What Do You Want?

In my career in a teaching hospital, my job involved working with 18 to 25-year-olds who were pursuing their MBBS or MD. These were bright, young students; the crème de la crème as they say; considering they were pursuing medicine in one of the premier institutes of our country. I used to enjoy interacting with them so many a time our discussions would go beyond the realm of curriculum.

As bright as they were, some them would appear lost. They weren’t sure what they were doing and whether or not they wanted to go ahead with it. I would often joke with them that the government thinks you are good enough to vote and legally of the age where you can marry. For someone who can help choose who runs the country or choose who they spend the rest of their lives with, this seems a bit jarring that you don’t know what you are doing.

The usual parental pressure rant would follow but, in some cases, they just assumed that since they were ‘good in studies’ (read top scorers) they thought medicine or engineering would be a good career option. I do get this because I was in their shoes, not ‘too long ago’. In fact, it is often assumed, especially ever since I veered into writing, that my being a doctor is borne out of parental expectations. Far from it, if at all, they had dissuaded me because of the arduous journey ahead of me. I feel may be because I was crazy enough to want it so badly is what helped me survive it.

Without digressing let me state my hypothesis as to why kids feel lost. I think maybe it’s because when they were growing up, no one had asked them enough number of times — what do you want? Adults, knowingly or unknowingly, tend to push their opinions using their age and alleged wisdom as the reason to do so. The kids end up getting told what they need to do rather than delving into what they want to do. Over time they lose touch with their inner self and by the time they grow up they just don’t know how to reclaim that connection. They avoid having difficult conversations with themselves because one, they don’t know how to and then there is fear of failure, peer pressure and the need for parental/ societal validation that makes it easy to avoid it.

Even if we assume that parents have their children’s best interests at heart (though I am no longer surprised if that’s not the case) what we essentially need to remember it’s their life and they have to lead it. Our job is to equip them the best way possible. I often go back to the Kahlil Gibran’s poem titled On Children where he begins by saying — your children are not your children.

Keep asking the child ‘what do you want?’ in as many words and as many times as possible. Start early because a child who may not be able to talk properly also has an opinion. (S)he will point out to a dress or a toy or food item to convey it. Give them choices when needed and respect their decisions. That makes them feel empowered and in touch with their desires.

Not all that they may want has to be honoured but if you have built up a trust over time such incidents are rarer than you think. Counter their opinion with logic and not the hackneyed I-told-you-so.

You may begin with innocuous stuff like hobbies or which books to read but when the time comes to choose their careers you would realise how well prepared your child is. Expose them to various career options, take them to actual work places and help them figure out before you ask— what do you want? Trust me I have seen many of them forsake the glamour of a stethoscope at the sight of a bustling OPD or ward.

You may not have a nicely scrubbed and obedient child but you will surely have an enthusiastic, sorted bright young person who would know where his/ her heart lay and will do you as proud if not more. All because you were mindful enough to ask — what do you want?

Dr. Shivani Salil

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