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.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Beggars Are Also Choosers...

Life''s little moments never cease to amaze me in their capacity to remind and instruct. What follows is a tale of three beggars with whom I interacted today.

As is my wont these days, I left from my office just after 5 PM. My cab stopped at the CST signal. Several times, an old lady is present there (the same old lady mentioned in my previous note), seeking alms from those willing to give.

I have developed a habit of carrying some small packets of Parle G biscuits. I prefer to give those to anyone on the streets in need, whom I encounter. I have come across the CST lady quite a few times earlier as well. Since she doesn't have fingers, I usually tear the packet and give it to her. I did the same today, and the lady was simply delighted. A smile of sublime radiance spread across her face and she exclaimed "Thanks! Thanks! I will have this with tea" I noted with great satisfaction how the lady chose to gracefully accept and be happy with what came her way. That is the kind of choice even a beggar can exercise.

The next beggar I encountered was at the National College signal in Bandra. Another old lady. She was scanning the vehicles and their passengers, looking for open windows. All of a sudden she caught my eye, and started moving towards my cab. I took out a packet and gave it to her. She took it, observed it for a moment, placed it on the window and walked away.

For a fleeting moment - the kind of moment which feels much longer than would be measured by a watch - I was shocked. A beggar refused what came her way. How can a beggar refuse? But then it dawned upon me that that was the whole point - even if beggars can't choose what comes their way, they can choose whether to accept or reject what does come.

Which brings me to the third beggar. Myself. Wasn't I also a beggar? Wasn't I begging for the intoxication of giving, the heady realization of being placed in a position to help others in need? Once I realized that, I knew what I had to do with the packet. I opened it, and ate all the biscuits.

It was my arrogance which sought to make me humble. I accepted what even the rejected had rejected. Purely symbolic, no doubt. But a reminder that not only are all beggars choosers, but that all choosers are also beggars...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A decision

A decision is not that which is simple. Its not the shirt you choose to wear to work. Its not the packet of biscuits you hand over to the old desitute lady at the CST signal.

A decision is the one that rips your innards part. It is what leaves you with sleepless nights, as your mind gives form to the outcomes of various choices, conjuring up multiple scenarios with amazing alacrity. You reach out to those forms but they fade away like wisps of smoke.

A decision is that which makes you give up what you are for what you think you can be. That's why its so damn difficult. You have to choose a possibility over an existing state. And the possibility is your expectation of it. It's not a given. You stand naked before your judgment.

A decision is between multiple rights. Multiple points of view. There is a lot of chatter, a lot of noise. You have to cut out the noise, and synchronize with the tune playing in your mind. Let it play. Louder and louder.

A decision is that which confuses you. Between what you want should happen, and what you think will happen.

A decision has serious stakes. Dead earnest, serious, stakes. It's consequences are hard-coded. There is no undo.

A decision does not always make you happy or sad. It's always grey. There are always mixed feelings.

A decision is always taken under incomplete information. With complete information, there is no need for a decision. You have to connect the dots. Fill in the blanks. It will always make you wonder if you have missed out on something. That typical feeling when you leave home, wondering if there's something you forgot to carry along.

A decision is not always between choices that you want. It is between the choices that you have. Or perceive that you have.

A decision is not deterministic. There are no answers at the back of the textbook. There can't be an answer, because there never was a question.

A decision cannot be taken by a machine. Because it involves constructing visions.

A decision, is what makes you human...