By Suma Varughese
Finding work tailor-made to your dreams is no longer just a fantasy. Here’s how you can find the kind of work that is the expression of you deepest longings, interests and talents, and also your chosen vehicle taking you towards your personal jackpot—happiness and growth
When I was an articled clerk at a chartered accountancy firm, I uses to scream my head off while sleeping at night,’ recalls Parag Trivedi, 39, who now holds classical music appreciation workshops.
For Mahesh Ramchadani, 38, a freelance journalist, hell was his job in the garment export company he was formerly employed in. ‘Blessed is he who found his work; let him ask no other blessedness,’ said the fervent Thomas Carlyle.
Ramchandani and Trivedi would wholeheartedly agree. And so would the multitude of their ilk who have awakened, or are in the process of awakening, to the realization that there’s more to work than just the monthly pay cheque.
Rahul Bose (lead actor in the critically-acclaimed movie English, August) threw up a high-flying job as creative director in the major advertising agency Rediffusion in order to concentrate on his interests in an acting career. Rashmi Uday Singh, 42, the ebullient director and anchor of the Health Show on Doordarshan 1, and author of an enormously popular food review column in The Times of India‘s supplement, The Bombay Times, let go of the power, prestige and security of her job as an assistant income tax commissioner, only to follow her heart.
Deepa Krishnan, 33, a computer graphics designer at the Tata Consultancy Services, too a year’s sabbatical to study the cult of the Mother Goddess. Her forays into Bihar’s tribal belts and the eunuch community have transformed her consciousness. She now wants to increase awareness of the more holistic tribal culture, study mythology, work with people, and teach children. Meanwhile, the job may well be truncated in to a part-time activity.
Computer scientist Dilip D’Souza. 37, is today more comfortable as an activist-journalist, supporting a whole slew of worthy causes such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan of India.
When he was in his 30s, Jaideep Mehrotra left his corporate job to return to his interests, his first love, painting.
Not one of these ‘ mavericks’ are doing what they trained for. Their calling emerges from who they are, not from what they learn. Despite the pressures of family and society, of security and public endorsement, or even the inertia of motion, at some point they halted the inexorable juggernaut of life, and restraining it lightly by the tips of their fingers, skipped nimbly away in the direction of their own inclinations.
There’s a certain magic in their ability to command and control the forces of life—to lightly wave their dreams into reality-to, as Trivedi puts it, get paid for what they love to do, not have to do to earn their salaries. Surprisingly, the message they collectively flash is reassuringly down-to-earth: work as a form of self-expression, as a medium of joy and self-satisfaction, as an instrument of growth, is not a quaint, impractical notion, it is a reality. Looking for work that fits us as snugly as a pair of Calvin Klein jeans is no longer the rum-soaked fantasy of a salary slave—it’s more than just a distinct possibility.
This redefinition of work from tedious drudgery into the purpose of life, or at any rate integral to it, is a paradigm shift of impressive proportions. Work is no longer separate from us; it is an important part of us. It is no longer the means to an end, it is an end in itself. Money, financial security, power, fame, and prestige are ceasing to be the goal of work, they are becoming its by products. From external gratification, we are plugged into an internal self-fulfillment container that is constructed of our deepest impulses, desires and interests.
Such an idyllic scenario is in dramatic contrast to existing reality. More than most nations, the job choices of Indians have been influenced by hidebound notions of security and conformism. ‘Like everyone else, I went into engineering, and like everyone else, I went to the USA for post graduation,’ says Dilip D’Souza.
With this continuous exodus of India’s best brains, the loss to our vitality and resource bank is incalculable. The impact of this drain can easily be ascertained by India’s tragic paucity of world class talent in academics, technology, the fine arts, sports, etc. Our potential scientists are probably eking a living as petty traders, our artists crunching numbers in a nationalized bank. Like an insanely assembled jigsaw puzzle, inclinations and talents have no relation to occupation. ‘I can understand how millions of people simply hate their lives,’ says Ramchandani. Such alienation inevitably results not just in dissatisfaction and boredom, but in the loss of one’s own life energy.
