By Nidhi Daithankar
Just take one look at my current search history, and you’ll find hundreds of ‘How to Choose a Fulfilling Career’ articles that I’ve sifted through in my 2am delirium in recent months.
For me, graduating always seemed like a distant event in the unforeseeable future. We have A.I. Instagram influencers (Lil Miquela anyone?), phones with storage the size of laptops, and an immersive online world that has truly transformed the course of life. But actually having to leave school? No, that always seemed far-fetched to me – indeed, if academics have taught me anything it’s been to bask in the comfort of knowing that 30 years later, this one 30% assignment is going to be an infinitely minuscule moment in my life. However, this has since started to evolve into a sort of paradox in my mind – I call it the productivity paradox. In order to reach a point in my life when university goes from the present to just a collection of hand-picked memories, I will have to come to terms with the fact that one day I will have to turn the tassel, so to speak.
My earliest memories of my childhood were in school, where I was told I was a distraction to the class projecting my boredom onto others. My homework would nearly always be returned to me with tedious notes scrawled in the margins or questions marks scattered periodically, but always that one word at the end of my work – “careless”; scribbled in dangerously red, seriously bright, ballpoint. Seeing this word numerous times, my parents attempted to drill into me the age-old rhetoric (in a not-so-nice voice) that “you reap what you sow”. For seven-year-old me this was just the everyday routine, but after getting older and seeing my parents embody this specific trait I started to seriously panic: when would I learn to actually grow up?
In the South Asian diaspora, a point of commonality between many ethnicities is the culture of filial piety – giving back to your parents the sacrifices they have made for you. This is not so much guilt – tripping as it is learning to show gratitude towards those around you. I grew up in Australia for much of my life, having arrived here as a first-generation migrant thirteen years ago. I personally witnessed the hardships my family went through as they uprooted their everyday life and started a new one overseas. They did not let the fear of an alien country, a different language and a new job inhibit them; instead, they hid their worries like parents do, pretending that everything is merry. In my head they were Herculean. They persevered their whole life to make something of themselves so they would have something to show back home. Now on the brink of turning 21, my glorification turns into a weight of anxiety that travels with me. I start to worry that as the years go by, while I still struggle to find my place in my chosen communications degree, my parents will grow older without sharing any of my successes with me.
When I look at the social media driven communications industry today, I see such an emphasis on entrepreneurship, freelancing and influencing. And while I genuinely do appreciate how those industries that were once considered niche help cultivate a new online culture, I can’t help but question our unending obsession with efficiency, productivity and the rhetoric of ‘maximising opportunities’. What led me to this curiosity was when I really started to notice the small differences between university and the outside world. At university, we were always taught to create ethical and innovative content that pushed the boundaries of conversation. However, the growth of the online world of 2020 revealed to me a harsher reality: that public trust has always been a commodity.
Today, social media is constantly infiltrated by native advertising where the lines between real and performative are blurred, convincing us to buy certain products in subtle ways. Instagram influencers brand themselves as lifestyle content bloggers, often showcasing brand partnership products to convince their followers of their value and aesthetic but offering little evidence of their actual use. Even the monopoly on the news industry makes you question the agenda behind certain stories and how they try to shape your understanding of the world. And so, sometimes I fear that the pressures of ‘making it’ in the media industry are erasing our creativity and passion as we scramble to stock up on a 6 figure bank statement to prepare for the hypothetical future. Now with graduation looming over my head, I find myself walking a fine line between searching for a successful career in a world that has lost its glamour for me, or not living up to my full potential that my parents have always believed I have.
This is not to say that university graduates should be disillusioned upon entering the media industry. Social media has helped jumpstart some great initiatives such as sustainably driven small businesses, educational content about personal budgeting, and art and fashion career education that did not exist 10 years ago. However, with the traditional 9 to 5 slowly transforming into a ’whenever you’re needed’ schedule, it does make me question the obligation we feel to constantly be switched on. If it is true that if you persevere you shall prosper, then maybe it is time for me to just start my post-graduation journey and see where it takes me.