The passion Tamasha

The movie Tamasha has been hailed for the theme of finding oneself and following that elusive thing called passion. Interestingly, films and other forms of popular culture always equate passion with a creative field. Equating passion with say, what happened in Pursuit of Happyness is a rare thing. It is tough to make a story about a stock broker, staring into his computer for hours before making a kill at the market. Or a movie about the endless powerpoint presentations MBAs have to make (which has been ridiculed a lot in Tamasha). A movie on number crunching on excel sheets, no thank you. And where is the dramatic arc in the story of the guy who sits at the ticket counter punching out train tickets for you? And yet, are these lives not important?

In the recent years, there is this over emphasis, if you will, on following one’s passion. If you look at who talks the most about passion, then it is self help and start up bloggers, who, hello, are trying to make a living selling that idea (or a book/product) to you. That might sound too cynical, but there is a small grain of truth in it. And almost all of them will ask you to quit your job right this minute. Now lets not get this wrong, passion is a good thing to have. But the way it is being presented as panacea these days is bordering on toxic.

What a lot of the passion stories fail to talk about is the hours of plain old hard work and putting your nose to the grind that comes before the proverbial success. The stories in popular mass media end with the first book/music concert/acting gig, a bit like how famous romances of yore always ended in both the protagonists dead. No tallying bills, looking after snotty kids for Romeo and Juliet please. And similarly no bills again for our fictional heroes and heroines who followed their passion, they just do their thing and walk into the sunset.

Anyone who followed their passion successfully or otherwise would tell you it didn’t solve everything. That there were days when they didn’t jump out of their bed excited about work. That there were days when they worried if they would make pay day. That there were days when they were just bored. That there were days when they were so swamped that they wondered if they did the right thing by jumping into it. Some may never regret it, some may regret and even quit and it doesn’t matter.

What this lopsided representation does is create a lot of people who shall suffer from expectation hangover (a fine term coined by Christine Hassler). It creates this expectation that if it is your passion, you shouldn’t have to struggle, thereby making it all the more harder for those who do venture out. You see talent is not scarce. A lot of those who venture out actually have that level of talent. But when it comes to daily survival, a lot depends on your financial backup, the network you were born with or managed to build and your own emotional capability to go in for the long haul.

Quitting traditional fields and striking out on your own is in itself emotionally draining. Suddenly you find yourself alone, even if your deviation is just about not joining the family business. It takes great amount of courage to start and that is in itself commendable. But then so is just sticking to your job. In fact, life, whether you chose the well worn road or the one less travelled is never easy. But being told that passion means joy every day, every minute is only going to create more space for terrible disappointment.

The follow your passion or start your own company bogey also ties in nicely with the current economic scenario. If everyone who gets laid off or is unable to find their footing in the work place, can somehow be convinced that it is all upto them to now find something for themselves, then corporations and countries can be let off the hook somewhat. Empathy can take a walk. In fact, there is enough blame-y literature telling people they are not worthy human beings if they didn’t do something about their passion. If one tries to infuse a bit of practicality into the argument, one is likely to be chastised for not having faith.

The trouble though is that culture really hasn’t evolved enough despite all this to let people be. Earlier the dominant narrative was that of getting a job, keeping it and eventually retiring; only now it has been replaced by the passion narrative. Now the ones who stick to 9-5 jobs for whatever reason are the ones facing stigma, which was earlier reserved for the ones who broke the norm. It is merely replacing one norm with the other.

What is important perhaps to remember more than anything is that every life counts. That guy who delivers your newspaper, he may not have some grand passion, he just works day after day to take care of himself and his loved ones. That superstar you all envy, he may have all the fame, may travel to the best of places, but at the end of the day, he too does what he does to take care of himself and family. One must strive to have a better life for sure, but also take pleasure in the seemingly small achievements that add up to build one’s own life. What is important is to know that every life on this planet counts whether they live it examined or unexamined.

Indra Nooyi and her children

In a Forbes interview recently, Indra Nooyi trashed the idea that ‘Women Can Have It All’. Speaking about her own experience balancing personal and professional life, she said,

I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.

 

The internet erupted in a fashion similar to the one witnessed when a Washington high flyer had written about quitting her job and deciding to stay home. Back then, there had also been an interesting perspective by a male columnist about how men also don’t have it all. I do not wish to add anything more to this never ending debate. What I want to focus on though are the following lines from Nooyi’s talk :

But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. 

 You see, I was somewhat that kind of a daughter and so were some of my friends, male and female, who were the few who had working moms in an era when it was still catching on. My mom only spent half a day away as she was a teacher but even so at times I remember resenting it. Now when I look back at it, I find it extremely silly, because it wasn’t as if mom wasn’t there when needed. 

So why did this feeling even arise? Also, wouldn’t Nooyi’s children have got the benefits of the many perks that come with having a corporate rock star for a mother? So why is it that still they should feel cheated of a good mother, if they do feel that at all. After all, why do we as kids, feel so entitled to our mother’s time, indeed her entire life and personality? 

The answer I believe is partly cultural. If every mom worked in the society, no one would actually ask the kid if he/she feels left out because mother wasn’t there. In fact, working is a way of life for farmers and labourers who are women. No one I guess would ever ask their children if they were emotionally damaged or felt abandoned because their mothers worked. 

But I do remember questions and assumptions from those around me about my ‘working’ mother. I also remember the few times I’d be home alone while the neighbourhood auntie was with her kid. However, none of my major needs were ever unmet by my mother. So the only explanation for this kind of feeling that me or any of my others friends had was this cultural notion that we as kids also bought into the cultural trope our mothers loved us only if they were always around us, if they made gaajar ka halwa, mined Tarla Dalal’s treasure trove every weekend, were always at our beck and call and put aside everything for our homework (though most mothers do this last one). 

A good level of engagement with the child is necessary when the child is an infant and can’t meet most of his/her needs. Of course, there are some really self absorbed and careless mothers who scar their children. But most women are just trying their best. There is no need to have the black and white good mother, bad mother categorisation. Even a home maker cannot be hovering over her child every moment. It just isn’t possible. It is necessary to change our cultural dialogue in such a way that children also see their mothers as human beings, people liable to make mistakes, people who have their own dreams and interests other than being a mother. It is time that being a mother and wife is demoted from the position of a full time job, so that a working woman can go work at hours that suit her and a homemaker can have a girls day out without the guilt of being a less than perfect mother. 

For a man to be labelled a bad father, he needs to be a wife beating, severe alcholic/spendthrift, good for nothing. For a woman to be labelled a bad mother, she just has to be 5 minutes late in coming from the kitchen while the child is crying in the living room. That needs to change. 

Chronic dissatisfaction

At the outset I would like to mention, if you are looking for something you didn’t know, you may not find it here. There are no solutions here, there are no startling insights. Just an observation of things happening around and within me.

So as usual been talking to a lot of friends and fellow journalists about a lot of things and the constant theme of late has been disenchantment. Someone is dissatisfied with their job, someone with their spouse or lack of one, someone with their finances. Everyone seems to be struggling somewhere, even if on the surface, it looks like an enviable life. Mind you, none of these people are unhappy or too depressed to move, but there is this vague sense of not being fulfilled somehow, a feeling I understand too well. Some have changed jobs, cities, significant others etc all in the pursuit of something, just anything that would make them feel more alive, stimulated.

The dissatisfaction seems more generational because if you mention it to my parents’ generation, they say we are dissatisfied even when the going is good. And being a true blue internet generation kid, what I did was google it up, yes, google ‘Chronic dissatisfaction’. The first thing that comes up is of course Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and how Penelope Cruz accuses another character of having this disease called ‘Chronic dissatisfaction’.

So what are the characteristics of people who have this ‘disease’ (personally I would call it a condition)
* They have been bright students, have generally excelled in life and till date achieved what they had set out to do in childhood.
* Its been at least a couple of years since they landed that dream job, that dream partner or dream whatever, they may not be at the peak of things, but they are not down in the dumps either.
* When compared with the soceity’s definition of normal, their life is as good as it gets and this is what confounds them, if it is so good, why don’t they feel it?
* Yes, there may be skeletons in the past, but that is not the cause of their current vague discomfort.
* There is a constant sense of what next, is this all there is and yet they don’t know if there ever was supposed to be anything more than this.

Most of my observations come from conversations with current and former media professionals. I do not know what is the situation in other fields. There are also various theories about why some of us feel this. Some say we are an entitled generation, we think just because we exist, we deserve better. Others say we are just immature and will get over it. Some others say we are zombies in any case, uninspired people who have been spoon fed everything and expect that to continue. The religious say it is just a crisis of faith and using the magical name of God/Universe will solve all these problems. Yet others say very simply but emphatically – this is growing up and this is life.

The reactions to this ‘something is missing’ feeling are diverse. Some try to push away the feeling, dig in their heels deeper in whatever they are doing and hope the problem will vanish. One friend changed jobs. Another started a new venture with like minded people. A few others just quit it all and are taking a break, thinking of traveling or spiritual exploration. Unlike in the past, the ‘quitters’ of today are met with awe and respect for their brave decision, about time. Yet others have taken time off and gone back to school or started volunteering. Some other formerly ‘career minded’ friends have started families and used that as a distraction. There have also been friends who seemed stimulated by the ‘change’ they chose but a couple of years later, they are again back to the state of dissatisfaction. And some of us are still observing from the sidelines, trying to make up our minds. Very few have taken up destructive habits.

The ancient wise men and women tell me that dissatisfaction is a source of creativity. It is only if you feel uncomfortable do you start doing something about it and what you do about it is your decision. At the same time, they also tell me doing nothing about it is also ok. It just means you are not ready, or in the extreme case, it just means this is my ‘destiny’ and I have to live with it.

But there is one thing the wise tell me, which if any of my friends or I could do, perhaps we would achieve Nirvana. They describe a Catch 22 situation where one is content with where one is in life, but at the same time striving to a better state. An ideal state of being they say it is.

But wasn’t human existence all about being imperfect? And if it was, the only solution that comes to mind is the magic mantra of ‘living in the moment’. To stop looking back at the ideal and enchanted childhood, to also stop looking at the uncertain future and live as if this day, this moment is all that counts. Darn, that Ghajini dude was sure lucky.

And because very few of us have it in us to be so zen, the dissatisfaction continues. My current dissatisfaction is that I cannot provide some erudite conclusion or some magical solution at the end of this piece. Aah, maybe its time to watch ‘Bruce Almighty’ once again!

Lessons learnt from the first job

Just got this video yesterday on Facebook So You Want to Be a Journalist. Was absolute hilarious fun watching the exchange between a wannabe journalist and a seasoned journalist and any journalist worth his or her salt would say that they did behave like the kid in the video at one time or the other. Then another FB contact started a thread on the silly mistakes everyone made in their first few months. This finally prompted me to write on something I have been thinking of writing, that of my learnings from my first experience as a working professional. The idea had come to me after I was called by my alma mater SIMC for a lecture, but somehow I never got down to writing it down. So here goes :

Lesson 1 : Your boss is not your teacher/mentor

All throughout our school and college life, we have guides, we have encouraging people around us (yes even in the worst places there is atleast one teacher who inspires you). But that doesnt extend to the workplace. I am not saying that your bosses will be mean, discouraging people; all I am saying is that they won’t take decisions for your ‘higher’ good or give you opportunities so that you would ‘learn’. The basis of their decisions would be based on other factors like company policy, equations with others in the organisation, their perceptions/prejudices and if you are lucky you will have a purely objective boss, but even then he/she won’t be there to coax you into learning the ways of the trade and make it easier for you to adapt. That is totally upto you. So please don’t get discouraged that they don’t seem to be acting as nice, fatherly figures. Not happening.

Lesson 2 : Nothing is personal
This is a tough cookie and stumps most of us. Say someone is cutting you at work, someone is being mean to you, realise that this is not about you. It says more about them than about you, so don’t take anyone else’s bad behaviour personally. Its not about you, its about them. They are behaving badly because they think that is the easiest or best way for them to succeed. Let’s face it, at the core of it, all of us think only about the best for our own selves. So take that as a given and if there is a difficult situation try to work around it in a different way rather than feel bad about this person who is out to get you.

Lesson 3 : A litte self promotion is needed

This is where I struggle myself a lot, but I have seen that it always helps. Don’t make a hue and cry about how much work you do, but make a few subtle suggestions for sure. You need to make yourself heard, don’t be a wallflower.

