3 idiots

February 16, 2010

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.

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Lateral career transition

December 29, 2009

This article was published in Management Compass in the month of February, 2009

Lateral moves

Talent could be tapped from a most unrelated field

A recent issue of Aspire, published by the India today group, carried a feature on unconventional careers. In it, the CEO of Shaadionline, Jai Raj Gupta stated that some of his best wedding planners had come not from event management schools but from other professions. Though Gupta asserted that event management is best learnt on the job, that is true to a lesser or greater degree in other fields as well, which paves the way for natural talent to come out. Sometimes the best talent is misplaced in other fields. According to former HRD consultants Morgan and Banks, the famous general electric CEO Jack Welch, on recognising the business abilities of three lawyers that he hired was able to place them accordingly and all three of them were successful and became the heads of GE’s aviation finance operation, GE’s business development and GE Japan respectively. Similarly Darwin Smith is a lawyer who is supposed to have turned around the American company Kimberly Clark, a paper company.

Though natural talent is defined as a kind of intuitive sense or ability, one can explain it perhaps in terms of declarative and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is knowledge about something. Procedural knowledge is knowledge of how to do something. For example, declarative knowledge is what you have when you read and understand the instructions for programming the DVD player. Procedural knowledge is what you demonstrate when you programme the DVD player. Knowing need not follow doing in sports, vocation or certain occupations. I have experienced repeatedly that people who have a natural ability or “How to” of something are able to do so well without any or much formal instruction and some may not be able to do it or demonstrate it despite having good declarative knowledge. It reminds of a quote by BF Skinner: “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” What has survived was probably already there and therefore never went, which to my mind is innate procedural knowledge. With the coming of the internet, anybody can have declarative knowledge if he knows the basic terminologies.

Whether or not they come from other industries, people doing very well without any formal qualifications have always been a fascination with me. In his book New Age Philosophy from Ancient Wisdom, which is based on inspirations drawn from the Tamil Veda, The Thirukural, author V Srinivasan says, “There is an abundance of information available that lots of people with no formal qualification in management — or, at times, no formal education at all — have been successful at managing their departments or enterprises. There are also several examples of literally uneducated businesspersons who have run their businesses often fairly large ones very successfully. “ In his book, Know-How, management consultant Ram Charan, while explaining the underlying reasons why leaders succeed and fail says, “Education didn’t seem to matter. One leader at this company had little formal education yet was succeeding while another, a Baker Scholar from Harvard Business School, was failing. The so-called born leaders tended to make colossal mistakes while seemingly unremarkable leaders knew what they were doing.” Only practical activity can separate the wheat from the chaff. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is proving to be a superb leader in all forms of cricket, though he had not led any team in domestic cricket before being asked to lead India.

A recent business example is Gautam Adnani. A recent India Today issue gave details of how Adnani’s phenomenal rags to riches story could be a case study at Harvard Business School. Adnani is a matriculate from a Gujarati medium school and has still to master spoken English. In 1980, Adnani was an ordinary worker in a Mumbai diamond processing unit earning a salary of Rs 1000/- a month. Today he straddles over a vast empire with a turnover of Rs 23,000 crore. This year he was named as the 10th richest man in India by Forbes. One executive who left the Ambanis to join him states, “Having no formal management education allows him to think tangentially out of the box and achieve stupendous results.” Some have even started comparing him to Dhirubhai Ambani, who was himself a school dropout, an exceptionally good tangential thinker and someone who believed in looking at individual initiative and potential rather than paper qualifications in management roles.

One other case worth mentioning is Rajinder Gupta, CEO and managing director of Trident group, who dropped out of school in the IXth grade but now has a turnover of 2,100 crore. Other well-known cases are commerce graduates steel baron Laxmi Mittal, Bharti Telecom chairman Sunil Mittal and Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal, who have done very well for themselves considering their modest academic credentials. There are many here who might say that they are running empires with the help of MBAs. That may be true but one has to be sufficiently successful and reasonably big to be able to attract good talent and to do that without formal qualifications is quite a feat.

