By Hiren Shah November 2001 Most of us go through life engaged in jobs that give us no satisfaction. Many of us spend a lifetime imprisoned in work that we hate. Finding your calling early in life is crucial. But whose job is it to find it? Most of us go through life engaged in jobs that give us no satisfaction. Many of us spend a lifetime imprisoned in work that we hate. Finding your calling early in life is crucial. But whose job is it to find it? Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan, on being asked the secret of his success once remarked: ‘I consider myself lucky that I could decide early in life that I wanted to be an actor. I have come across many people who do not know what to do with themselves.’ It is important to identify your real interests correctly early in life. Indian tennis ace Vijay Amritraj says in his autobiography: ‘I have been incredibly lucky because I have earned money doing what I like best. My one nightmare is doing something I hate just to earn enough to keep my family secure. I hope it never comes to that.’ Thomas Edison, in spite of working 18 hours a day, once said: ‘I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.’ Amritraj and Edison are well on their way to self-actualization. Psychologist Abraham Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was born to do, his calling. ‘A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write,’ he said. Self-actualization is at the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If a person’s self-actualization needs are not met, he feels restless, edgy, lacking something. But isn’t it the job of education to discover talent, determine potential and help in identifying an occupation closer to a calling? EDUCATION AND OCCUPATIONThe word ‘education’ is derived from two Latin terms ek and ducere. Ek means ‘out’ and ducere means ‘to draw’. Therefore, education means to draw out from with n. This is contrary to the established practice of ‘stuffing in’ knowledge. Does imbibing more knowledge (read information) make us more intelligent? The present-day obsession with qualifications and knowledge leads many people to live miserable lives. As somebody pointed out sarcastically: ‘The world is full of educated derelicts.’ And what does occupation mean? Literally, it implies something that occupies you. Quite obviously, everybody cannot be occupied by everything. Psychiatrists employ ‘occupational therapy’ to treat people with certain physical or mental illnesses by giving them creative or productive work. But finding that creative or productive work to suit the person’s temperament cannot be easy. Even yoga and meditation would not really help if followed by eight to ten hours of misery at the workplace. When it comes to occupation, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’. The importance of pinpointing the work cut out for each person can only be gauged when you see the agony of extreme job misfits or ‘square pegs in round holes’. Only an Albert Einstein can have the wisdom to reject an offer to become President of Israel because he argued that he did not have enough experience of working with human beings. Only an Alyque Padamsee can have the wherewithal to pursue two careers throughout his life to enable one to fund the other. Although theater was his real passion, it paid a pittance and he had to take up advertising as a full-time profession. DETERMINING POTENTIAL At what stage should the aptitude of a person be determined and how? Should it be on the basis of activity or knowledge, or should it be left to the individual to make a choice? Should it be determined proactively after looking at market realities by a vocational psychologist? Or is it the responsibility of educational institutions to determine who has talent for what so that time and effort is not wasted? In his book Success at the Speed of Thought, Bill Gates points out that with the coming of computers and the internet, for the first time in the history of mankind it was possible to give customized education, that is, alter the teaching style to the mode that suits the child most. A Reader’s Digest article titled ‘Should you see a career doctor?‘ implied that leaving a career choice to the individual would be almost as absurd as leaving the choice of treatment to the patient. The article went on to say that the counselor sometimes gives advice that is drastically different from what the parents say because the counselor is able to make a more objective appraisal. Former Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan used to say that talented cricketers emerged not because of, but in spite of, the cricket system in his country. Our educational institutions are replete with examples where students make right career choices by default rather than by design. Not trying to explore an individual’s potential before he enters professional life seems fatalistic. Albert Einstein said: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ So is it the teacher’s job to impart knowledge or to detect imagination and potential and direct the student accordingly? In the age of the Internet, the role of a teacher is reduced to that of a librarian, unless he happens to be good at content development. Rather than being a sage on the stage, he has become a guide on the side. Perhaps then he should be involved in synchronizing the needs of the outside world with the potential of the students and shaping them accordingly. Only then can you avoid the spectacle of a Shekhar Kapoor wasting years in chartered accountancy while he was more suited for movie-making. Or an Amitabh Bachchan who came to know that he wants to be an actor at the age of 26 (he calls it early!) rather than in school or college. KNOWING VERSUS BEING Society gives more attention to the ‘knower’ as borne out by the following perceptions of a leading HRD consultant firm: ‘At least in India, no one is surprised at children aspiring to become engineers, doctors, CAs or MBAs. Almost 60 per cent think in terms of engineering or medicine and nearly 15 per cent fancy their skills as CAs but in reality, only 10 per cent become what they dream of becoming. Have you ever wondered why children do not want to be artists, dancers, singers, painters or carpenters and plumbers? The reason is not far to seek. These professions have neither ‘class’ nor prestige associated with them. When they actually start working, they realize that they don’t have the mental make-up for a particular type of job in spite of being suitably qualified.’ A person must be first respected for what he is if he has to be encouraged to reach his full potential. If society has false notions about different vocations, how can it view people with the right perspective? Philosopher J.Krishnamurti said that society measures the child in accordance with what it wants him to do for society. ‘If you dictate the work he should do and mold him for that then you are using and exploiting him. But if you respect him for what he is and help him find his right vocation, you are his friend.’ Osho said: ‘Somebody who could have been a painter is a doctor. Somebody who could have been a good doctor is a businessman. Everybody is displaced. Everybody is doing something he never wanted to do. Hence unhappiness. Happiness happens when you fit with your life. When you fit so harmoniously that whatever you are doing is your joy.’ In other words, one should choose the work according to what one is and not what one knows. THE RIGHT SUB-VOCATION That one cannot always afford to be in the right sub-vocation either can be illustrated by several examples. Among writers, Charles Dickens found no success as a playwright despite great effort. Author of innumerable children’s books, Enid Blyton admitted that if she had to write an article she would find it difficult. It is common sense that a potential writer would not succeed at all kinds of writing. It is just like tennis players, some are excellent grass court players but lousy on clay courts. Pete Sampras holds the record for the maximum number of grand slam victories (13) but failed repeatedly at the French Open. Indian cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly do not open in Test matches despite being recognized as a world class opening pair in one-day international cricket. If you see well-established professionals who cannot perform well in the wrong sub-vocation, the problems faced by a layman in choosing his correct vocation become easier to understand. Management writers Tom Peters and Peter Drucker have indicated that corporate life is like a relay race and the founder of a company is not always the best person to carry it forward. Daniel Goleman goes further to state that even a person who turns around a sick company is not the best person to carry it forward after it recovers because a new situation calls for a change in leadership. Instead of the popular MBA, we may be better off with a degree called Master of Business Operations (MBO). This will also help determine who has potential for what kind of business since the needs of each industry are different. APTITUDE VERSUS ATTITUDE There are many books written on how most situations can be overcome by cultivating the right attitude. Motivational teachers harp too much on attitude, which is quite out of proportion to the importance it deserves. It seems to suit people to be told that capability is not the prime determinant and most things, if not everything, can be achieved by simply thinking positively. The importance of aptitude is best summed up by the remark: ‘Attitude and aptitude both determine altitude.’ Or as Edward de Bon
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