The Balancing Act | Career conundrum: follow interests or market realities

You know that moment of perplexed revelation when you learn something astonishing about your new country of residence? That moment, for me, was when I discovered that higher education is free for Danish citizens. I found it extraordinary (not to mention a little perplexing) that Danes could study anything they wanted without worrying about how they would pay for their education.

Tinker, tailor, soldier …
Imagine the possibilities. You can decide to be an astronaut, a neurosurgeon, a sculptor, a marine biologist …anything! All that matters is what you are passionate about and if you have what it takes to be accepted to your university of choice. But it looks like that is about to change. As it turns out, Denmark is apparently producing the wrong kind of graduates. What the young are studying and what the job market is demanding seem to be different. Among the recommendations to resolve this issue is a quota for education programs to reflect the demand in the job market and fewer students doing a master’s programme.

When I look back at my years as a student, I wonder if I would have chosen differently if I had the choice to be anything I wanted, regardless of cost. Or if not differently, would I have nurtured my passion and given serious thought to choosing a creative profession early on in life? Growing up in the 1990s in India meant your education choices were limited, depending on how well you did academically and, more importantly, what you could afford. Parents set aside a major portion of their savings for their children’s higher education. Often these savings were supplemented by student loans. The more lucrative the profession (read medicine and engineering), the higher the education costs.

If I could do it all again
If I had the choice to study whatever I wanted, regardless of cost, perhaps I wouldn’t have chosen the secure job-seekers’ middle path of pursuing a degree in commerce. And I wouldn’t have spent three (rather unproductive) years of studying accounting and economics before finally arriving at the conclusion that I would be rather miserable as a chartered accountant or banker. I always had a creative bent of mind and I recognised, belatedly, my natural talent and my inclination towards a career in mass media.

Contrary to my personal experience, I wonder if the highly educated, but unemployed youth in Denmark think they were wrong to follow their interests without paying heed to the realities of the job market. In hindsight, perhaps they wish their choice of career had been tempered by a dose of reality.

Moving, starting over
While I envy the Danes their free education, what has your personal experience been? If you are given an opportunity to start over, what will you do – will you follow your interest or passion even if it may mean not being able to get a good job when your education is completed? Or will you decide to get an education in a field that meets the demands of the job market?

The jury’s still out on this one.


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