It is interesting how people from other areas do well in certain other disciplines. The patriarchs of the two main Bollywood families, Prithviraj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan came from law and the corporate world respectively. Both our world cup winning captains, Kapil Dev and Mahendra Singh Dhoni came from football. Even in politics, all the great leaders who struggled for Independence — Nehru, Gandhi and Patel — were lawyers initially. It is a well-known fact that Jawaharlal Nehru’s father, Motilal Nehru was a very rich and successful lawyer. According to the book Nehru, the Invention of India by Shashi Tharoor, Jawaharlal Nehru was no great shakes as a lawyer but threw himself wholeheartedly into the freedom struggle with zest and determination that he even spent over 10 years in British Jails. Gandhi himself is known more for his integrity as a lawyer than being a legal luminary but made a great saint politician.
In the context of qualifications and natural talent, Nehru’s case is particularly interesting. The above mentioned book states, “Had Nehru been good at taking exams, he might have followed his father’s wishes and joined the ICS but his modest level of academic achievement made it clear that he stood no chance of succeeding in the demanding ICS examination. Officials did not become statesmen. It is one of the ironies of history that had Jawaharlal Nehru been a higher achiever in his youth, he might never have attained the political heights he did in adulthood.” Sometimes when one looks at the success of naturally gifted people, it does seem an irony of education that formal education maybe a hindrance in their way because there have been instances of Nobel prize winners saying that lack of structured education enabled them to think creatively. Elsewhere in the above book, it is mentioned that Nehru was an intellectual dreamer who gave expression to ideas but not to their implementation. It could be expressed as good declarative knowledge but poor procedural knowledge.

In an advertisement that appeared for a unique business school in Delhi, this is what was mentioned “This B-school does not look at a very big batch-size so that proper attention is given to students individually, and believes in imparting education more through kineasthetic techniques rather than through theory classes. The punchline for this B-school is ‘A different experience in learning’. The institute offers guidance and hand-holding in theory and plenty of exposure to experiential learning. The faculty team comprises of highly motivated individuals who have carefully designed their course content to ensure that an individual not only picks up the basic principles of theory, but also learns how to react in real time situations.” These days there is a lot of emphasis on applied management. It seems that the conventional MBA education is proving inadequate. Many engineers are given employability training where apart from learning colloquial English, they are trained to think on their feet in maths to acquire good commercial sense. It seems that the conventional education took these simple skills for granted. Similarly, it seems that they have also taken operative business skills for granted just by imparting declarative knowledge which is why the emphasis on applied management now.

Marcus Buckingham, who is one of the 50 top management thinkers and has done a lot of work in talent management, also says that according to his research, only 20 per cent of the people utilise their strength at work. This could be because people with the procedural knowledge of one industry may have ended up with the declarative knowledge of another industry and confusing that knowledge for real intelligence or talent. Normally the promotions are done linearly but lateral entry maybe allowed for whatever reasons. Two books — Achieving a Dream career by Morgan and Banks and What should I do With My Life by Po Bronson — give a detailed list of career switches, some of which are listed here:

l From actor to recruitment specialist
l From doctor to sportswriter
l From teacher to sports administrator
l From secretary to business owner
l From lawyer to executive recruiter
l From lawyer to celebrity manager and promoter
l From biology to advertising
l From accountant to fashion designer
l From PR to gardening
l From geologist to inspector
l From CPA to website programmer
l From poet to chef

What is intriguing is why so many people want to switch careers? According to Australian consultant, Kelly services, “There are basically three types of employees- engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees love their jobs and believe in their employer, the company’s goals, and the manner in which they conduct business. Disengaged employees (also called “not-engaged”) look at their jobs as trading time for money. They show up for work at the proper time, leave the workplace at the agreed upon time, and do little in between beyond the minimum effort required to complete their job. Actively disengaged employees are the true problem area of staff chemistry and company performance. Not only unhappy at work, they typically demonstrate, in word and deed, their dislike of their jobs and/or employer. The Gallup Organization conducted a study over a five-year period regarding employee beliefs and actions. During the survey period, the cost to companies of keeping actively disengaged employees was tracked and monitored. Gallup estimates that the decreased productivity and performance fostered by actively disengaged employees’ costs US businesses around $300 bn annually.”

Marcus Buckingham has defined strengths and weaknesses precisely; he says that any activity that invigorates you is your strength and vice-versa for weaknesses. The issue is how does a disengaged employee try the activities of a different industry or career because that is the only way to find out for sure whether or not one is suited for that. A managing director of a public limited company once told me that if you have been taken for finance and exhibit a flair and interest for marketing, that can always be arranged but if in your interview you want to be taken for marketing without the relevant experience, nobody is going to take you for presumed talent.

