A few days back one of my neighbors came to me with his son who is studying in the 10th standard. After talking a few minutes about the weather, the current affairs, etc., he jumped straight to the subject that he came to discuss. He wanted to know which subjects his son should take for the next two years—Maths or Science. Or in other words, he wanted to know whether his son should become an engineer or doctor.

When I asked him why he thinks that they are the only two professions, he looked at me as if I am an idiot. I told him there are other career choices in arts, literature, science, and so on. But he was not convinced. He asked me “What is the guarantee that he will get a job if he takes a degree in Commerce, English or Physics?” I asked him “What is the guarantee that your son will get a job if he becomes an engineer or a doctor?” He again gave me that ‘you idiot’ look and told the chances are better for engineers and doctors.

I asked his son which subject he preferred. The son was a little hesitant, but when I prompted again, he told me that he wanted to take a degree in Commerce and then do his MBA. I told that it was a good idea. But his dad was aghast. I think they had the same argument at home and he must have come to me to have one more person on his side. “How can you say that? You are an engineer?” I told him that I became an engineer because I liked the subject. I advised him to let his son make the decision.

I told him the secret of getting a job, irrespective of the subject chosen, is to study well and excel in it—become an expert in one’s chosen field. Also improve the soft skills like communication, computer literacy, and so on. If one is good in his/her chose profession, irrespective of the field there will always be opportunities. But my neighbor was not satisfied. He wanted guarantees that his son would get a job before finishing his course.

I told him that not all engineers and doctors get a job as soon as they complete the course. Only the best, the students who know their subject well, have excellent communication skills, good general knowledge, and a host of other soft skills get a job before they complete the course. He still was not convinced. He wanted something that guaranteed a high paying job for his son at the end of his course. I said I can’t help him; I can only give him options that have better chances of success, but no guarantees. Both of them took their leave—the father very disappointed but the son a little relieved.

I know a couple who decided not have children because of their fear of not having an intelligent, good-looking and healthy child. I can understand if the husband and wife decided not to have children because of some medical complications. I can believe a couple deciding not have children because they don’t have the financial means to take care of their children. I have seen couples deciding not to have children because they feel they are not up to the task of parenting or because they consider their careers more important than parenthood. But I couldn’t understand the decision not to have a child just because they feared the child would not be ‘normal’!

I told them that if their parents had the same idea about children, then they wouldn’t be here having the conversation with me. They told me that even though that is true, they are not willing to take the risk. “It is such a gamble and we are not doing that,” they told me. I couldn’t convince them that they were being foolish. I argued a lot and warned them that someday they will regret the decision. But they were resolute. They told me that they had made the choice after a lot of thought and nothing is going to change that. I just nodded.

But these two incidents got me thinking. Why are we so afraid about the future? Why do we want guarantees for everything in life? Why we want assurances? Why we are not prepared to take risks? I think the basic problem is lack of self-confidence and faith—faith in oneself and faith in God.

Life is not a machine or mechanical object that can be made to certain specifications–something that could be guaranteed to perform certain functions for so many duty cycles. Even such products, products that are made with high quality raw materials using the most sophisticated production processes, and where almost all the variables could be controlled, fail many a time.

Life is full of uncertainties. Nobody knows what is going to happen the next moment and expecting to know what will happen tomorrow is foolishness. But it is these uncertainties that make the life interesting and challenging. They bring stimulation to each day and force us into instances where we need to make decisions that will decide the course of our lives.

If you know the outcome of every day, every decision, and every event in life in advance, then life will become very boring and the joy of living will be lost as uncertainties will be replaced by monotony. And living will become a long and tedious experience.

Surviving and living your life successfully requires courage. The goals and dreams you are seeking require courage and risk-taking. As some wise person said, “Learn from the turtle, it only makes progress when it sticks out its neck.” And there are no guarantees in life. It was Clint Eastwood who said, “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” No one could have said it better.

So take life as it comes, follow your heart, take calculated risks, don’t be afraid of failures, work hard and then leave the rest to God.

None of us knows what might happen even the next moment, and yet still we go forwards. Because we trust. Because we have faith. Every moment in life is an act of faith.” (Paulo Coelho, Brida)

I wish all of you a merry Xmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009.


  1. James Bright said,

    December 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Very nice post Alexis.
    I think only in India(may be in Pak and Srilanka), parents have this attitude.
    Success in life has nothing to do with any profession!
    Life also very one knows what is in store next!

    In this wolrd, there is no guarantee!

    Wish you a Merry X’mas and a happy new year.

  2. Alexis Leon said,

    December 20, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    James: Thanks James. Have a wonderful Christmas. Hope all is well and fine.

