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Mirror of Desire

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A charming guide for millennials to pick professions


Career Rules: How to Choose Right and Get the Life You Want | Sonya Dutta Choudhury | HarperCollins | 275 pages | Rs 250

Around the time that ‘career choice’ was being overtaken by ‘conventional wisdom’ as the top tautology of the day, at the cusp of liberalisation in India, nobody could google gyaan on how to get into, say, wizardry and witchcraft. Nor was there much wide-spectrum advice available on viable ways to earn a living, though some mysterious spell was rumoured to have been cast that would allow anyone to earn enough by chasing their dreams, no matter how dry or wet. Millennials and others of the Harry Potter generation coming to terms with the demands of grown-up life should therefore count themselves lucky not only that the dull old days of muggledom are gone, but also to have such charming reckoners as Sonya Dutta Choudhury’s Career Rules to help make up their minds on what they want to do. What they go for shall reveal a pull, not push. This much is amply clear. As Aldus Dumbledore of Hogwarts is quoted as saying at the start of this book, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Choudhury has been a worklife columnist for Mint, and she presents a series of career fields with an amiable selection of success stories in each, people whose charm and celebrity might lure young aspirants to hop right in, an urge that could either be stoked or choked by the lists she appends of books and movies offering a feel of what the profession is like.

To my delight, on top of the author’s chart of must-reads for the ‘enthusiastic finance person’ is Peter Bernstein’s classic Against the Gods, a book on risk that serves a sharp reminder of how the modern world came to be. To my amusement, what heads this chapter’s honour list of films is Pretty Woman (1990), though with no mention of Richard Gere’s famous line on the commonality of what he and Julia Roberts’ character do ‘for money’. The most interesting financial-sector job outlined in this book, though, is that of Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, who has the tricky task of explaining the funk the country’s economy is in. As he says in this book: “People always ask me, ‘Isn’t it difficult to work in government, coming from the outside?’ I think I was aware of many of the challenges, and so was prepared for them. As an academic, you are unencumbered by what you can say, but it’s different when you’re in the public eye. So that is true, but I have pleasantly been surprised by how much one can do and how it’s possible to express oneself completely freely in private interactions and be taken seriously.”

This book features several other little write-ups on well-known personalities at work, their ascent, their routines, their highs and lows, but a good reality shakedown for readers who can’t discard their peach-tinted lenses might be the one on Atul Kasbekar, a celebrity photographer whose typical day may be full of glamour but is far from what was shown in a cheerful ‘happy legs’ SUV commercial he once modelled for.

But then, every spell need not be broken, every myth need not be dispelled—at least not at this stage. So this book’s selection of fiction plays a wonderful role in upsexing several careers that might otherwise sound a trifle dreary. In all, it serves as a handy Erised mirror for millennials to spot their desire before they join the workforce. Veritaserum, as every Potterhead knows, is sometimes best administered and taken in doses small and sweet.

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