Friday, January 12, 2007

Freedom to Reclaim Lost Dreams

A couple of weeks back, I had written about the Andhraite’s obsession with dollars. While some agreed with my observations, a few others suggested that it is a pan-India issue and that one of our main problems is a lack of career understanding in India. We take up jobs merely because we need jobs and that there’s never been too much of an input for us regarding things like career interests and passions in life. We work because we really do not know what else to do in life.

I have not met too many people who are happy about their work life. Of course, this can be explained as a perennial mindset of many of us who do not how to be happy. But I’ll leave the philosophy part aside and try to understand what drives this stagnant feeling in many of us. We all want to be free, have our own set of choices that dictate our lives but are we actually free to decide our own career paths? Or are we even capable of choosing our own career paths? You read everywhere that the economy is opening up and that opportunity is springing up across all sectors but many of us (me included) are stuck in jobs we did not ask for but have stumbled upon.

We work in life not for ourselves but for our parents, peers, the society and every other block that fits into our sphere of influence. We may want to break out of that mould later but by that time, we become risk averse. The family, spouse and kids come into the picture and so a steady income becomes a necessity. Seduced by thoughts of owning a house or a car, we break up our life into a set of EMIs that go on upto infinity.

Life = Summation(EMI) where n= 1 to infinity

And after sometime, if you were to look into the mirror, you will not see yourself – just a pale shadow of that spunky youth, masquerading as you. The alien facing you has a fast receeding hairline, his paunch enters the frame before his face and you see a plethora of bills floating around him, crying for his attention. You then decide that the mirror has grown too old and replace the mirror, dismissing all these images as mirages which are fleeting and try to get back to the conundrums in your life.

The first thing is to ask ourselves what is it that we want to do or achieve in life. Rashmi Bansal, in an interesting article in rediff, talks about our need for mazza (fun), izzat (respect) and matlab (meaning) in our jobs– her spin on our good old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we crammed in our MBA classes. She cites call centre jobs as a fresher’s delight to make a fast buck which may lose its sheen later due to lack of izzat associated with it. The wannabe IT job that I am stranded with gives me the izzat but not the matlab and so there’s a requirement to get out of it. Many of these companies hire people but do not know how to utilize them and they end up as unwanted baggage. Both parties carry on this painful responsibility for too long until a point comes when you become immune to the problem or perish.

The matlab factor may be in the form of sectoral change, entrepreneurship or non-profit jobs or something weird. I am sure 90% of us are not very sure what we want to do or what we are good at. We are like bottle caps tossed up in the high seas, scattered here and there due to the gusts of wind and waves and without any destination in mind but waiting for a captain to steer us to safety some day. But this moment never arises and we regret it much later in life.

We all start with a pure paisa based approach but somewhere, some of us begin to rebel against that. This is either due to a better understanding of our needs, a sense of guilt (don’t write this off- it actually happens) or at times, just the idea to do something offbeat or challenging. The stagnation can be very difficult and requires an outlet but finding that can be equally tough. It requires us to get out of that comfort zone and think beyond the obvious.

The fact that Radio Jockeys, wedding planners and non-profit jobs are gaining some modicum of respect is a good sign but then how many of us find ourselves in such “off-beat” professions. We all need greater career counselling services to select our areas of interest and work in them, without any sense of inhibition. We live in such capsule existences that we are not aware of the various opportunities around us and so we take the off-beaten tracks of engineering and medicine. Why? Because we need to tell the society that we are gainfully employed, as per its perceptions.

As an inspiration, just check out this organization - Room to Read, started by John Wood, Microsoft’s erstwhile Director of Business Development for the Greater China Region. In 1998, John Wood was a rising executive at Microsoft when he took a vacation that changed his life. What started as a trekking holiday in Nepal became a spiritual journey, and then a mission: to change the world one book and one child at a time by setting up libraries in the developing world. He was soon driven to leave his career with only a loose vision of the change he wanted to bring to the world. Room to Read is now an award-winning non-profit organization that has established more than 3000 libraries and donated more than 2 million books and started about 200 schools. Make sure to grab a copy of the “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”, written by him, where he discusses his decisions, his quest to change the world and his current work.

