This article was published in Management Compass in March, 2009
The extremely popular movie 3 Idiots has tried to bring out the limitations of the Indian education system in an interesting and entertaining manner. It has tried to touch upon several aspects of education rote learning, blind rate race, unrealistic material values (brands), creative teaching methods, creative and practical intelligence, deceptive grading system, over-obsession with marks and qualifications, importance of fearless attitude etc. It is impossible to elaborate on all of these in one article. It is better to focus what to my mind is the main theme of the film, which is to follow your heart, which is repeated several times in the film through the following dialogues- Woh kaam kar jisme tera talent hai… Mujhe machino se pyaar hai. Engineering mera passion hai… Ishq hai Jaanawaron se, shaadi kar raha hai machino se… Mujhe mere dil ki baat sunne dijiye… Aaj kuch naya seekhneko milega-mazaa aayega, etc.
Movies are very good for raising awareness but things also have to be seen profoundly from a more realistic perspective. There is one more dialogue in the film: “Jis kaam me mazaa aaye, usei apna Profession banao, phir kaam kaam nahin khel lagega.”
The movie reminded me of the book Your Soul at Work by two seasoned career experts who have several fortune 500 companies as clients. It states, “We blindly assess our personal value and career options on the material measurements of what we can earn or produce, rather than who we are and who we are becoming. Self-fulfillment will always and rightfully be a high priority in life and career planning. A vocation or calling is an opportunity to do something that we were uniquely created to do, something that has meaning beyond the self.”
This is basically a fancy explanation of one of the best career maxims ‘Choose your career not on the basis of what you know but who you are’. In the movie, Aamir is shown to run a school according to his own convictions and towards the end of the movie also manages to persuade his friend to pursue his passion, even if it means compromising on his material needs. He also makes fun of one character, who does engineering and MBA only to finally end up in a bank. I remember reading about girl who got 94 per cent marks in the board exam and committed suicide when her parents insisted that she take up science.
In the movie, two of the three friends know their passion but in real life to figure out what you want to do can be quite arduous. Many a times passion or deep interest is a trial and error process by working in real life, for which the education system cannot alone or always be faulted. How does one change profession? The book Your Soul at Work advocates determining a personal criteria for success, which would comprise determining true life values and preferred competencies, which may not be directly be in congruence with what one may be qualified for. This would be followed by investigative interviews of the people who are in the career paths one is aspiring for and then pinpointing the right career by filtering one’s strengths and weaknesses. It is a comprehensive, 12-step process, which shows how complex knowing oneself and trying to be in the right career can be. No wonder, “know thyself” is found time and again in management and spiritual books. Niche people, people with an artistic bent of mind and research inclined people can have the worst time in the wrong jobs.
Dr Brian A Schwartz of CareerDNA (www.careerdna.biz), which is a talent Management company, claims to be in the business of connecting passion with mission. According to him, “It is a mistake to think of the search for work fulfillment as a simple affliction of wealth. For one thing, the phenomenon is global, and not restricted to the most affluent countries or the wealthy classes. When I sit down with clients, we focus on five essential building blocks: work type and temperament, work personality, occupational and related content interests, work-related values and, most centrally, ‘skills DNA’, which is the configuration of the person’s skills they most passionately want to use in their work.” If one googles for motivated skills, there are a variety of tests which covers all sorts of activities and a variety of interests to enable one to know where exactly his interest lies in terms of functional activity and not knowledge alone. There are plenty of western sites- http://www.passioncatalyst.com, http://www.vocationalcoach.com, http://www.careerspice.com, http://www.careershifters.org. I have not really come across any Indian website that is based on this theme, though there are books on the importance of passion by a few
authors. A recent article in Mail Today gave examples of famous Indian and foreign dropouts who went on to do very well in real life- Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Pritam, Rajiv Gandhi (dropped out twice), Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Farhan Akhtar and AR Rahman apart from American writer Woody Allen, Media Moghul Ted Turner and well-known director Steven Spielberg. This lecture by Steve Jobs to Stanford University on the importance of loving one’s work and how he dropped out from college is worth listening to http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die.html. All this clearly indicates that it is possible to be very successful without formal education by following one’s passion. To me, it also implies that people should not be judged by degrees alone, which can be deceptive.
On the posters of the movie and its official website, it’s written: “Chase excellence and success will follow”. If excellence implies following one’s passion, success in terms of personal fulfillment would probably ensue but commercial success depends upon a lot many variables in the external world, like consumer preferences at any given time, to which one’s competencies may or may not be aligned. In his autobiography Double Life, Alyque Padmsee explains how he used one career (advertisement) to fund his real passion (theatre) throughout his life, as theatre does not pay. In a recent interview to India Today, while answering a question on the future of test cricket vis-à-vis instant cricket, Sachin Tendulkar stated that all formats should be given due respect and further explained, “It is good to be multidimensional; you earn money out of it and you live your passion.” Cricketers are almost unanimous on one issue: instant cricket maybe more lucrative but it is test cricket that is the true test of skills and temperament and therefore their real passion. In my view, people whose passions do not pay well are better off identifying them as early as possible or they will probably be drained financially and emotionally in the long run, as career transition is tough even in the western world.
Another highlight of the movie was the ‘chamatkar-balatkar’ speech, which raised quite a few laughs. It is fine to see things in a lighter vein in the movie but real life can be drastically different. I remember one case from Po Bronson’s What Should I Do with my Life, where the concerned work misfit says about his future job change, “Now, I will settle for nothing but a 24 hour high.” In my previous articles I mentioned “lifetime imprisonment” and “spiritual suicide” mentioned by a couple of writers. It is very much a mental and emotional rape (balatkar) and coming out of it can be a miracle (chamatkar) for many, considering that career transition expertise does not exist in India, the way it is the western world.
“Zara si himmat kar lete, Zindagi aur ho sakti thi” has been used both for Kareena Kapoor’s wedding and by Aamir to coax his friend to photography and reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s advice about being extremely careful about making the two most important decisions of one’s life — spouse and career. The movie could have pointed out that since one has to work for a majority of waking hours, one cannot afford to make a wrong career decision anyway. In real life, people do not have the courage to switch careers because of money, status, title etc and it is the job of career transition coaches to facilitate that.