Indu Kohli, housewife-turned-personal growth trainer working with the information technology (IT) industry, says that the dissatisfaction is widespread. ‘IT people change jobs over lunch,’ she says. Worse still, she their bland personalities. ‘Their faces are as deadpan as their computer screens. All their degrees still give them nothing to talk about,’ she says.
To condemn a person into an occupation he hates for the better part of a lifetime would seem like refined torture, but that is what we routinely do to ourselves. All the more reason to cheer, then, the change looming on the horizon. Today, we can take charge of our work not only because human potential is infinite but because the very forces of life are conspiring to push us in the direction of our dreams and our desires.
For starters, 50 years of independence has freed us somewhat from the bugbear of insecurity. The urge to dive and nestle into the ostensible safety of a government or a bank job is no longer so compulsive. And the number of those coming up for air is no the rise. Not just at the top levels, as in Rashmi Uday Singh’s case, but even in the lower ranks. Says Rekha, a government clerk converted into a computer teacher at Mumbai’s Somaiya College: ‘I knew it was time for me to leave when I finished knitting my second sweater at work!’
Moreover, there are more opportunities today. We have a staggering number of alternatives to the traditional doctor/ engineer route to occupational nirvana. When else in the history of the nation have we had at our command, the possibility of earning a living as a video jockey, a disc jockey, a TV anchor, scriptwriter, pop singer, hairstylist makeup person, photographer, novelist, deep-sea diver, meditation teacher, spiritual guru, personal growth trainer, consultant specializing in just about every subject under the sun, self-employed businessperson, sportsperson, and innumerable other forms of vocations?
In fact, the satellite revolution, liberalization, globalization and the hothouses of information technology are each, in their own way, conspiring to place our destiny in our own hands. Thanks to all four, our access to the world or to the frontiers of change has never been so immediate. With a remote in hand or logged into Internet, we can coast through the accumulated wealth of human knowledge and achievement, and tune into the here and now of human activity.
Technically speaking, today the world is indeed our oyster. The innovations in computers and to other aspects of information technology have released the workplace from the limiting tyranny of location. Thanks to e-mail, Internet, the fax machine and private courier services, you and I can collaborate on a project, me seated in New York and you in Mumbai. Freelance writing, for Ramchandani, is both swift and painless, thanks to his computer and a local fax machine. T.A. Balasuramanian, a computer systems engineer-turned-entrepreneur and writer, uses the modem to connect with his overseas publishers.
Corporate convulsions are also dictating their own brand of changes. Liberalization and globalization have enforced ruthless downsizing and re-engineering, converting job security into a myth. At 50 and over, middle managers are being catapulted out of their cozy corporate nests and no to skid row. This harsh reality now places a premium on jobs that emerge from individual interests and talents. Conveyor belt jobs are vulnerable to layoffs and downsizing, but not those created by an individual’s talent for, say, apparel designing, cooking, or even washing dishes.
It is a fact that the complexities of modern life do breed disillusionment. Says Deepa Krishna: ‘Nine to five is usually nine to nine, which means you never have time for relationships or your own interests.’ The rise of the double-income household has put unprecedented pressure on the family, leading to marital discord, neglected children and a low-threshold stress level. Says Rashmi Uday Singh ‘Although I work harder now than before, my time is more flexible. This morning, for instance, I enrolled my son in a computer class and stayed there with him. I would never have been able to do this earlier.’
The burgeoning materialist and consumerist culture has introduced its own brand of tension, as we ascend the treadmill of earning more to spend more. Trivedi, who also worked as a diamond merchant before seeing the light, says a definitive moment came in 1987 when he looked into the mirror. ‘I had become a Dorian Gray-ugly, obscene. My philosophy was, so what if I’m cheating people, I’m making money.’
Working for material such as money, fame or prestige carries with it a price tag that more and more people are unwilling to pay, forcing them to look within for more enduring satisfaction. Rupa Karthik Vyas, a production executive at Merind Ltd., worked out her values and priorities while on honeymoon. When she discovered that her number one priority was peace on mind, it was easy to leave the job and eventually become a personal growth trainer.
But if today’s environment is brewing up the opportunities for a more individual and satisfying livelihood, the context for the change is largely spiritual.
