Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pursuing passions...

I don't know if its just me. Perhaps, as usual, I am thinking too much. But the more I discuss and interact with people particularly in my age group, I am convinced that life crises are likely to occur amongst people much sooner these days. And its not easy to understand why, because when measured on traditional yardsticks, nothing really seems wrong.

The generation of our parents was truly a transformational generation. When they were our age, they did not inherit a comfortable support system. There was little time to think about job satisfaction and career progression. There were several priorities which demanded their time and attention. They had to set up things from scratch. They focused on having a steady job, a steady income, a decent place to live, education for kids, so on and so forth ad infinitum. With assiduous efforts, at the end of a period of 25-30 years, they were able to build a self-sustaining system. That system is what our generation has inherited.

Many of us started out with our first jobs knowing that they were an extra, an indulgence in the sense that there was no pressure on us to support the family. Yet somehow, our inherited values and the education system juxtaposed in a way which has ensured that we are still continuing to look at careers with the same scarcity mentality & steady income approach with which our parents used to. In their case, it was a necessity, and hats off to them for all their hard work. For many of us though, this was not the case. Yet, we have continued to value those sort of careers and degrees where cash flows are seen as most regular, instead of focusing on those possible avenues which we would enjoy pursuing and perform best in.

I am not saying that we are all doing things we hate doing. Many of us are probably fine with the things that we are pursuing. We may be good at them too. But are they tasks which we really enjoy? Have we made enough efforts to even understand what it is that excites and motivates us the most? I don't think so. Many of us have ended up where we have much the way the "case default" mode works in computer programming languages. Unless one takes the trouble of actively evaluating and then zeroing in on what he/she truly wants to do, one will end up doing what everyone does "by default". So, at different points of time, as the "defaults" kept changing - government service, medicine, engineering, IT, management; so did our career choices.

With the result that many people today are simply stuck in a rut. They are all doing things, one step to the next. The next promotion, the next "right" job switch, the marriage. Ticking off things on a checklist which they haven't made themselves, but which is the default template available in God's version of Word. No one is customizing the checklist.

Most of us know that we are stuck, with varying degrees of awareness. We acknowledge it. We even recognize what steps are needed to break away. And yet we are unable to proceed. One doesn't need to compulsorily make sudden disruptive changes and go hungry and foolish overnight. Some steps in the right direction over a period of time can definitely help in achieving a satisfactory equilibrium. The problem is we focus too much on the end result and too little on the process. It is like the man who loses his ring in a dark corner of the road but searches for it under the streetlight, because thats easier to do. The man forgets that he's far better off searching for it in the darkness where there's at least some chance of him finding it. We make the same mistakes. We stick to the comfort of a known path which we know has no chance of taking us to our destination, instead of the unknown path which has some chances.

I find it difficult to believe that one can be content with defining goals solely in terms of milestones and destinations. Goals must also include the processes. They must include what will transpire between the milestones. The journey. If life has to be lived through, surely thinking only of milestones is not enough because they will comprise less than 1% of the time that we spend. More than 99% of our time will be the things we do. In fact the most powerful way of goal setting is to let the milestone get derived as a logical consequence of the journey. Don't say you want to be the most famous actor in the world. Say that you love acting and really enjoy it and are passionate about it. Then say that you would be happy if in the process of acting, you end up becoming a famous actor. It's much more powerful when you state it in this manner, because your happiness is tied to the process of you acting and is not contingent on and limited to the moment when you become a famous actor.

Of course its difficult. Recognizing what one wants to do is not easy. But one needs to keep trying. I remember a course on personality development I had undertaken long back. The trainer told us a simple technique to try and identify our passions in life. He said: ponder, reflect and think - What is the one thing which you are prepared to do all your life, even if you don't get paid, even if other people don't take any interest in it? That's your passion. The desire to pursue it stays no matter how many the hardships. Its the thing you always manage to find time for. The thing you have energy to pursue at the fag end of a tiring day when you think you would drop off to sleep any moment, but you still end up doing.

It needs dedication and sustained efforts to achieve any sort of results. Breaking the inertia is very difficult. But if not done, it is certain that a time will come when one way or the other you are forced to drop everything and wonder what you are doing in life. Let that not be a forced outcome. Let it be a conscious choice.


  1. i agree with the breaking the inertia part!!!!!it is the most difficult part!!!!:)

  2. you can name the post .. hangover ;)

  3. @CPD: Thanks!
    @Anupama: Agreed!
    @Chhutku: More like Hanging On :-)

  4. Very true... I can very much relate to the part of "you think you would drop off to sleep any moment, but you still end up doing." :)

  5. Steve Job once said in a speech that every morning when you see the mirror ask yourself that today whatever i am going to do, would I like to do for lifetime? If the answer is NO for significant number of days then something is wrong.

  6. Very well written, most things you've said are true in the Indian context. Fortunate or not most of us inherit the blinkered race horse trait from our parents. Any deviations from a set path is seen as an opportunity to be frowned upon. This puts undue expectations and pressure on an individual. I've always pointed myself to the stat that an average man changes his career 7 times in his lifetime. One day I know, I shall write a book. Even if only for my kids. :)

  7. @Sankalp: So true!
    @Pingabhi: Thanks! What you have said is right :-) Don't leave the book for one day; Start today!!!