I love the Tata Dicor ad which targets us, the segment of bored well-to-do class of customers and says so much more with its punch line “Reclaim your Life”. I am looking forward to live those lines…

I always wanted to quit on a Monday morning..
I always wanted to swim with the whales…
I always wanted to take a one-year trip… around the world
I always wanted…I always wanted…

Looking forward to any suggestions to live life fully and escape from the cubicles of Dilbert in which many of us find ourselves trapped in. Let’s not grow old, regretting our inability to enjoy our existence and work and lead dull dreary monotonous lives….Life’s worth so much more than that…I’d like to stop working for money but hey, who will take care of my EMIs???


  1. yes indeed, lucky are those who can do what they love, and earn a living by it. but those are few and far in between. what the rest of us can do is to perhaps love what we are doing, maybe try to be better everyday at doing it, and do it well everyday.

  2. Interesting piece of work. And I am not ashamed to disclose, I am the typical example of the character that you have mentioned herein. Every time that I join a new company, I feel that this is the work that I am going to enjoy. But after a few months of constant struggle, I realise that perhaps I deserve some thing better than this. I fail to understand that what is it that is going to make me happy at work. Money, has ceased to play a pivotal role is making me happy. Having said that, I do not undermine that money is important & that it should commensurate with the job.

    The answer to the question, “How can I be happy in the kind of job that I do?” is ever elusive. One of my ex- boss says, “You cannot enjoy work, if you start enjoying it then it’s no more a work”. Is it true? I cannot say. But at this point of time in my life, the kind of job that is going to make me happy, I guess, is something that I can relate to & not what the company wants me to relate to. The job aspects should be an extension of my self.

    But looking for such a job, entails risk…which none of us middle-class Indians are willing to take. Are we afraid of taking a risk…well, perhaps yes…but the environment in which we work & live, also do not promote taking risk. Having said that, I also want to add that it takes a lot of courage for individuals like us to work with responsibilities weighing us down, and also it requires lot of strength & courage to shoulder the average Indian middle-class responsibilities. The expenditures & expectations always overrun the resources to meet them. No matter how hard one tries, no matter what one does…there is always something more that he/she could have done & done it better. So you see that it is not always the expenses, but also the expectations that pull you down.

    Now that it is more or less settled that an average Indian will not venture out to find out his dream job, the question that remains to be answered is, “How do I make myself happy in my current job?” Again an interesting observation from a senior person I know in the industry, he says “Do not think that you are a part of a big organisation. Think at an individual level, that you are a vendor for the organisation, and that the organisation has outsourced a part of its activity to you…and you will have to retain your client to make bucks…and work with this single motive that you have to make your client happy…in the end, it is always the client who will make you more happy”. Sounds good.

    I have been trying to bring this discipline in my daily routine. However, I still believe, I deserve something better than this. And like many other Indians, I am unable to figure out “what better do I deserve than this?”

  3. Simply awesome !

    Thank u, to bring out the “Same old thought revolving in most of our mind “ .

    Truth revealed !

    Please , take care of structuring the article & avoiding few typing /grammatical errors . It would add additional credit for article .

    If u hav “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World “ , share it with me .

    Eager to read , stuffs like this .

  4. Highly impressive

    I have no words to appreciate this article.

    I think that, this might be one of the prime reasons why India as a whole is not progressing that fast. Because, many a people take up careers not out of passion but they are desperate to do so.

  5. Very insightful post and very thought provoking too.

    I have thought about this. I believe that every human gets one or more chances in his/her life to change. But, seldom do we have the strength to take it.

    I had written this earlier on life. This isn't directly related to our careers, but you might like it.

    And i feel sad because most people fail to choose humanities and the social sciences, as it is not well accepted by the society. [In south India]

  6. i suppose we as Indian's only make comments and write blogs about our problems and don't really bother taking steps to eradicate or make changes..we only crib about the various issues that cause immense pain to our feelings and have long discussions on it...then at the end of the day we end up doing nothing and retire..i guess its about time we take actions to do the needful..after all we are the "youth of the nation"..we need to bring about changes...i feel creativity or innovation should be well rewarded(i don't see that happening)...