Searching for the right work is either the offshoot or the beginning of a larger search towards wholeness or happiness. The scriptures have always emphasized the importance of work in the pursuit of salvation. Karma yoga is one of the three classic paths to liberation prescribed by the Bhagavad Gita. ‘Therefore without attachment ever perform action that should be done; for by doing action without attachment a man attains the Supreme.’ (III:19)
Right livelihood is one of the eight-fold path to nirvana prescribed by the Buddha. ‘Do not earn your livelihood at the expense of life or connive or support those who do harm to other creatures, such as butchers, soldiers and makers of poison and weapons,’ he warns.
In the New Age, such advice coalesces well with the overall pursuit of universal harmony, happiness, realization of human potential. Books such as James Redfields’s The Celestine Prophecy and The Tenth Insight dwell on the individual life’s missions each of us expected to fulfill during our earthly sojourn. Triveki now has a guru and a mission: to access the wonders and depth of Indian art forms and culture to the public. Bose is working towards a state of mind that would free him of all needs, even that of money. Faith helps Ramchandani cope with the insecurities of freelancing, and he hopes to eventually move into surrender.
Even for those without an overt spiritual agenda, growth is almost the inevitable spin—of finding the perfect job. Says D’Souza: ‘I feel I’ve grown more in the last five years since returning from the USA and moving into journalism and activism, then in the last 10 years.’
Arun Mansukhani, 27, senior executive, HRD, at O&M ad agency, has found his values undergoing a sea change: ‘ Earlier the priority was to achieve a certain position, earn more. Today, I realize the money will happen, position will happen, but my job is to focus on others people’s needs, not my own.’
In almost all cases, the change of work has also positively impacted their lifestyle. Balasubramanian is grateful for the time saved in commuting. Rupa Vyas attributes to her more unstructured work the intimacy she was able to build with her in-laws and husband.
The shift from a rigid nine-to-five to the more flexible routine of working for yourself means greater choice in apportioning your time between work, fun, relationship, household tasks and community service. In other words, It becomes possible to build your work around your life rather than the usual tendency to wrap your round your work.
The perfect work then is one that not only suits your talents, interests, experiences and monetary expectation, but also leaves you free to fashion the life you want. In other words, work that is custom-made to suit your specific needs.
However, if finding the perfect job is possible, the task isn’t always easy. In fact it can be excruciatingly hand. For many people pursuit of their dreams has often meant the confrontation with hard choices. Deepa Krishnan’s one year of frantic growth has strained her marriage. Thoughtfully, she says: ‘Though I value my marriage, I don’t know if I’m willing to sacrifice my dreams for it. ‘Others have had to let go of money, or the power and prestige of corporate success. Most have had to contend with disapproving peers and family. ‘Today, people are appreciative, but when I started out, everyone thought I was mad,’ says Indu Kohli.
Throwing up her well-entrenched government job evoked outrage, recalls Rashmi Uday Singh, Particularly among her colleagues. When Mahesh Ramchandani broke the news of moving into journalism, his business-oriented family was aghast. ‘They were sure I’d die of starvation,’ laughs Ramchandani. ‘Letting to of my career and getting into painting was a tough decision,’ recalls Jaideep Mehrotra. ‘My head said no, and my heart said yes. I only got into it because my years of working abroad had given me some savings. I knew I wouldn’t starve for two years at least. If I were still not successful, I planned to give it up.’ Even today, Mehrotra believes that making a living out of art is a challenging option, and may lead the artist into artistic compromises for the sake of the daily bread. ‘I know of people who repeat their canvases simply because they sell,’ he says. ‘Ultimately their talent suffers.’
The specter of financial insecurity lurks everywhere, particularly in the beginning of the path, all too often virginal. Moving away from the safety of the herd and carving an individual path calls for courage and self-belief. Says Ramchandani: ‘The fear and the insecurity are real.’ The choice to move into this path therefore has to be an individual one. For many of us, the path can appear too perilous or arduous. Working for a fixed income, with regular hours and paid leave can seem like a comfortable way to live. So be it unless we are impelled to move into this direction for either internal or external reasons, we may not have the endurance to make a success of it.
