As I have told hundreds of young people thousands of times, a career (or ‘calling’) is something much greater than a profession, and one needs a good career to live a good life. A job or profession is what one does through all (or a very large part) of one’s adult life in order to make a living. But a career is not just making a living – not even if it is a luxurious living – it means enjoying life to the full. But since work occupies a very large part of one’s life, it is absolutely vital that one enjoys one’s work (and that means one must choose one’s life’s work very very carefully. That is why I like Google’s slogan so much – 'your work must be challenging and the challenge must be fun!'). The whole problem with most adults (my age as well as much younger and older) is that they are stuck six days a week, perhaps 48 weeks a year for thirty five years or more, in dry, dull, dead-end jobs, jobs that they were never fitted for, they never wanted, and can’t see any way to get out of! The pity of it all is that, often despite knowing lots of wonderful examples to the contrary, they keep telling youngsters that they have no choice, they mustn’t dare to make a choice, they must all end up equally bored and frustrated by the time they are middle-aged.
Now pause and reflect. Everybody doesn’t follow the herd into soul-drying careers. We all know that. That’s not how people become actors, writers, inventors, statesmen, entrepreneurs – or even great doctors and teachers and judges and soldiers. Lots of people have indeed pursued their dreams, often against great opposition and at great personal cost, and lots of them have eventually achieved awesome success, in terms of fame, wealth as well as (and above all-) self-satisfaction: in fact, they are the only people who are ever really ‘successful’. All around us, people are still doing that: look at Sachin and J.K. Rowling and the founders of Google (I have deliberately chosen super-successes with humble/middle class beginnings. If anybody, including your parents or yourself, tells you that ‘they’re different’, remind yourself that they were no different from you except in one crucial thing – they had dreams, and the courage and patience to pursue those dreams).
Also consider this: if mere money-making (and then shopping around lifelong with that money to clutter up your houses and impressing neighbours and relatives with that money) were the sole purpose of all education and professional work, a) why do most of us settle for jobs with basically piffling pay, and b) why do those who have already made such giant fortunes that they could not spend it all even if they lived at the very heights of imaginable luxury (like, say, Bill Gates) go on working furiously for years and decades still? – could it be because they have discovered what I have discovered too: that if it is enjoyable, then nothing can be more life-giving, life-stretching, life-ennobling, than good work? Is that why so many sages have said ‘work is worship’? And a third question, c) why is it that so many people have enjoyed life so much pursuing careers where there was never any chance of making much money: the Florence Nightingale type? Do they belong to a different species? Isn’t it odd that these are precisely the sort of people who are revered as ‘great’?
I myself haven’t done too badly by practicing what I preach. I am not a billionaire, nor known all over the world. But I make an upper-middle class living, and if you combine that with the other (very precious though non-material) benefits that I have gained from living this way – freedom, safety, domestic peace and comfort, time for the kinds of fun I like, the happy and grateful memories of lots of ex-students, and above all, enjoying every moment of what I do – you will all be compelled to agree that I haven’t done badly, especially in comparison with people of my age-group and income bracket, such as most doctors, engineers, bank managers or bureaucrats. If I want to become richer or more famous, I’d only like to be that way as a teacher: that’s what I have been since I was 17, and that’s how I’d like the story to end. So I, for one, can safely claim that I haven’t gone wrong by listening to my heart! Why should you?
To come to what I have been driving at all along, then. This post was triggered by something I have been reading in the papers lately. Now that India’s economy is booming (in a certain sense, at least), an increasing number of IIT and/or IIM graduates are chucking up big-pay jobs from very big companies Indian and foreign to ‘do their own thing’. See, for instance, page 5 of The Telegraph, March 28. They are the new breed of entrepreneurs, following in the footsteps of what only the sahibs dared to do once upon a time (the Edison and Brunel and Nobel type) but the Mittals and Premjis and Narayan Murthys have shown to be achievable by Indians too. They are setting up their own firms right and left, opening up new markets, launching new products – everything from idli franchises to tutorials to multimedia-designing outfits – and they are dreaming of making it big, really big, in the Indian as well as global market in ten or twenty years time. I know a bit of history, so I feel a great pity to think that the IITs and IIMs were set up precisely to create educated entrepreneurs, job-givers and not job-seekers. Our status/security/ease-hunting middle class have uniformly abused them, at great cost to the nation, for 50-odd years! No matter: it’s better late than never. Perhaps there are among my own old boys and girls – now pursuing technical or commercial courses in college, or just beginning their working lives – who might be dreaming right now of doing great things instead of becoming fat and lazy pen-pushers or glorified mechanics? Maybe some of them will be the top bosses of giant new MNCs 20 years from now! I wanted to say ‘good luck’ to them, and to tell them that they MUST pursue their dreams no matter what. And I would like to add one more thing which might not be unimportant. When you folks are looking for your first ‘angels’ (or ‘venture capitalists’ – people who would want to risk their hard earned savings by investing in fledgling companies with big dreams), think of me. Vinod Khosla became a billionaire investing in giants like SUN Microsystems at startup-time. Nothing would please me more than to see that a couple of companies started up by my own ex-students, in which I invested a few lakhs, have made me both rich and famous in old age! - and remember, boys and girls, it's not the boys who got the most marks in school who usually become the superstars in later life, but the bravest, cleverest, most industrious and ambitious ones!