This article was published in the magazine Educare in August’2007
Don’t fall for stereotypes when it comes to education and career. Discover your own self for a long-term innings
By Hiren Shah
It is not uncommon to come across parents who are harassed over the admissions of their children in colleges. Even those who score very high percentages cannot always be assured of admission in the college of their choice and most behave as if their career and life depend upon it. Many students try to get admission through the sports and miscellaneous activities quota but they face problems of a different kind. One parent whose daughter was good at dance complained as to how could one person possibly be the judge of four different kinds of dances. Some people who get admission through sports are not willing to pursue a sports career all the way but the college expects them to attend all the sports tournaments because that is the basis on which they got the admission in first place. Many parents go overboard in getting their children to attend all kinds of classes not only for admission but also for knowing their potential.
In a chance conversation with former test cricketer Madan Lal, this is what he had to say, “Parents are after my life to make their children cricketers. In my view cricket is a God-given gift. If I see that the child potential, I shall definitely take interest. Otherwise, they should take the child to where his real potential lies.” The problem is how does one go about determining “real potential” because there are dozens of activities and how many can one pursue by trial and error? In Po Bronsons’s book What should I do with my life, there is an example of some person who in secondary school used to do summer jobs to discover himself . One wonders how practical that is in a country like India. How can functional talent be determined in advance?
As a student, one confuses knowledge for intelligence. Intelligence implies what you do with knowledge, and not knowledge per se. The other definition is “What is it that you can do uniquely well or what is uniquely you?” From a practical perspective, one has to get a degree but side by side one must devote time to discover oneself because degrees alone can flatter to deceive. I was told early in my working life that a qualification is like an entry pass but once you get in, it’s every man for himself. It took me some time to understand what “working identity” actually meant — budding actor Subhash Ghai becoming a director, budding actor Salim Khan becoming a writer, budding bowler Ravi Shastri becoming a batsman. “In work, we have the possibility of discovering ourselves”. The above gentlemen are lucky; if your talent lies beyond the immediate domain, it can turn into a lifelong search, which can be very taxing.
In his wonderful book The five great myths of Career building, management consultant Sanjiv R Bhamre states, “By the time people find meaning in their lives at the age of 40, other responsibilities in life may make it too difficult to alter anything. Those who can, retire at the age of forty five or engage in social projects to find meaning, while others continue to live the same grind unable to gather energy to change anything.” Daniel Goleman has mentioned the same thing in his book Emotional Intelligence. Elsewhere in the book, Bhamre says how being money-centric at a young age proves to be a short-term gain, long-term pain because not devoting enough time to discover their true talents in the early years forces some people to be stuck in the wrong occupations for ever.
There is nothing wrong in earning money but one should try to put that in proper perspective. Cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar used to earn 80 times more in advertisements than his hockey counterpart Dhanraj Pillay when both were at their peak. However, that does not make Pillay any less a champion. He is just unlucky that hockey does not have that kind of mass following. One of the best examples is given in the book Ancient Indian wisdom on Management. It says that there is a difference between a better job and a better-paid job. He says that even a simple vendor may sometimes earn more than a profession but does that elevate him above the professor? To blindly run after money at the cost of satisfaction can be seriously counterproductive. It is perturbing to read newspaper reports about young and restless minds taking to stealing, bullying their parents and in extreme cases even killing themselves for satisfying their needs.
Giving over-importance to degrees can also prove counterproductive. I worked in a company where a mere BCom from a correspondence course had a much better technical grasp of a product and also proved to be a much better marketing person and better talented overall than a chartered accountant who had turned around that company but proved to be only good in certain aspects of finance. In another company, a person with arts background was reading engineering drawings with dexterity and was the technical director. It reminds one of what John Adair, in his book Effective Innovation says. While giving the example of a trained artist who excelled as an inventor, he concluded, “Engineering is just a state of mind. You do not need a vast amount of knowledge.” So one has to discover one’s state of mind. In my experience in stock trading, a 29-year-old young person traded much better in certain respects without graphs than three others who were much older and far more experienced and qualified. Two of them were TV commentators. In the subject trading psychology, the emphasis is to first discover your temperament and discover your niche to pursue your particular type and style of trading Even in real life, just as mass market is a market of mass niches, talent also lies in niches which are very tough to pinpoint. One should constantly ask the question which HRD consultants Morgan and Banks used to emphasise once upon a time, “Do you want to spend a lot of time with people, data, words or things?” Then try to pinpoint your sub-domain — Charles Dickens and Enid Blyton admitted that if asked to write an article, they would find it as tough as a normal person. This is similar to every one-day cricketer not being a test cricketer and vice-versa. Of and on, one gets to read about ‘monster maths’ and suicides because of not being able to cope with maths — this could be the solution; maybe the person has an exceptional verbal ability.
All this clearly shows that process (imagination and thinking) is more important than input (knowledge) and one should try to find what one can to be uniquely different just as in Mahabharata, each of the Pandavas had his own unique potential. How does one go about it? How does one detect functional talent for students?
Gallup organisation, which has studied human nature and behaviour for more than 70 years and has made a significant contribution in the corporate world to increase productivity on the basis of capitalising on strength instead of fixing weaknesses, has special
modules for students:-
Functional talent is never easy to spot unless one actually performs that function and Gallup’s efforts in this area are worth looking into. Junior achievement is another site that merits attention. They claim to bring the real world to the students, opening their minds to their potential. This is their India Url:-
For a student to understand the deeper meaning of the word “meaningful work”, “one’s calling or vocation in life” can be a little problematic because they don’t have any practical experience and they tend to be money centric when starting their careers.
The best way to understand is to read several practical examples of career switches from Po Bronson’s What should I do with my life and Morgan and Banks Achieving a Dream Career:
Morgan and Banks
l From actor to recruitment specialist
l From wool classer to recruitment specialist
l From doctor to sportswriter
l From middle management to psychologist
l From, foreign currency trader to turf supplier
l From teacher to sports administrator
l From secretary to business owner
l From lawyer to executive recruiter
l From financial institution to sales and marketing
l From lawyer to celebrity manager and promoter
l From journalist to public relations consultant
l From typesetter to sales representative
l From marine biology to advertising
l From accountant to fashion designer
l From lawyer to entrepreneurial business owner
l From intellectual property lawyer to medicine policy
l From public relations to gardening
l From medicine to surgical robotics
l From drifter to career counsellor
l From marketing and promotion to golfer
l From lawyer to law teacher
l From bank manager to social worker
l From electrician-professor to businessman.
l From blue collar worker to politics.
l From geologist to inspector
l From investment banker to catfish farmer.
l From salesmen to writer.
l From diplomat to teacher
l From films to car engineer
l From securities to investment specialist
l From businessman to social worker
l From lawyer to minister
l From marine biologist to dentist.
l From real estate broker to factory owner
l From installation manager to business owner.
l From business/law to teaching
l From businessman to politician.
l From CPA to website programmer
l From corporate lawyer to truck driver.
l From poet to chef
l From chemistry professor-lawyer
l From politics to business
l From high profile business owner-policeman
l From stock market to doctor
Some of these have switched to careers which are drastically different from what they were doing initially and some have even chosen relatively low profile occupations compared to what they were doing earlier, which shows how important it is to do something in which you find meaning and satisfaction. Some of them are cases where they were earning a lot of money but were miserable because that was not their “meaningful work”