Supposing there is a qualification for cricket — bachelor of cricket and master of cricket. After all the knowledge of cricket is thrust in, if the person goes out to play and discovers that he does not like or is not good at the activities — bowling, batting or fielding, what does he do? The training he has received is to think like a strategist or perhaps a captain but he has to be a good player first. A lot of conventional management education is like that. It trains the person to be a good analyst but reveals nothing about performing skills, leading to so many workshops on them. The system of chartered accountancy is a little strange in the sense that only a certain percentage of the result is preordained. It is not uncommon to come across chartered accountants who say that luck is as important as intelligence and hard work in passing such an exam. A practicing chartered accountant in Mumbai told me that an acquaintance, though equally or even more intelligent in certain areas, has not been able to clear the formal exams despite more than 25 attempts. What colossal effort and patience! He does all the practical work very well but cannot sign the balance sheet as he is not well qualified. Maybe a proactive talent management system which can actually test practical working ability could be better in such cases. On the other extreme, a qualification is a piece of paper if non-talented people are not able to live up to it.

Sometimes over obsession with qualifications can lead to tragic consequences. Unless one is being tested for analytical or research oriented jobs, an activity based assessment system is bound to be more accurate. That apart, it is not always easy for practicing managers to be abreast of knowledge. Estimates indicate that it took approximately 1750 years for the first doubling of knowledge, 150 years for the second doubling, 50 years for the third and only 10 years for the fourth. The fifth doubling may take five years and thereafter less than one year. With the kind of tumultuous changes expected in the 21st century, keeping abreast for practicing managers is indeed a tall order. That is perhaps the reason why designations like chief learning officers or learning and development officers are in vogue. It reminds of one of the opt-repeated quotes of George Bernard Shaw, “Those, who can do, do. Else they teach.” This is a clear distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. Perhaps the organisations of the future will all be like this where people who lack functional talent will teach, since a lot of money is spent on training despite formal management education anyway.

Recently, after the Mumbai attack, The Times of India on one of the suggestions as to what the new home minister should do stated, “Make the agencies that tackle terrorism professional and allow lateral entry of best talent” The word lateral entry implies that the best talent could be elsewhere and need not follow the conventional, hierarchical, vertical movement. One does not have to wait for severe adversity for detecting talent diversity. If only it could be detected proactively at a university.


Beware-Right occupation does not guarantee commercial success.

February 2, 2008

The objective of this Blog was to create an awareness of the significance of hobbies or interest or passion in one’s life. Two of the best quotes that I have come across in this context and mentioned in my articles- a hobby is more a measure of a man than his profession is and the luckiest man is the person whose hobby and profession are the same. We take hobbies to be a sort of side- activity but in many cases it turns out to be the main acitivity. When I did my management diploma course in August 1991, we were taught self actualization according to which after the basic needs of food, shelter, cothing one aspired for social affiliation and security and self actualization which implied achieving one’s potential and getting recognition for the same. The way it turned out to be in real life at least for me was drastically different from what was taught to us. When I pointed this out to one of the professors who had taught me, he got back to me after one month and requested me to address the students in their newsletter which is represented in the blog by the article “ Guidance to Management students”

All hobbies cannot become professions is an obvious fact for the simple reason that all acitivites do not pay well. The best example which I have mentioned in one of my published articles is that of an American Entreupreneur, who, when asked how he had the guts to leave a six figure salary simply replied “such decisions can only be made if the personal profile, the business profile, and the market profile match”. Not to give importance to money would be equally foolish and unnaturally idealistic.
For most people, emotional fulfillment alongwith financial security can only be a long term objective.

Some people may be lucky to find their vocation at a young age- it may or may not be paying. If it is paying, that would be doubly lucky.

Some people may not be extreme misfits and therefore may not mind being in the wrong occupation if it pays well.

Some people may not give too much importance to job satisfaction and personal fulfillment.- Some housewives for instance who believe in giving equal or more emphasis to their family.

Some people may lead a double life and follow both profession and hobby as former Lintas Chairman, Mr Alyque Padamsee.