Says Rashmi Uday Singh: ‘I woman, so I did not have the financial responsibility of the house hold.’ She does hold out a paradox, however. ‘I’ m beginning to figure out that most important thing is to take the plunge, the money will follow. Many hold out to get something before they let go of what they have. That doesn’t work. Air will rush in only when there is a vacuum.’
Yet for nothing would those interviewed turn back. The rewards are too many, and too good.
Their gratitude is palpable. Both Bose and Trivedi agree on one point; ‘I think of myself as one of the luckiest persons in the world.’ For Bose, the bottom line of having been weaned off the security of a regular job is that it has cured him of fear. ‘Neither tomorrow nor today exist for me. There is only the now.’
The zeal and enthusiasm for work keeps mounting. Says Trivedi: ‘I’m looking forward to the day when I can hold one of even two workshops a day. It’s a great feeling to reach out to people and redefine their idea of art and beauty.’ Ramchandani, too, is working towards a situation where ‘I can work all the time.’ Deepa Krishnan confesses to feeling very excited and energized: ‘I’ m following my dreams.’
Most important, almost all of them seem to have plugged into a path that keeps unfolding newer opportunities. In other words, the perfect work is a landscape that is capable of radical flexibility and is attuned to any change in our internal perspectives, priorities and interests as well as changes in the world outside. Indu Kohli, for instance, moved from teaching external beauty care to a combination of internal and external approaches to looking stunning after doing a course run by Indian Society for Applied Behavioral Science (ISABS). Today, her interests have moved towards humanizing the workplace. Among the projects that most excite her is a hotel for the Kamat group; she will be designing the usually neglected backrooms such as canteens, restrooms, the telephone operator’s cubicle. ‘I intend to make it pretty, a place worthy of being occupied by human beings.’
Rashmi Uday Singh is dreaming of the time when she can integrate the interactive nature of her food column with the information and experience she has gained on the Health Show to promote a comprehensive service center capable of fielding any query in both allopathic and alternative medicine. Trivedi’s musical workshops have led to the formation of a group, Sabrang, which attempts to demystify the classical arts, Western and Indian classical music, Indian dance, architecture, even philosophy. Along the way, he met his guru, Swami Harish Madhukar, which eventually led to the formation of an ashram in Tailbehla, two hours from Mumbai, India, which plans to promote residential workshops. ‘One thing, ‘he says, ‘just led to another.’
In the realm of personal benefits, the harvest has been munificent. Rupa Vyas, who moved into personal growth through yoga, finds her life more in balance. ‘My health problems like constipation, acne, headache and stress have cleared up. I’ve started understanding myself better. I look to myself for solution to problems, and my ability to handle my emotions has also increased.’
Her life, she now feels, has turned positive and purposeful, a change she attributes to her new way of thinking. Bose’s newfound identity is no longer dependent on that rough-tough bugbear called career, not even acting. ‘If my career were to fall apart, I would still keep walking.’ He says. ‘Society loads you with so many fears and hypocrisies which I’m trying to rid myself of. I’m so much freer, particularly of the need to accumulate.’
Trivedi admits to feeling more integrated and at peace. ‘I’m blessed,’ he says. Indu Kohli has become less biased and judgmental. Friendships are now cultivated for the joy they bring. Her quest to raise the precarious self-esteem of her employees has made her very aware of the need to respect people. For Mehrotra, moving back into painting changed his style in accordance with the direction his mind was moving towards, without conscious effort on his part. ‘It removed a fear about my limitations, and gave me the freedom to experiment with anything,’ he says. Today, he consciously avoids being influenced by other artists, for he is attuned to creating what arises naturally from within. Moving into creative self-employment has taught the computer-hooked Balasubramanian the importance of acknowledging the existence and importance of the light brain. Rashmi Uday Singh revels in the freedom. Above all, all of them agree, the dividend that beats all dividends is the joy they experience.
And why ever not? Their lives are rich, multi-hued and dynamic. Work and self are intimately intertwined. Their work derives form who they are, and in turn, it impacts on who they are. The strokes they draw on society’s palette are strong, unique, and positive. In realizing their perfect work, they are realizing themselves.
Who could ask for more?
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