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Why You Shouldn't "Do What Makes You Happy" in Business

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Let me start with an adult joke. This is from a cartoon I had seen in some magazine long back. A man walks into the dental office where a dentist is treating his wife. The dentist has the wife sitting on the chair with her shirt removed. The husband asks angrily "What is going on here?" The dentist replies, defensively, "Just because I am a dentist, it does not mean that I cannot look where ever I like!" End of the joke.

So what does the joke have to do with this article? I wanted to borrow the sentence and modify it for you. Here goes: "Just because you are a ___ (fill in your past career here), does not mean that you cannot become a ___ (fill in your future career here)." In other words, should your past define your future, or restrict your options for the future? No! That thinking is what I applied to my career, by telling myself "Just because I was a doctor in India, it does not mean that I can not look at other options to survive in Canada!"

You must have read many articles that offer you this following advice:

  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Follow your heart.
  • Chase your dreams.
  • Fulfil your passions.
  • Find a job that you like, and you will not have to work a day in your life.

No Sir / Ma'am, I respectfully disagree. My thoughts are as follows:

  • Do what will make you money in a legal manner to pay your bills, and take care of your financial needs, and those of your loved ones.
  • Adapt to what the market demands.
  • Find the unfulfilled needs or gaps in the markets, and fulfil them.

This will serve both you and the society well. Pursue your hobbies during your weekends and free time.

You see, there is an inherent flaw in the sentence "Do what makes you happy." The sentence assumes that (a) You already know what you want (b) It will make you happy (c) You will continue to want it and (d) It will continue to make you happy. There are unknown-unknowns, just like there are known-knowns. What you if you not done your research properly, and have not stumbled upon what is profitable for you, or even, what would make you happy?

People usually choose their initial career paths around the age of 18, when they have completed high school, and decide what to do in the future. It is common for a person to get into Engineering, Medicine, Commerce, Law, Trade school, and so on, and stick to that field for the rest of his or her life (at least, that was the case in India, as I remember, when I grew up there). Does every person continue to enjoy doing the same for the rest of his or her life?

Given a chance, many people would like to become a movie stars, singers, dancers, sports stars, and astronauts. That is because these roles have been glamorized in the media, and for every successful celebrity, there have been thousands of unsuccessful ones, as well. How many students talk of becoming Analysts, Economists, or Data scientists when they grow up? Many kids probably do not even know about these career paths, perhaps because these are not portrayed as "Happy Professions." We have more poets (people who like subjective matter and qualitative analysis) in society as compared to Quants (people who like numbers / are good at them).

One of the problems with many societies, ours included, is that we place a lot of importance on happiness as the ultimate goal. "Oh, one has to be happy all the time." However, is happiness the most efficient emotion for a society or an individual? Should happiness be pursued at the cost of well-being or career advancement?

What if the pursuit of happiness discounts hard work and hinders efficient decision-making? In my view, the pursuit of well-being is more important than the pursuit of happiness. By well-being, I mean good health, money in the bank, good social connections, and yes, happiness too. I am not against a person dreaming about becoming a celebrity or even a hobbyist, but that should not happen at the cost of a basic education that he or she can fall back upon, if things go south.

The counterargument against the idea above may be "But I am not good at learning a difficult subject, or I may not learn that skill or profession properly." In my view, while genetics does play a role in learning, it is also discipline, determination, and diligence of the individual, that matters, apart from his or her environment. If one person can do something well, another person can probably watch and learn.

The job market is currently in a state of flux. Many industries are being disrupted by new technology. The economy took a hit towards the end of the previous decade, and there have been changes in the types of job vacancies. There are only so many singers, dancers, and movie stars that the world needs. We need farmers, knowledge workers, technicians, accountants, and certified professionals in many sectors. We need managers, and scientists. We need new politicians and world leaders with new ideas to run our cities, provinces / states, and countries efficiently.

In simple words, there has to be a match between market demand and market supply, for our organizations, industries, and countries to run efficiently. While perfect equilibrium is not easy to attain, and while the free market will try to balance the two, I am worried about the people who will be left behind. While it is easy to write them off as people who were not fit enough to survive, and victims of natural selection, they will become a burden on society if they are not given proper guidance.

I will end by recounting my personal story of career transition. I immigrated to Canada in April 2006 as an experienced doctor from India. I found that I could not work here as a doctor immediately, and that getting Medical Licensure is not easy or guaranteed, for IMGs (Immigrant Medical Graduates) in Canada, even if he or she passes all the required exams. This is especially true, for those IMGs without specializations from back home. I heard stories about doctors in Canada flipping burgers, driving taxis, and working as security guards. I took up jobs as call centre representative, door-to-door salesman selling insurance for hydro bills, security officer, and medical escort.

This is where the idea of career transition and adaptation becomes relevant. Yes, I loved medicine, but I decided that well-being is more important than happiness. I decided to qualify for the Canadian job market by getting an education in business administration. I wrote the TOEFL and GMAT tests, and applied to multiple business schools. I got admission into four universities (U of A, York, McMaster, and Ryerson), as well as an interview at U of T. I completed my General MBA studies a few weeks back, finally qualifying for the Canadian job market! However, I will keep adding certifications in the future like CAPM / PMP, CMC, and if possible, CFA (I know this one is a tough nut to crack, I will never let that stop me from trying, eh?)

What are my future options now, and what will I do to avoid becoming "that IMG who drives a taxi" in Canada?

(Click to enlarge image)

2013-01-06-CareerPathDiagramGerrySomMDMBAJanuary2013Canada.jpg

As explained in the info-graphic created by me, above: (a) I can work as a management consultant in health care; (b) I can take up an administrative position in a hospital; (c) I can work as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical / medical device / medical equipment / other companies; (d) I can offer services like medical tourism and medical transportation; (e) I can work as a research analyst in healthcare finance, fund management, or global financial advisory; (f) I can work as a business analyst in a health care technology firm.

What will I likely do? I have no fixed answer now, and I prefer not to have one in the future. I will simply pay attention to the job market and adapt accordingly, to attain well-being and peace of mind. Some people tell me "Make up your mind about what you want to be or do -- focus, dude!" I tell them "Sorry, dude!" I am not in a state of confusion, but in a state of readiness for a change. Happiness is not my ultimate goal. Failure, however, is my ultimate deterrent. I simply do not want to live paycheque to paycheque in Canada or end up unsuccessful, a decade from now. I do not claim to be right, but these are my views, and I stand by them!

Why did I share this story and my secrets with you? As part of my Social Responsibility, I wish to encourage you to adapt to the market -- not only regularly, but also swiftly -- and pursue real opportunities, instead of chasing happiness or perceived happiness (alone). If this information inspires at least one reader to make a career transition and succeed in the ever-changing market, it will be worth my time-spent writing about it here. Good luck to all of us for our job search, and job market adaptation! Yeah, I am no rock star or Oracle, myself. Job hunting is my full time job, right now!

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