Some people may have to rot in the wrong profession throughout life in which case apart from Yoga, they should do Zen meditation and read my article on Making the best of a bad career situation- http://spirituality.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2178426.cms
Even if you are able to follow your paying passion at an early age, nobody can guarantee commercial success which is why one should also plan for an alternative career. The objective of this blog is mearly to create awareness of the significance of this problem and not to undermine formal education.


Ta Ra Rum pum- Taxi Drivers and Dreams

May 18, 2007

In the context of choosing one’s career it is often said “Choose your career not on the basis of what you know but who you are” . Motivation speakers often exhort to “Follow your heart/dream”. I read in a book how artists live a lifetime of penury , actors take rejection after rejection, animal lovers put up with apalling work conditions- all for the love of their professions

In that context, in the movie Ta Ra Rum Pum, actor Javed Jaffrey mentions in the beginning how people follow their heart, their dreams but when they get broken, they become taxi-drivers to support themselves (in New York as mentioned in the movie). The lead actor, Saif Ali Khan when reduced to penury from being a car racer also has to turn to the taxi to support himself.

This reminded me of an article that appeared in the Times of India two three years ago which stated how a child psychologist whose passion was driving, actually turned to the taxi to support his dream instead of the broken dream as stated in the movie. It sounds quite unbelievable but is true:-

“Driven by Passion” by lov Verma

“Kenny was his name. A genial six footer, African American. He was invariably dressed in a black overcoat and a black and white patterned muffler. A rich and resonant southern drawl which could give the Big B a run for his money, completed the picture. He looked like a kindly college professor but I was in for a shock when he introduced himself. “Hi! I am your driver around Washington DC” he grinned. His eyes twinkled, “I shall be your friend, philosopher and guide”.

Unwittingly, Kenny was of great help to me one evening. The wife with a knowing gleam in her eye, suggested a shopping expedition. This was going to burn a nice deep hole in the pocket. In the interest of marital peace, I put on a brave face and summoned Kenny. The man , blessed his soul, drove us down to the true value chain of shops, owned and managed by –you guessed it- blacks. The prices suited my pocket and I came away beaming. The wife, meanwhile is still wondering why people rave about Washington’s shopping malls.

It took an ankle sprain for me to get to know Kenny more intimately. While my friends hit the Washington Museum trail, I hobbled back to the car where Kenny was snoring. He awoke soon enough and seemed ready to chat. “Tell me something about your life ,Kenny”, I urged.

Well, he responded,” You may find it somewhat difficult to believe but I was a professor of child psychology for ten years, then I got kind of bored with it. So I thought “Why not give my childhood passion, driving, a try and now here I am, doing what I love, for the last fifteen years.”

I gaped “ Was it not a huge climb-down in terms of status and all?”

“Of, course it was, “Kenny grinned. “Lots of raised eyebrows but I have always felt that one must do what one must do, what one enjoys and believes in. The world can go to blazes for all I care. “

By the time Kenny drove us to New York and finally left, I could not but reflect that he had taught me some great lessons about life. ”

_______________

I personally feel that the lesson learnt is that no work is superior or inferior but it is the spirit with which you carry it out that matters. There is a saying “It is a man who dignifies a job and not a job that dignifies a man” which is amply proved by the story. It reminded me of a chance meeting with a bus conductor in my conducted tour on my trip to Singapore last year. He was speaking very good English and his presentation was too good to be true. I was prompted to query his background. He replied that he was a retired bureaucrat but did the job because he liked it and was proud to be from Singapore.

Since the writer has referred to the Big B or our super dignified superstar, Mr Amitabh Bachchan who himself left the corporate world to pursue his passion, acting the result is there for all to see. In an interview he mentioned the secret of his success” I was able to decide correctly early in life that I wanted to become an actor. I have come across several people in my life who do not know what to do with themselves”. Everybody cannot be a mega success like him but being able to spend a majority of your waking hours in the right occupation is a dream by itself:-

“The person who has found his vocation in life is a blessed human being. Let him ask for no other blessedness”- Thomas Carlyle.


A double life- Heart or Mind; Money or Passion in choosing one’s career.

March 7, 2007

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Text Version of the article

A Double Life-Heart or Mind- Passion or Money in choosing one’s career- Which one would you choose? Heart or brain? Money or passion? It is worth making your passion your profession than to live a double life, says HIREN SHAH

It is not uncommon in today’s stress-prone world to come across questions like “how to be successful in one’s profession, spiritually?” The word spirituality implies peace, happiness, balance, and equanimity, probability of achieving which becomes much greater when you are in the profession of your choice.

Swami Vivekanand said , “materialism and spirituality are two wings of the same bird.” In this context, the debate on money vs passion is best explained by seven-time world billiards champion Geet Sethi in his book Success vs Joy. Sethi always followed his heart focused on billiards and became a champion besides completing his MBA from the University school of Management, Ahmedabad..

Though Sethi focused on billiards, his friend Sunil Aggarwal did the opposite. Though he shared his passion on billiards, he focused on his IIM and IIT and achieved the exalted social status as the managing director of a company, “a feeling of inadequacy and failure dogged me continuously, which was primary because of lack of achievement in what he considered to be his true passion- the billiards table.”

After exposure to the game for only a few months at the age of 13, Sethi got addicted to billiards. “To experience joy, you have to be yourself. I realised that joy for me can only come from what I do with passion. It has to involve me physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Sethi. “I have spent countless hours in complete solitude trying to align myself with my natural being. The ultimate experience is the joy of making a full effort in reaching out to the core within. It is the act of staying in the moment that gives immense, immeasurable joy. That joy is not a state of nirvana; it is the result of a moment of absolute concentration. I played for the sheer joy of the moment,” writes Sethi in his book.

The natural state of oneness with being can only be possible when one is present in the moment, according to the wonderful book The Power of Now. Besides conscious efforts, this happens naturally when one loses awareness of space and time in doing what one enjoys doing the most. It is also said that the luckiest man is the person whose hobby and profession are the same, but how many such examples do we come across?

Follow your passion
Team Tennis is an Indian tennis academy started by Aditya Sachdeva, Jaideep Bhatia, and Sanjay Minotra———–all tennis enthusiasts. Aditya graduated in commerce but was not interested in the family business of distribution of FMCG products. Bhatia completed his MBA in international business from the University of Bridgeport in USA and also worked for Price Cooper before following his heart. While Sanjay Minotra, also an MBA, was already a director in his father’s tennis court installation company,. the other two were dissatisfied with their professions as their heart lay somewhere else..

Their attitude is summed up by Bhatia “Tennis had always been a part of our lives and it is more about our own happiness,” Aditya, Jaideep, and Sanjay share a common passion with India tennis ace Vijay Amritraj, who revealed in his autobiography that his worst nightmare would be to be forced in a business not of his liking just to support his family. All this only goes to show that a hobby is more a measure of a man than his profession is.

Make a life, not a living
“Make a life, not a living”——-goes a common saying, which is true for Ajay Maira. Maira, Director, Outdoor Adventures India, is the pioneer of whitewater rafting in India and is now a veteran outdoorsman. He completed his schooling from the Lawrence, Sanawar, apart from being brought up in the natural ambience of an agricultural farm in Panipat. Around the time he graduated, his family shifted to Delhi. Having been so close to nature, he found city life too stifling and could not resist his true calling———-adventure sports. Having bumped into and begun with some Canadian rafters ,in December 1985 while still in college, he managed to covert his passion to his full-time profession over a period of two decades. He now organizes river rafting, trekking, student adventure camps, corporate wilderness workshops, etc. His partner Pavane Mann, completed her masters in Spanish and history, but joined Ajay as her passion also lies in nature.

Sayings like “don’t work for a living”, “find a hobby that pays”, are many but how many of us actually achieve it. Mr S P Shah is a chartered accountant who was working with the Anand group of companies in 1978, when the chairman asked him to look into the possibility of turning around a small sick company of his brother-in-law. While working in that small company part time for six months, Shah took out time for his real passion———–the share market. He realized he would get an opportunity for all round exposure and personal growth in the smaller setup than a specialized job in a bigger company. He managed to turn the company around in four years and got a partnership on the strength of his management skills. Against everybody including his chairman, he consciously took a decision to “be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond.” Over the next two decades, Shah progressed in all spheres as he could dabble freely in the stock market.

