Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Degrees to Success

I dont have a degree in Communications. Neither does my daughter Nadeesha. But we have been published for a number of years in leading newspapers, written two columns and been co- authors of a book, not to mention co founders of popular online forums with thousands of members. My writing has shamed a big company into doing the right thing. It has organised charity work, saved a number of animal lives big and small, alternatively boiled and soothed my readers and also brought many a smile to their faces. Ive also had the honour of working with the company doing promotions for a famous drama series in 2010. Nadeesha worked part-time with a British content provision company. She influences many friends to eat better, live better and be happier. We are good communicators. We earn comfortably from doing what we love which is writing and I daresay our dubious names are known better than many journalism graduates, mostly because we do communicate well. Its nothing to do with any fancy foreign degree.
Its also why I want to talk about foreign degrees, suitable marriages and highly paid careers, which are popular goals towards which many parents blindly and determinedly push their unhappy offspring..
I once overheard a strong and brave mother from the village who decided to home school her children plus send them for private tuition, rejecting government institutions of schooling in Sri Lanka. This made absolute sense because anyway in Sri Lanka hardly anyone gets educated at schools because of the apathy of underpaid teachers. Everyone sends their kids for private tuition. Which is expensive. This is where this insane rush for formal education begins. It ends with people selling valuable houses just so that the precious son can get a US degree. They don't not stop to think of alternatives.
Consider the cost of snooty foreign paper qualification. My daughter did spend on a local bachelors degree of 650,000 (mostly because the relatives advised her to do this) and lets say theoretically she earns monthly at the rate of 65,000. Her cousin, educated with the posh US degree which cost 4,500,000 certainly does not earn 450,000 a month part-time. His parents had to sell one beautiful house and take out a five-year educational loan to help him get this. He earns nowhere close, coming probably to a maximum of about 200,000 if he's very lucky, and if it is Sri Lanka that work will involve all the misery of office politics, jealousy, backstabbing and aggravation not to mention a daily grind of commuting to work through third world megacity traffic, ...something that neither me nor my daughter has done for a long time now.. at the same time have you given a thought to the opportunity cost of putting 4,500,000 in a bank  or just renting out the house you sold to get a monthly income of at least 150,000/= without any work at all? It boggles me as to why any human running logically on Maslow's theory, any one who has remotely studied economics and opportunity costs, would justify such suffering just to be able to tell a few relatives or snooty potential employers that they have an American degree…
If its fulfilment you need in life there are wonderful ways to work for the community, to help people and animals, join politics, take up the violiin, whatever it takes to keep you occupied rather than actually do a job merely to keep you out of mischief. Finally if its fame you are looking for, if you google his name it wont turn up anywhere. Whereas my daughter and I are communicators, influencers and changemakers actually making a difference in the life of people we encounter. And you are now reading my article, not his. Hopefully this article may save one person from making the mistake of selling parental houses and getting in debt for years only to drain rupees to the UK or USA and become stuck in a twenty five year rat race from which you emerge at 55, gouty, diabetic, out of shape, unhappily married and generally unfulfilled and maybe barely able to complete the mortgage on a nice house which reminds of the nice house your parents sold 20 years ago, to get you the degree….

Dont get me wrong and think I look down on education or qualifications. I certainly would hope that the anesthesiologist who knocks me out for brain surgery has been through formal and structured training…. In the same way as I wish that parents who undertake one of the most challenging tasks known to mankind (bringing up offspring) were in someway educated in that subject or took the effort to educate themselves and think carefully before they followed the crowds like leaping wildebeest...learning is always a good thing but it doesn't really have to be through American (or British or Australian) universities...think of the most famous, awe-inspiring, revolutionary people the planet knows, Mother Theresa, Michael Jackson, Meryl Streep, Mohamed Yunus...and diverse modern icons like Lily Singh, Trevor Noah, Jane Goodall, Sathguru, Malala Yusefsai... was it foreign degrees that made them who they are?
When you think of the talents that are needed in real life, qualities such as empathy, emotional quotient, sensitivity, adaptability, creativity, humility the capacity to think out of the box, the ability to respect other humans, and a host of other important characteristics are not taught in Universities although they are very important. Then why is it that such a disproportionate amount of time, effort and money is put into obtaining degrees from foreign universities?

This brings me to the next item on my list, career success. Everyone seems to want it, to be able to climb right to the top and boss people around. To get to the top of your profession, to earn accolades, win recognition, have paper articles written about you, be there do that. That's a worthy goal, I concede, and it's quite grand for the people who do achieve it. But for every top chairman or woman, how many hundreds meander through a tedious daily grind which lasts through 30 years spending more than three-quarters of your waking life in a cubicle, and in traffic, with only miserable thoughts spinning through your head about office politics, glaring injustices and simply torturous interpersonal conflict at the work place, waiting for something good to happen, or simply waiting to be able to leave this drudgery...which is not a way to spend this precious commodity called life. Do you sometimes feel like the consultant in the story of the fisherman and the management consultant, waiting for some perfect moment in the future, when things will be just right- the story is about a happy island fisherman who was doing nothing lolling in a hammock under a coconut tree on a balmy tropical beach, having finished his days work early noon with the rest of the day off. Along comes a consultant and tells him about how the due to the wind speeds and directions he could easily triple his productivity, invest in two fibreglass fishing boats and some manual labour, open a marine company so that he can catch many more fish and make much more profits. He can invest this money in the bank no doubt the consultant will tell him how to work the stock exchange and invest in bitcoins etc, and apparently that way he can retire early. To which the fisherman in puzzlement asks, “what would I do if I retire?” And the consultant says “why you can  visit wonderful beaches, play with your kids, simply relax by the beach doing nothing, go for a beer and a baila in the evening every day...” and of course the fisherman gives him a look, and says “Isn't that what I'm already doing anyway?”
"Water world" by Chandrika De Silva. Acrylic 40x60