  3. Mishmash! said,

    December 20, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Oh, I sure don’t want a toaster! 🙂

    Wishing you a lovely X’mas and a beautiful year ahead 🙂

  4. Alexis Leon said,

    December 20, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Shn: 🙂 I never visit your blog after dinner. Once I see the delicious recipes and the fantastic photographs, I will get hunger pangs and there is nothing I could do about it ;-). BTW the Karimeen Pappas and Kozhi Varuthathu recipes were simply superb.

    Have a wonderful and high calorific Christmas 🙂

  5. Sreejith Kumar said,

    December 21, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Unfortunately, our system is like that. Parents should be giving the advices you gave. They must first find their children’s talent and ask them what they want to become, but at the right age. The words ‘doctor’ and ‘engineer’ are so strongly etched in the minds of mallu parents – the only high profile professions! Poor!

  6. Suja said,

    December 21, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    It is nice, thought provaking post with good message
    Nowadays parents are well educated but they are fail
    to understand their children.
    Have a cheerful christmas

  7. Dhanya said,

    December 22, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Good Post. Ain’t we seeing this everywhere? Unfortunately the child won’t be in a state to follow his/her heart at that time and succumb to parents pressure. Later he might regret the decision but it will be too late 🙁 How I wish all parents let their children live their own lives and not make them follow parent’s dreams.
    Wishing you a Happy X-mas and a Happy New Year 🙂

  8. Geo said,

    December 22, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Strange as always.

    The British developed an education system which churned out millions of English-typing-clerks required to run the system. Once they went, we modernized our education system to produce engineers and doctors instead. The work they do is not much different.

    Was it VKN who described the life cycle of an average mallu as something like

    “Mug up, score high marks in school, get a degree, get a job, save money, get married, procreate, get your children to mug up, score high marks in school, get a degree… and so on…”

    The sad fact is he forgets to live in the rush of making a living.

    And when we are so focused on making everything right the very first time, we will obviously look for guarantees and risk free signs 🙂

  9. Anand said,

    December 22, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    We could blame the system, blame the parents and value currents in the society or we could get up and do that suit us. The neighbor’s son is a representative of the millions of youngsters in the Asian continent who do not dare to make their own choices. As adults, we could do our part – encourage them to take chances, accommodate failures and again, encourage to get up and run again after the failure.

    Merry Christmas Alexis,


  10. Alexis Leon said,

    December 22, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Sreejith: I agree with you. Engineering and Medicine were the only safe options may be 10-15 years back. But now things have changed a lot and there are many other career opportunities that are better, more creative and challenging. So I can understand the continued attraction towards Engineering and Medicine. May be it will change.

    Suja: Thanks and wish you too a merry Xmas.

    Dhanya: How I wish all parents let their children live their own lives and not make them follow parent’s dreams. Very true. Wish you a merry Xmas.

    Geo: Very true. I completely agree with VKN’s description. But it is time for a change.

    Anand: You are right. We could do our part and we should. At least we could influence people who would listen to us. And that will make a lot of difference. Stresses the importance of career guidance early in life, schools could play a role in this.

  11. George said,

    December 22, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I disagree with your point that people here dont have faith in God. Infact they have so much faith that; everybody is ready to worhsip anything that got some extra appeal, and thats how we have Godmen and Women.
    In a typical Indian family kids are taught to have

    FEAR (more than respect) of God
    FEAR (more than respect) for Parents
    FEAR (more than respect) for Teachers

    Hence we dont challenge any superstitions, dont challenge any parental decisions; dont challenge anything spoken by our teachers.

    Most of the Indians are scared to take risks and thats why we have low crime rates compared to nations of comparable poverty rates.

    Cave diving, bungee jumping etc would never be invented by Indians.
    FEAR, not Courage; rules India. Now that has got its positives like law abiding citizens.

    A change will come after our middle class has reached significant financial prosperity. It might take two more generations, but it will happen. Till then for all those who can , jiyo life bindass

  12. Alexis Leon said,

    December 22, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    George: Too much faith or fear is not the same as faith. When I said lack of faith in oneself and lack of faith in God, I meant just that. Not too much of that–then it will become overconfidence and too much faith or fear as you have mentioned.

    I don’t think these days the kids are taught to fear God, parents or teachers. With parents and teachers, it is more like respect and friendship. The fact that my neighbor came to me with his son is an example. The father could have ordered his son rather than having a discussion about it.

    And we do challenge superstitions, parental decisions and instructions given by teachers–may not in a dramatic way. We may not rebel, but we do express out disagreement.

    And I don’t think risk-taking and crime have any significant connection. Crime rates are less (but they are on the rise) because most people are peace loving. And fear will produce law abiding citizens. May be fear could make people to follow the law for some time, but after a certain point they are sure to rebel or revolt. That is one reason the dictators don’t last long.

