May 28, 2020
To a 15-year-old Martin, theology or for that matter civil rights, meant little. Though his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all Baptist Ministers, he did not intend to become one. Well, not until his path crossed with Dr Benjamin Mays during his freshman year at Morehouse College.
It was under Mays’ leadership and guidance that young Martin went on to become the greatest Civil Rights leader that we know as Martin Luther King Jr. If it weren’t for Dr Mays, who knows, the world may have never heard the famous words, “I have a dream”.
Ask a national-level sportsman, an accomplished musician, a celebrated artist, or any successful individual on their paths to success. You’ll see a pattern emerge. They will all attribute their rise to their mentors who were the wind beneath their wings.
A Jedi-Master Obi-Wan Kenobi or an Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, if you like.
You will be surprised to know that Warren Buffet took Bill Gates under his wing when he was climbing to the top. Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg during the early days of Facebook. Closer to home, former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam openly credited his guru, Dr Vikram Sarabhai for giving him the opportunity to grow through hard work rather than just his qualification. So even the most brilliant and innovative people needed the guidance of a trusted guide to set off on the right path. It could well be the reason they became the person they aspired to be.
“I was not highly qualified, but I was working hard.He gave me the responsibility to grow and if I failed, he was by my side” - Dr Abdul Kalam, speaking about Dr Vikram Sarabhai
I pictured myself in different professions in different phases. Many of which I dabbled in too. At first, I wanted to be a General in the Army. And then, the goal post shifted. I wanted to be an adman. But as fate would have it, I lost confidence on the day of my entrance exam for a degree in Visual Communications. I assumed the entrance exam was all about sketching. I was scared to fail. I didn’t even attempt it.
Unfortunately, there was nobody to tell me differently at the time. In between, I became a radio jockey. Not a good one though! As most high school children in India do, I chose the safe option for three long years. I studied the sciences. Those 3-years were not filled with any excitement or a thirst for learning. It set myself off-course. I became a banker. Not out of choice, but out of obligation. I moved into the tech industry just because someone I trusted advised me to shift.
The absence of Ikigai, can leave you feeling like a piece of drifting wood in the sea of life.
However, little did I know that my life would be completely turned around when I met my mentors. They gave me the confidence to trust my instincts and to speak up when it mattered. They were not merely my cheerleaders who just patted me on my back each time. They were mirrors who helped me get the right perspective and navigate whatever complex problems I experienced.
I was lucky. I was mentored by some of the best marketing minds in the country. Their words of encouragement put me on the track that I always dreamed of. Even let me excel at it. However, when I look back at my high school and college days, I was a lost sheep. I did not have access to mentors during those ‘dark’ days. Many of our young learners today suffer from the same limitation and lack of access to mentors.
Finding trustworthy and able mentors can no longer be left to luck. Young learners need to consciously seek mentors if they wish to thrive in their personal and professional lives.
Several countries, including India, are staring at a massive skill gap across sectors. Though there has been no dearth of opportunities, companies still find a majority of graduates, unemployable. Over 93% of Indian engineers lack critical life skills.
Source: PWC : Imperatives for Indian Economy, E&Y, World Economic Forum
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), India is projected to have a whopping 29 million skill-deficit by 2030. There is clearly a massive difference in the kind of graduates we are producing and the kind of graduates the workforce clamours for. This is as much as an economic problem as it is a social problem. If India has to remain steadfast to its vision of becoming the world’s 3rd largest economy, this widening gap needs to be fixed – and soon.
Expecting our 200-year-old school education system to change, or expecting our Universities to become cutting-edge all of a sudden, would be wishful. While we already have several institutions turning to the winds of change, such as Flame, Krea and Ashoka, it will take a few decades for our entire education system to come up to the same speed.
However, there is light at the end of this tunnel. It comes in the form of industry leaders themselves. Even the best educators can only provide their students so much; it must be matched by the practical knowledge and skills that industry experts. After all, nobody knows the ropes of a profession than those who have mastered. However, the question we need to
Just as we invest our wealth to secure our futures, we need to invest our knowledge to guide our young learners. This needs to come with a sense of urgency. It cannot wait untill they step into your company as a new hire. But when they enter high school. Right when they need to make informed decisions about the paths they want to take.
Young learners need to hear from experts about the rewards and pitfalls of a profession before they commit to a four-year course. And not merely because their parents think of it as a ‘respectable’ option.
This deep desire to make a difference to a child’s life is what motivated us to set up Beyond 8. Here, we view high school education as a unique opportunity to enable passions, dreams and desires. As a period when young learners need to be exposed to a variety of experiences, with the guidance of the movers and shakers in each field.
We collaborate with practicing industry experts to co-create our learning modules and mentor students into pursuing alternate career paths – be it music, art, sports, advanced research or anything else that they desire. All without compromising on their academics. Several of our students have discovered their unique ikigai, with the help of their mentors and gone on to do very well in each of their careers. (Stay tuned to our blog to know more on this front!)
Being a mentor to the burgeoning generation of scientists, engineers, musicians and sportspersons enriches the fabric of our lives in innumerable ways. Not only is it a brilliant way to boost our leadership repertoire, but also a rewarding experience of being part of a young learner’s pathway to success.
If you had a mentor that stood by you during your own career, you would know this to be true. And even if you didn’t have a mentor, you would still know this to be true.
If you have a burning desire to be that catalyst to enable more young learners pursue their passions in your field, leave a comment behind.
I’d love to hear your perspectives. Perhaps, you can even partner with us as we reimagine high school education.