or have found we are really lousy at it?

Amber: Do we wait and spend a little more time exploring different options (and more on this by and by) before we make a firm decision? How can we occupy ourselves productively before we need to make a commitment to something?

Green: Do we know exactly what we want? Should we then go ahead in this direction? What do we need to do to equip ourselves to get there?

So as we wait anxiously for those entrance results, or approach that all-important counselling session, or wonder where we are going, it’s important to make use of the pause to think a little about what we want from life, and how education can help us get that.

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