Take decisions consciously
However, the saying “choose your career not on the basis of what you know but who you are”, does not go true for all. Niki Kantawala, a 41-year-old lawyer, plays hockey over the weekends without fail and declares candidly, “I don’t mind playing hockey all seven days, but unfortunately that’s not possible.” He adds realistically, “even if I had succeeded in playing for India, I would have thought twice before choosing to opt for a career in hockey for the simple reason that it does not pay well. So I satisfy my passion by playing it even today.”

In my own case, though I have good writing skills and feel passionately for it, I always took it as a hobby and never pursued it as a full time profession. Today, after putting in years in the corporate world, I realized that my satisfaction and happiness lies in writing. Concentration while writing comes spontaneously, while for business tasks I have to concentrate consciously.

Unfortunately, except for some career consultants in the United States, nobody focuses on the two major ingredients for making the right career decision——-functional talent and passion. Most career consultants are unanimous that career transition is a long, arduous, and time-consuming process. It is ironical that one can reach outer space within a few hours but something like one’s own vocation, which is so fundamental to individual happiness and society’s productivity takes years.

On the right side of age…
From my experience, I strongly feel that the decision to switch jobs gets progressively difficult with age. The chances of both success and joy improve considerably if one is able to pinpoint one’s real interest at an early age. “Catch them young” or “the early bird catches the worm”, applies here more than anything else.

It must be pointed out here that everybody who chooses to follow his/her heart does not necessarily succeed commercially. An American entrepreneur, when complimented on being able to leave his six figure salary to pursue his passion of opening a chain of food stores, said, “such decisions can only be made if the personal profile, the business profile, and the market profile match.” Former Lintas Chairmnan Alyque Padamsee in his autobiography A Double Life reveals about the sacrifices he had to make while straddling with two careers. Eminent novelist and India’s representative at the United Nations Shashi Tharoor talks of the same experience when he says, “the full-time writer is a rare breed anywhere”.

There’s nothing wrong in traversing two paths——–if plan A fails, plan B has to be ready according to management experts. But the question is which should be Plan A and which should be B? Is the heart given its due importance while deciding?

Walk the path
Geet Sethi elaborates, “there is a difference in knowing the path and walking the path.” He admits, “I was fortunate to discover so early in life what I wanted to do.”
Best selling author Dale Carnegie said 50 years ago, “it is a pity that so many bright, young people coming out of educational institutions do not know exactly what they want to do.” The word education itself is based on the Latin word Educere, meaning to bring out what is already in instead of stuffing facts. Many Indian intellectuals like Shri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekanand and spiritual stalwarts like Osho have said this all throughtout their lives. But does that really happen?

People tend to be more money-centric when young, but by the time they reach midlife, many of them may feel suffocated and frustrated. Nanette Hucknall in her book Karma, Destiny and Career, writes, “no matter how important or well paying your job is, if it is not your life’s work, you will always find something wrong with it. The experience of wholeness or inner peace comes only when one is fulfilling one’s full potential.” That this is the true spiritual experience is conveyed by the fact that in the United States one can come across examples like a child psychologist becoming a taxi driver, an established accountant wanting to be a carpenter, men wanting to be nurses, etc. One can be moneyed and yet unhappy. Fortunately, sites like careerspice.com have taken the lead by stating passions, strengths and skills specifically, and in that order to enable people to decide and pinpoint what they want to do.

There are several prominent Indian examples
of people who made significant career changes. Amitabh Bachchan made a switch from corporate life to films; chartered accountants Shekhar Kapur and Abhijeet became director and singer, respectively. Music composers A R Rehman and Shanker shifted from civil and software engineering, respectively.

Commitment with passion
Cricketer of the century Kapil Dev always stressed the need to enjoy the game. Chairman of cricket selectors and former cricketing great, Dilip Vengsarkar, when asked which job he found toughest——-playing, officiating, or selecting, replied “there is no such thing as tough when you are passionate about cricket. All roles are satisfying, having the commitment to stay in them is important”. Is that kind of commitment possible without passion?

Geet Sethi had to often put in 14 hours of practice and also stresses the importance of the role played and the sacrifices made by his family. Says he, “my wife in fact calls me a very boring person because I am obsessed with billiards. I now try to find a balance,” he grins. “But she understands that the joy I derive overrides everything else. Imagine the plight of a person who finds his passion late in life——-since that is also a genuine need that has to be satisfied, both for making up for the past and for professional success, one would have to work much harder.

