Money Matters

Between alternatives

By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 04, 24

Life is not a game of dice or chance. Neither is career. Both have to be chiseled and pursued with pre- determination of what one wants to do, how to do and have clarity to decide where to go. All options have to be considered before setting the sails. The alternatives must pass through the filters of acceptability, which in turn is dependent upon the destination one chooses.

Between alternatives

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both,

And be one traveler, long I stood. And looked down as far as I could,

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

(Robert Frost).

Life is not a game of dice or chance. Neither is career. Both have to be chiseled and pursued with pre- determination of what one wants to do, how to do and have clarity to decide where to go. All options have to be considered before setting the sails. The alternatives must pass through the filters of acceptability, which in turn is dependent upon the destination one chooses.

Merill Perlman, adjunct professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in a post has clinically explained the word, “alternative” most appropriately. She wrote, cities that have hard winters have no “alternative” and must repair roads in the summer. And when they do, they need to provide motorists with “alternate” routes. That sentence illustrates the difference between’ alternative’ and ‘alternate’. The two words can sometimes ‘alternate’ places with each other. Knowing the nuance each brings, however, can make a sentence more precise, or less. As a noun, ‘alternate’ means a substitute; ... alternate is also a verb, as in, something that can take turns, as in say, alternate director. As a noun, “alternative “ is an option or a choice ... Some usage experts, apparently leaning on the Latin root of “alter” as meaning “other of two” have argued that an “alternative “ offers only two choices, but they have been shouted down enough that they can be ignored. “Alternative” is not a verb. This scribe is using alternatives as available for several choices.

Not everyone is fortunate to have parents, who would by action demonstrate keen interest in the growth and development of their children. Some do, many don’t. To every child reality dawns, when they feel encouraged to find their parents attending enthusiastically, every single parent ... teacher meeting, in contrast to children who are extremely disappointed in not finding their parents, particularly the fathers, at these school/college meetings. Every offspring deserves to be held by hand, by the parents, until they complete their education. Parents are the greatest source of inspiration and confidence building. They seem to be losing sight of their power to influence by way of abandonment of speaking to their children. They have to point out the alternatives.

It is the responsibility, in my view, of the parents and teachers to discover in a child his/her natural aptitude and skills, which are divinely blessed. Some children are brilliant in numbers, while many are not; some are good at non- quantitative subjects, like literature, sociology, psychology, etc. Those who are blessed with exceptional skills must be allowed and encouraged to pursue their unique talents. To quote for clarity , here are some examples, Mozart a musical genius couldn’t be an Einstein, and vice versa; Raphael and Leonardo di Vinci were great sculptors and artists; Vasco de Gama and Niccolo Polo were full of adventurism and Thomas Alva Edison was an uncompromising scientist. They pursued what they were best at. Alternatives are not an issue with exceptional talent.

In this train of thought, let’s examine, what vocation to pursue, what skills should be polished or acquired and then based on these how does one develop a career. There are alternatives, always, to choose from. How should one choose between the many options?

Like some parents, who do not deter from drilling and pushing a child, to become a medical doctor or an engineer or a computer scientist or any other profession of their choice, while the child may have neither the inclination nor the aptitude, in that area; some managers/supervisors too are adamant to push colleagues towards a certain career path, which may not be to the liking of the individual.

Managers can, and often do, make mistakes of putting square pegs in round holes; this treatment is usually given to those who are performers in the application of skills in a given and defined area. Those who do well in a particular position, do not necessarily offer an auto assurance that they would do well, in a different function. The cross functionality concept is truly a great burden on the HR division.

Managers are reluctant to release good officers to other divisions in the organisation. This family of managers are those who do not subscribe to the responsibility of developing their colleagues; let sleeping dogs lie, is their attitude; they ensure that for the good performance, the rewards in the form of increments and promotions in cadre, not functions, are duly given, and they stand as the ‘the Great Wall of China’ on the path, where the performing officers can be given an entitlement to choose an alternative assignment. The uninitiated managers are unwilling to provide training aid to new joiners, because it requires them to put in extra efforts, hence they prefer keeping officers under their thumb, by taking extra care of their economic needs; and the need and quest of the officers to develop multi disciplinary skills is thwarted by inherently unkind kindness.

Some individuals have aptitude to work in ‘back offices’, they are reluctant to interact with clients, in the ‘front office’; conversely some would like to have the spotlight upon them, with skills of interface with the clientele, and then there many who find back office assignments boring, mundane and tedious. The extroverts are excited with front office assignments.

If the sSupervisor, out of sheer selfishness and narrow mindedness, tries to quell the natural talents and instincts, by pushing staff to take up assignments against the intrinsic skills, a time is bound to arrive, where both productivity and enthusiasm levels take a nosedive. Managers are expected to develop people through work, who have to be better than themselves and not create instead an army of potential corporate parasites. With experience of just one type under the belt attending upon their CV’s, the victims of such management, would with age find themselves to be unemployable, except by the organisation they are serving, and that too is later in life dictated by the whims of the owner/manager. They are by design incapable of moving around in the market…the dilemma is more significant for Specialists than Generalists, because the former have limited job options, and their market is thin.

Before choosing an alternative, it is best to recall what the Cheshire Cat replies to a query from Alice, when she asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? The Cheshire Cat says, “That depends a good deal on where you want to go”. Alice replies, “I don’t much care”. The Cheshire Cat responds, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”. (Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll). The direction, firstly must be clearly set.

In planning a career, young professionals must first have for themselves a clear picture of where they wish to head ... and consequently identify, what decisions must be made ; this must be followed up, by looking out for all the relevant information about the position sought or destined; whilst doing this, a strainer of good judgment must be used to sift through the many alternatives that may appear on the radar of options; based on this analytical approach, they can exercise the choice to select the best alternative. The important point is that the availability of choosing between alternatives must not be surrendered to any.

An attitude of mere survival is a sad tale of any professional. Facts of life have no alternatives, so it is best to conjoin career pursuits within the realm of reality of facts. In this exercise of acceptance of realities, one must be prepared to see and agree how they contradict our own views.

Assignments must be looked at as products with a shelf life. They must have an expiry date. Doing the same thing over years doesn’t add to improvement in efficiency ... in-fact it reflects human stupidity, to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. I would push my Supervisors, whenever a new task was given, with an interrogative acceptance, ‘and how long will I continue in this function/assignment?’. I would invariably ask this, and would steal out of them a firm date of departure -- I was mostly successful with the implementation of agreed timelines. (goes without saying my supervisors were excellent professionals with the heart in the right place). Hellen Keller is attributed to have said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn”.

It is imperative for youngsters to keep the initiative of choosing an alternative with themselves; they must learn to resist with grace, the push from the organisation and must garner courage laced with humility to pull for themselves better options. A balance must be struck between the push and the pull forces; taking an extreme position can prove to be viewed as provocative behaviour that can lead to loss of job. To remain conscious all the time about the right to choose is a prerequisite for ensuring all rounded development, as a professional. Keep evaluating alternatives…..

The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist.