When we are young, making career choices has a certain prestige to it. We are convinced that making it in life depends on the type of career you choose. We understand early that your field of knowledge is important to what you become and the type of work you will do. As a result, many of us restrict our course choices to the three major professions our Nigerian parents envisioned for us: medicine, law and engineering. Anything outside these fields, we reason, could be a straight ticket to poverty.
I remember my mother instructing my elder brother, upon his admittance into a Senior Science School, to be more diligent so he could become the doctor of the family. Since my brother was going to be the doctor, I knew I had to do everything I could to become the lawyer while my other siblings could share the remaining fields in science.
I didn't become a lawyer, and I don't regret not becoming one. I do not think that I would have made a good lawyer had I chosen that career path. I ended up studying History, one of the best decisions I have made. As a student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), I came across many potential career disasters: people were either studying a particular course because of circumstances beyond their control, or because their family compelled them to pursue it.
While I was in school, a friend called Cynthia was facing a dilemma: listening to her family or following her dreams. I had many heart-to-heart chats with Cynthia and discovered that underneath her beauty was a disoriented young lady. She wanted to be a social worker, but her father was insisting she study Law, which was a family tradition. Her two earlier attempts to pass the Law Diploma Programme at UNILAG had been unsuccessful. The Programme is also one of the most expensive at the University: tuition is within the range of N300,000 and N350,000. By contrast, school fees for regular admission are between N9,700 and N10,700.
She finally got admitted into the Law Programme, but I wondered what would become of her dream career and how long it would take before she fell into the drudgery which afflicts people who are not on their desired career path. She is presently in the Nigeria Law School's one-year Bar II Programme. The last time we spoke, she shared that she was planning on working towards a post-graduate diploma in Psychology.
I admire lawyers, doctors and people in various fields of engineering, and particularly those who are in these careers because they are passionate about their interests. Their breakthroughs and discoveries have immeasurably advanced human society, which is why the halls of history will always emboss their names on its walls. I also admire those in "unconventional" fields: fashion, social work, music and drama, language, philosophy and many more. Two examples of such people are Lisa Folawiyo and the late Isaac Durajaiye Agbetusin (popularly known as 'Otunba Gaddafi'). Lisa, a lawyer turned fashion entrepreneur, is the brain behind the fashion labels Jewel By Lisa and J-Label. She pioneered the use of ankara on the global runway and her designs have been sold in the Nigeria, South Africa, UK and US markets. Otunba Gaddafi became famous for his mobile toilet company which took advantage of a market opportunity; his DMT toilets are used as official toilets in many states in Nigeria and the firm is the only manufacturer of mobile toilets in the West African region.
I subscribe to the school of thought that our course choices can determine our career path. Self-assessment and understanding the nature of the person is suggested in this article as the best place to start. Teena Rose, a professional resume writer, believes that the age of nineteen â€“ just as one is beginning university - is the appropriate time to begin creating a career plan. A teenager making a career choice may need a guide - a parent, career professional or college counsellor who can encourage him or her to make better career plans by taking a closer look at his or her personality: what unique character traits does he or she possess? How regularly and passionately does he or she exhibit such traits? If done carefully, a well-planned career path can help a teenager make the best decisions about his or her education and training.
Tim Tyrell-Smith, a career adviser, also argues that knowing where your natural talents lie is key to choosing the right career. Such talents may include a natural inclination to cook, paint, teach, sing and so on. Your educational path should complement the career plans: focus on discovering yourself and take the course that best suits you.
A friend once said that there are no inferior courses - only inferior minds. There is a potential career in every educational choice, and we can lead fulfilling and rich working lives without becoming doctors or lawyers.
This piece was first posted on March 1, 2013.