Last but not the least, one life worth mentioning is of the great inventor Thomas Edison, who said, “success is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.” The same man also said, “I never worked all my life. It was all fun.” He is the man who used to put in 18-hour workdays and often slept in his laboratory. Most great industrialists have put in long hours while establishing themselves. One wonders whether that kind of perspiration is possible without sufficient inspiration or joy in one’s work.

The writer specialises in writing articles on career misfits.


Real life stories of people who made their passions their professions.

October 21, 2006

Among all the American consultants that I have mentioned in my links, previous posts and articles. I have found both the life story and work of Craig Nathanson the most inspiring. Co-sufferers have defined the wrong occupation as “spiritual suicide” and “lifetime imprisonment”. Craig, more than anybody else has made the career transition process(studies show that it can take anything between three to five years)seem smoother if not easier.

Among the numerous comments to my previous posts that I have recd so far, I don’t recall reading a single optimistic comment regarding career transition’s feasibility is . Most people say that they agree with me but beyond a stage, compromise becomes inevitable.

I have always been of the view that career consultants are happiness counsellors since a majority of time is spent at work. I feel that Craig, more than anybody else lives upto that description. He has also been kind enough to share the inspiring stories of many of his clients. Before we proceed to that, let’s have his life story from the great man himself (extract from his webstie):-

“After 25 years in Corporate America being good at what I did, but never liking it, I walked away. I walked away from faceless products, faceless bosses and pointless meetings. Over the next 4 years, I pursued my life’s passion — helping others of my age find the will and the strength to pursue their own passions. This change has given me peace and joy because I am now living my life with authenticity and integrity, and I am now being true to who I really am. But this change did not come without a price.I had to give up my million dollar house and I ended up in bankruptcy. The best I could afford was a 400 square foot, one bedroom apartment. Living an authentic life also meant that I could no longer stay in my lifeless and abusive marriage. As you can imagine, this was a very difficult time and there were days I wasn’t sure that I would be able to feed my kids. I remember once trying to find a pawn shop to sell my wedding ring to buy food. But we grew closer as a family and we had many fun-filled pizza and popcorn nights at home on the floor (no furniture!). Although I didn’t plan for this extreme situation, I did want to teach my kids a lesson about life and authenticity and what it meant to have integrity. Will you go homeless or die?You probably won’t die but you may have to re-define what homeless means. Following your vocational passion is not easy. It may be the hardest thing you will ever do.

I had days with no money, no gas and little food for the kids to eat. Yet somehow, someway, I always managed to come through when it counted.Even as I went through this time of crisis, I wrote and published a book, started a private practice, and started teaching, speaking and creating CDs and other products all targeted at those over 40.

My father’s suicide not long after his retirement just served to strengthen my belief that we all should be doing what we love. If he had found and pursued his life’s passion, perhaps he would still be alive today.One of the things that got me through was my deep belief in my new life mission: that the world would be a better place if we all did what we love.

I second that wholeheartedly since a majority of waking time is spent at work.

The link of the inspiring real life stories that Craig has helped are:-

Real life examples from Craig Nathanson

Craig has also been kind enough to share his numerous stimulating writeups:-

Interesting articles from Craig Nathanson

I have suggested in my previous posts that if the United States has such a serious problem, India with its huge population and lack of resources is bound to be worse. Where are the Craig Nathanson’s of India? For that matter, where are the real life stories of India?
We have had enough of theory and from next post onwards, I am going to try and feature Indian examples. Contributions are welcome.


Kabhi alvida na kehna-Hamesha ke liye alvida kehna

August 11, 2006

Choosing the correct spouse and the correct occupation are the two biggest decisions of one’s life. Director Karan johar said in an interview in the context of the movie “Kabhi alvida na kehna” that “What happens if you find the right person at the wrong time after meeting the wrong person at the right time?” This is equally relevant for the other big decision of one’s life l ” What if you find the right occupation at the wrong time after finding the wrong occupation at the right time” ?

