I think the most important thing I’ve had to unlearn from my Bangladeshi upbringing is the notion that the only way to be financially successful is to go to college and have a “professional” career. First things first. Let’s not blame our parents for this one. In their world, I’m sure that was the reality. But for those of you who don’t want to go to college and instead pursue a creative or business venture, you must understand what entrepreneurial success (and failure) looks like in your desired field.
In my journey to build my music career, I’ve had to learn so much about the music business and marketing from my own research, my own journey as an artist, and surrounding myself with people who have built all kinds of creative businesses. I am fortunate to have incredibly accomplished friends in both the academic and entrepreneurial sides of the spectrum. However, now in my mid-20s, I do notice some of my academically inclined peers struggling with being financially set for life, yet feeling intrinsically unfulfilled and empty. Take that how you will.
Even though I am pursuing music, I do not regret going to Stony Brook for my engineering degree. Once you get a degree, it’s not going anywhere. You can finish undergrad and still be only 21 with your whole life ahead of you. If anything, the stability of having a solid Plan B to fall back on has made me way more fearless in chasing music full force.
I urge young people to exercise self-awareness. Is college really going to hold you back from chasing your dreams? Or is it wise to give yourself not only a backup plan, but a stable income in the future that can fund your passion project? My music project ‘In Loving Memory’ started during my sophomore year, from which point I played the college game on Hard mode. I had to get all my schoolwork done before my weekends, which were usually spent making music, filming videos, playing shows, etc. My ability to balance engineering and music was put to the test when I went on my first three week tour in the middle of a semester. I was studying and doing schoolwork in the back of a van during my days and playing shows in different cities by night. I can say the “Hannah Montana” life definitely fosters great discipline and time management skills.
I would also urge young people to weigh the cost of their education and their expected salary. I went to a great state school that, with scholarships and in-state tuition, allowed me to pay relatively little for a degree with a relatively high payout. Going to college for something you don’t really want to do would be bad enough, but to also accumulate a ton of debt? At that point, I would advise against it. I can’t imagine the pain of working to pay off crazy student loans for a career I didn’t even want in the first place.
The main thing I want young people who are turned off by college to understand is: By not going to college, you are going to have to work harder than everyone else. An academic career path allows you to plan your future within reason: “After X years of school, I can expect a job that pays around Y. I can go to school for Z more years and expect a certain salary increase”. In entrepreneurship, there is no guarantee of success for any time and effort put in.
It takes a special type of tenacity and persistence to build something from nothing, and that road is not for the faint of heart. In that sense, I definitely view the college route as the easier path in life. I also recognize that it is a privilege to call it easy because my parents went through hell for me to even have it as an option. But an easier path in life is not always better.
Us first-generation desis are caught in this internal war between our cultural side that taught us to value stability and our American side that taught us to value our individualistic fulfillment and happiness. I say you don’t have to choose.
Regardless of your path, work hard, work smart, and hone your craft. Now more than ever, you can build your dream career and your family will come to respect your decision, whether it’s through a college education or not.
PS: A huge motivation of mine as a musician is to be the role model for the next generation of desi kids that I did not have when I was growing up. If you have any questions about navigating a creative career path, I’d be happy to share my insight. Feel free to DM me @NaveedStone.