    And we can see courageous people in all sections of the society. I don’t know whether financial prosperity is required for courage. There are as many law abiding citizens among the affluent as there are among the poor. Same goes for criminals.

  13. starry nights said,

    December 23, 2008 at 11:22 am

    A very though provoking post alex.It is really sad the way parents feel sometimes towards their children.Yes there are so many other jobs out there and it is so true you will excel if you love the subject and you will be good at your job too.Parents can help their chldren in their decision but they should not be deciding for them.Sometimes parents are trying to realize their own dreams through their children.

    Wishing you and your family a merry christmas and a happy new year.

  14. Ramesh said,

    December 23, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Great post. Children should be left to follow their dreams and not their parents. If Bill Gates and Steve Job had not had the courage to drop out of college to follow their dreams, then Microsoft and Apple would not have happened. So parents can give their children the support and encouragement to follow their dreams and if they fail trying give a helping hand to get up and try again.

    Regarding parents who don’t want have children because of the fear of not having a ‘normal’ baby, they don’t know what they are missing. And what they are not realizing is that no one is perfect. And parenthood is wonderful and there are many who want to have children but can have.

    Yes, everything in life involves some amount of risk. If are risk averse, you don’t live, you just exist.

    Happy Xmas to you Alexis

  15. Vee said,

    December 24, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Excellent post, Alexis !! You are very much an inspiration to me and many others around…So do keep writing…
    What you have said about seeking assurances is right..I do it any time..perceived fears about future is a trait that bothers many people..even those with having sophisticated reasoning and financial security..

    subroto Bagchi of mindtree has written a nice article on this.

  16. Jothish said,

    December 24, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Alexis, was wondering where you have been all this time. Haven’t read your post for a long time.
    Nice to see you back.
    Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  17. Ravi said,

    December 25, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

    This is a very good post.

  18. S said,

    December 25, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Every moment in life is an act of faith.” (Paulo Coelho, Brida)

    I think the basic problem is lack of self-confidence and faith—faith in oneself and faith in God.

    Isn’t it ironic that while most of us would profess our unwavering faith in a Higher Power vehemently; this faith is conditional! Conditional on how accommodating this Higher Power is willing to be.
    In the case of your neighbour, I’m sure he has stormed the Heavens for “better sense” to prevail upon his son and when none was forthcoming, has decided to play God himself and plan the course of his son’s life!!! Pity both the father and son.

  19. Thulasy Mary Elizabeth said,

    December 26, 2008 at 7:00 am

    Hi Alexis,

    Nice post and good to see you back in blogging.Merry X’mas and Happy New Year.

  20. Kesi said,

    December 26, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Merry Christmas Alexis.
    I am happy that you addressed this issue of the ‘indian parent mentality’ that the only professions that exist are that of the doctor and the engineer…

  21. Rachel said,

    December 30, 2008 at 3:49 am

    Hi Alexis, this subject on education is something I’ve thot over for many years myself.

    I had difficulty learning during school days, I was mediocre and good only in Maths. By the Grace of God my mother never forced me to study. I chose the simple way of education .. the only way I knew to study… I did my BSc Maths. God Will Make A Way was the lesson my mother taught me. During my BSc years, I started scoring well in class and gained confidence. And finally after 3 years I topped my class. All thru I put my faith in God. That was 7 years back. And my stepping stone.

    Today, I’ve spent 3 yrs working in Singapore for an American bank. Often People ask me wht I studied to get the job.

    Wht I studied really doesn’t matter, wht really matters is faith in God and using the talent God has given us.

    I really hope tht father gives his son the freedom to grow. I hope the son puts his faith in God and polishes his God given skills.

    Thanks for the post.

    Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.


  22. Alexis Leon said,

    December 30, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    starry nights: Thanks Lalitha. You are right. Parents should only act as guides, helping the children in making important decisions about their lives.
    I also wish you and your family a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009.

    Ramesh : Thanks Ramesh. I completely agree with you.

    Vee: Thanks buddy. And thanks for the link to Subroto Bagchi’s article. It was a nice one.

    Jothish : Thanks Jothish. And a happy 2009 to you and yours.

    Ravi: Thanks and wishing you the same.

    S : Faith should be ideally unconditional. But as human beings, we have limitations. So one should do what one is capable of. So the degree of faith one has will vary from person to person.

    Thulasy Mary Elizabeth: Thanks and a very happy 2009 to you too.

    Kesi : Thanks Kesi. The mentality of the parents is changing but very slowly. Many parents still try to ‘manage’ their children’s careers and lives.

    Rachel : Nice that your mom had faith in you. If she had not let you sort out the problems yourself, you would have ended up hating Maths. What really matters is faith in God and using the talent God has given us. I completely agree with you. And a wonderful 2009 to you.