Lesson 4 : The praise in the first few months doesn’t mean much

At this time you are new, the company yet doesn’t know what you are worth or how much you can deliver. This is the honeymoon phase for both you and the company. Whatever you bring to the table might seem great and there might be mails flying about what a great job you are doing. But then after a few months it will cool down and people might start finding holes in your work. Don’t panic, it just means that whatever you did till now, was being treated like your first outing. The criticism coming now will only help you grow and only means they expect more from you.

Lesson 5 : Think long term
Whatever you do, whether you stick around, switch jobs, work harder, don’t work at all, whatever you do, try to keep the long term in mind. Its especially tough in jobs like journalism, where every day is a new day but still look at the bigger picture of how what you do today will help you later on. Don’t just stitch the sails to keep the boat from rocking today, get money to buy new ones.

Lesson 6 : Remember this job is your dream not that of the company

It helps to remember why you are here in the first place. In most cases, we are the ones who decided we want to take this career path. So it is our dream and not someone else’s. The responsibility for its trajectory therefore lies with us. There will be people who will try to put you down, there will be people trying to mislead you, there will be people who will think that you are not worth making it. Forget all that, what is important is what you think. Remember these people were not the ones who made you decide to study hard and choose this particular job. You did it on your own, so when you decided where you are right now on your own, you are the one who will decide where you will go from here. Yes, there are people who are more powerful in the hierarchical system and it can seem that you are but a pawn, yes there will be things that you might have to do that you don’t particularly fancy, but the final choice in everything lies with you.

But going after your dream doesn’t mean that you just do what you like without considering the larger mission of the organisation. You do have to align yourself with the company’s mission and culture, your progress should not be at the cost of the overall good of everyone on your team. All I mean is that you can’t be sitting and blaming the company or its policies for why you didn’t succeed. Either you work around it or find another path that fulfills your goals. Buddhism says there are only three choices in life 1. Change the situation by talking it out, 2. Accept the situation or 3. Leave.

Lesson 7 : There will be people who compare you to others to get a rise out of you

Hopefully this is not your boss 🙂 Many people try to compare you to someone else of the same league, my only suggestion to this is, adopt what most successful people I have seen in my short career span have done. If there is some area which you acknowledge you need to work more on it, try a course correction there, but don’t take the comparison personally. Try what you can, but don’t change who you are. You are unique, as cliched as it sounds and despite how much other people might try to convince you otherwise, there is something of YOU, something no one else has, that you will bring to your work. Don’t get reactionary to the comparison.

Lesson 8 : Your GK scores don’t make you automatically eligible for special consideration at work
This has happened to some very close friends. They are good writers, they read voraciously, they know all that is happening and make intelligent conversation. They can write wonderful essays on just about anything. But that doesn’t impress their companies enough to give all the important work to them. Some of them become disgruntled idealists, blaming the system and mediocre seniors (they might actually be, but that’s not the point) for their lack of progress. Please don’t fall into this trap of blame, it only harms you. You have to realise that people want to see that vast reserve of GK being applied somehow to your job and once you start doing that, the work will pour in. Unless you show it in your work, your seniors aren’t going to appreciate it. The workplace is not someplace where you will get a certificate for your general knowledge or witty reparties. Doesn’t mean you kill that part of you, just try to apply it to your work or keep that separate from work.

Lesson 9 : You are more than your work
As we spend a lot of time at work, we sometimes come to associate all of our existence, its success and failures with our work. Work is of course important, as it pays the bills, but remember you were a person before the work came along, you are still a person after it. Sometimes competition has a way of making one feel inadequate, inefficient and these feelings spill on to other parts of your life. Sometimes the people around you maybe myopic enough not to see what a brilliant person you are, but that means nothing. All of us have instrinsic value that shines through at the most unexpected times and others can live in denial of it, but the truth is it exists. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are nothing if you have not conformed to a particular idea of success. Who knows, you are probably the one who is going to set new standards? So stick to what you know of yourself, don’t let anyone tell you what you are or how much you are worth because frankly only you know that best. You need not seek complete approval from the clique at work, you are only answerable to yourself and your near and dear one sometimes.

Ok, so now the sermon is over. And yes, I wrote this not just to answer some questions people asked me, but also to reiterate to myself what I have learnt. Anyone else who has any other suggestions to add, especially the ones who already have spent many more years than I have, please add to the list.