Since one has to spend three to four times the amount of time on one’s career vis-a-vis one’s spouse as it involves a majority of waking hours(, there are graver emotional and fiancial consequences . In a marriage, a divorce is at least feasible but in an occupation, many people find themselves trapped in what can be best described as a “lifetime imprisonment”. )

One cannot be happy if for a majority of waking hours, one is not in an occupation of one’s liking. Osho had used the word “dare devils” for people who had the guts to change their occupation.

Osho further said that it is not possible to know thyself without being yourself but being is realized only when one starts working (In work, we have the possibility of discovering ourselves) but it is too late to change by then as in some cases described below(Views of some vocational psychologists/ experts):-:-

 “The truth is that for most people, substantial career change is a multiyear process, from the first glimmer of exploration to the nuts and bolts of making it happen”-Curt Rosengren, person behind www.passioncatalyst.com.

“There is a huge difference between doing something because you want to and doing it because you are paid to. The decision to leave the security of a job(no matter how far short that job falls of perception of a “dream” job) is never taken easily”-Morgan and Banks, HRD consultants in 28 countries.

Sometimes, the best way to find yourself is to flirt with many possibilites.We do not give up a career path in which we have invested so much of ourselves unless we have a good sense of the alternatives. It takes on an average, three years from the time a person decides to leave a company until he or she walks out the door. Those are not good or productive years.- Heminia Ibarra, author of “Working Identity”.

Another American conultant, Craig Nathanson( http://www.thevocationalcoach.com/reveals how after 25 years of suffering, he just could not take it anymore and had to suffer a divorce and  bankruptcy but he forced himself to change his career to what he enjoyed more and made it his life’s mission to help other people in a simiar predicament.

Another consultant Lance Secretan calls for a destiny, cause and calling statement for everybody followed by a career meditation. All these complications show how tough it is and hense Hamesha  ke liye alvida kehna. In the movie Amitabh Bachchan says that love and death is in the hands of god. I would second that for love of profession(calling or vocation as well)

In each of the above books/sites and Po Bronson’s “What should I do with my life”, there are examples of people who have managed the change but they clearly reveal how long and tough  it can be. Nanette Hucknall’s “Karma destiny and career” describes in detail how much the family and friends have to adjust when the work msifit has to go “back to school”. I have not come across anybody in India who has gone back to school.

What I can’t understand is that if man can reach the moon and plan go to Mars, why can’t he make better proactive attempts to both know himself and ensure much faster change in a case of maladustment on  an issue so fundamental to  Individual’s happiness and society’s productivity.

President Abdul Kalam’s views are under “Quotable Quotes” under the  Relevant links section on the right 

It would not be out of place here to mention here that in the year 2002, the movie Devdas was released.Shahrukh khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali were the actor and director respectively.  It is all about how the hero goes into a negative spiral when he does not get whom he wanted as a life partner. This movie has been made nine times but the plight of the “Career Devdas“(not getting the career of one’s liking) has not been shown even once.

Though Farhan Akhtar is an intelligent director, the movie “lakshay” barely touches the issue considering the magnitude of the problem in my view. I did try to moot the idea to Mr Shahrukh khan through his brother-in-law(childhood friend of my brother) without success. As a student, it is very difficult to understand all this until the living hell is depicted on screen.

It would not be out of place to mention here what Shahrukh said in an interview that he gave to the times of India “Men and Women”,26th July, 2002. He says, “At the end of the day, you can take away everything from me but you can’t touch that ecstasy when I stand in front of the Camera- that’s the core of everything, there I am making love to my audience”. Shahrukh may not know it but some other great artists have expressed similar sentiments about their work. If only everybody could get such ecstasy; one should at least make an attempt.

Incidentally, Mr Bhansaligave an interview to Life positive magazine in the year March’2000 where he says ,” I tried a career in chartered accountancy but my entire being revolted. You have to be grateful to let life lead you and not fight it. And once you know what you want to do, the struggle for excellence begins. It never lets you give up”. As pointed out above, what about those who don’t know what they want to do or cannot change- their future can be described in just one word the other fantastic movie that Bhansali made- “B  L  A  C  K””

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(The movie reiview is given here- http://hirenshah.wordpress.com/2006/08/11/kabhi-alvida-na-kehna-osho-ka-alag-hai-sochna-svabhavik-hai-bahuton-ko-chaahna-sirf-ek-ke-saath-kyon-hamesha-rehna/