Sourav Jha, a Calcutta University graduate, was always sure he wanted a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). However, last month, he enrolled in a film-making institute. Around the same time, roughly 1,600 km away, in Pune, Nitesh Joshi an MBA graduate quit his job to pursue his dream of becoming a movie director.
Sourav and Nitesh have never met. But apart from their common love for cinema, both are part of a much larger group. One that consists of countless entrepreneurs, professionals, students who’ve altered their career paths ever since the pandemic hit.
Passion has been taking precedence over a regular job long before it was made fashionable by ‘3 Idiots’ in 2009. However, a surprisingly high number of people have been taking the plunge ever since the nationwide lockdown.
Change of plan
It took Nitesh, 36, a year to convince himself.
“I am a father and have a family to cater to. I can’t be making impulsive decisions. However, I felt if I don’t do it now, I probably will never be able to. I spent a year in developing contacts, networking, attending Zoom sessions, wrote my short film and only when I was sure that there’s a fair chance of the plan working, I quit my job,” he said.
Meanwhile, for Sourav, 21, the decision was not easy either. He had already started preparing for MBA entrance tests. “I had shortlisted colleges, told my entire family and friends about it and was sure that this is what I want to do,” he said.
What changed then? “I saw people around me who were MBA grads. They were working from home, coordinating on phones, their laptops always by their side and I suddenly didn’t want that life. I wanted to work in an industry that would demand stepping outside. I’ve always been interested in movie making but this is the first time that I thought about taking it up as a career,” he added.
Two months of research and talking to graduates of film schools finally provided Sourav some clarity. He struck off his MBA plans. Now he had to persuade his parents. “I’m a single child and film-making did not seem as financially lucrative to my parents. I had to give them examples of a dozen people. They are not yet fully convinced but are fine with me enrolling,” he said.1
Several psychologists around the world have concluded that one of the prominent effects of the pandemic has been a sense of inflated risk-taking ability. According to a research paper published this year in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry authored by Julia and Joby Mackolil, “Risk-taking can be considered as a self-indulgent behavior that results in the development of an internal locus of control due to COVID-19″
According to a survey commissioned by Amazon India in September this year, about 51 per cent of the job-seeking adults were interested in pursuing opportunities in industries they did not have experience in. And 68 per cent of them said they are looking to switch industries as a result of COVID-19.
When Naveen Nair, 26, a resident of New Delhi thought about leaving his secure job in a large software firm, he lost his sleep. His mind started weaving scary scenarios of everything that could go wrong. “Leaving a fixed-income job in the middle of a pandemic seemed foolhardy,” he told News18.
However, the tipping point came when he realised that he was settling for less every day. His employers demanded double the output in exchange for a salary which had been drastically reduced due to the economic repercussions of the pandemic. He knew he deserved better. He quit his job.
Currently, he is planning to inaugurate the second branch of his business firm in Trivandrum. “I had always been interested in digital marketing and took short courses from Google and Udemy to understand the subject. The dream to start a venture of my own had been lying latent in me for many years. The contacts I made during my earlier job came in handy in securing clients. I had no plan B. I left everything to the Almighty and jumped right in,” says Naveen, the founder of DigiGen Enterprises.
Millions, like Naveen, all over the world, have been quitting their jobs at a rate faster than ever. So much so that there is now a term for it: The Great Resignation. It was first coined in 2019 by Texas A&M’s Anthony Klotz to predict a mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce is here, and it’s quite real.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, during April, May, and June 2021, a total of 1.15 crore workers quit their jobs.
So did Swetha Donakonda, 41, in Hyderabad. mother of two girls, she calls herself a pandemic entrepreneur.
As offline interactions became restricted, the world shifted online, one business at a time. This marketing manager, who had studied retail management at the Indian School of Business, realised that all these fledgling companies would need a marketing plan.
“Before I started my venture, I was working for an ed-tech startup. I was involved in devising growth hacking plans for the company. But the pandemic took a toll on the firm and it started going south,” said the founder of growthmk.co.in, a company that offers 360-degree growth hacking solutions for startups.
Inspiration, for her, came from other women entrepreneurs.
“It always bothered me that only 10 percent of executives above middle management in private firms are women. I have always admired Vani Kola, the venture capitalist from Hyderabad who was listed by Fortune India as one of the most powerful businesswomen in the country. So when one of my colleagues agreed to be a partner in the new venture, I realised it was the right time,” said Swetha.
The dilemma has not just hit professionals. Students are part of the group too.
Ditching the conventional
According to a March 2021 survey on students by UK’s biggest graduate careers website, Prospect, more than a quarter of respondents had changed their career plans due to the pandemic and 37 per cent said they are still uncertain about what they will do.
For 12th grade student Anisha Pandey, the availability of more time post lockdown triggered the switch. A resident of a small town in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, her daily routine consisted of a tight school schedule followed by preparations for joint entrance exams (JEE).
She was left with no time to invest in what she loved — fashion designing.
Now, with schools shut and classes online, Anisha could finally find time to explore her passion. She quickly set up a social media page to showcase her designs. Slowly, she found validation and the decision was made.
“I come from a middle-class family and my father had worked very hard to save money for my engineering entrance books. My decision came as a shock to them. My parents are not happy but this is what I want to do and if not for the pandemic, I would have not released this,” said Anisha who wants to get into the National Institute of Fashion Technology and take up fashion designing as a career.
On the other side of the classroom, after more half a decade of teaching in a BMC-run school, 32-year-old Rubina Raona packed all her belongings, said goodbye to the sea, and left Mumbai before the second wave of COVID-19 arrived.
She returned to her home in Birpara, a town in North Bengal’s Alipurduar district, surrounded by tea gardens hoping to find a job in a local school. But the pandemic had different plans for her. In March 2020, Rubina launched the Abhilasha Initiative, which works towards educating tribal kids.
“When I returned, the schools here were closed, so I couldn’t apply. It’s a small town; there isn’t much to do, so I spent a lot of time thinking. It’s a luxury that you cannot afford in cities like Mumbai,” said Rubina.
“I had always dreamed about opening an NGO, the same way many people dream about becoming an actress or a writer. I had no real commitment towards it; it was just a dream, not a goal. However, as the pandemic dragged its feet, I started feeling a restlessness brewing within me, telling me now is the time to start,” she added.
Rubina comes from a tribal family. Her mother actively works on local social-development issues. Her mother’s acquaintances told her about children of tea garden labourers whose education had halted since many of them did not have mobile devices at home.
“How long before these kids forget the alphabets? Or lose interest in studies? As a teacher who had taught slum kids for years in Mumbai, I knew this was a real possibility. I also knew being a teacher is very different from running a social initiative. As a teacher, your only responsibility is imparting knowledge, but you also need keen business sense to run a social enterprise. So, I was terrified,” she said.
Soon after, one of Rubina’s brothers helped her meet local tribal parents of Tasati tea garden. “Despite their misfortune, they were so warm and welcoming. They promised they would send their kids to study, so I began the Abhilasha initiative in March last year,” she said.
Rubina travels from Birpara by electric rickshaw (toto) to the Tasati Tea Estate twice every week. Amid the perfectly manicured tabletops of tea plants, an unpaved road meanders for a few kilometres before it takes her to the tribal settlements of Tasati Tea Estate. The road is not safe at night. Incidences of thefts and robbery often happen here. Herd of Elephants also stroll down this path whenever they please. But she prefers this road more than the traffic-riddled streets of Mumbai.
This story is Part 2 of a 4-Part series on Pandemic Fallout. Click here to read Part 1 on Covid-19 and its toll on mental health.