Are We Doing What We Love?

Posted on September 5, 2012 in Specials

By Rahool Gadkari:

“This is your life. Do what you love. And do it often”

These words are written on a poster that hangs on my wall. Seems pretty obvious, don’t you think? Yet, I doubt too many people do what they love even occasionally, let alone often. The practicalities of life come in the way; peer and parental pressure are often so overwhelming that people don’t spend time trying to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

India’s explosive, almost decade long growth was fuelled by a huge, young and skilled work force. Rapid urbanization, along with the global access to easy credit and India’s position as the developing world’s golden child, fuelled investment and in turn increased consumer spending, giving rise to the Indian growth story. An entire industry called knowledge process outsourcing was conceived on the strengths of India’s skilled workforce. India’s IT industry has been heralded the world over. All this has led to Indians being perceived as tech geniuses, with a flair for mathematics and the sciences. But is this really true? With a population of 1.2 billion, millions of fresh graduates enter our workforce each year. But how many are really good? How many love what they do? How many passionately believe in what they’re doing? While I don’t subscribe to utopian thinking, I think motivational speaker Simon Sinek (author of the book Start With Why) says it better than I could:

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears”

Blood, sweat and tears. That’s what it takes to truly reach greatness. Our parents sometimes obsess and meticulously plan our careers like it was their very own puppet show. Everything, from which school the child would attend, all the way up to which college/university they should seek admission to, is planned in advance. In circumstances like these, what are the chances of a child discovering his/her true calling, and more importantly, acting on it? Are we a society where the pursuit of dreams is considered a legitimate exercise?

Schools and parents alike need to help create a healthy environment that fosters learning and independent thinking. A recent NYT blog post by KPMG partner Mohit Chandra (An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes, New York Times, India Ink, May 23, 2012) touched a few nerves while underscoring some of the deficiencies of our college graduates. While I don’t subscribe to washing one’s dirty laundry in public and found the article to be polemical, I cannot lightly brush off the author’s grievances. Undoubtedly, and I can say with some authority here (being a product of our education system), the Indian education system overemphasizes rote learning. As a consequence, how much you know becomes more important than how well you know it. Some of the other issues the author mentions, such as a lack of English proficiency, the overwhelming need to be spoon fed or the lack of professionalism, though probably true, aren’t the most pressing of our problems. Harping on about the deficiencies of the Indian education system is most certainly not my intention. These are systemic issues that need to be made a part of the national consciousness.

Amidst the throes of this transition to adulthood, confusion is inherent; and hence good guidance on part of parents and institutions is critical to the success of our youth. Sadly though, I think we are failing in our duty to guide our youth, instead subscribing to a form of subtle brainwashing and coercion. A decision made for want of choice isn’t an informed decision. I cannot explain the flood of fresh college graduates applying for MBA programs. How does an about-to graduate engineer know that having not liked 4 years of engineering education, a two-year MBA program is the best match for him/her? Going to business school, could very well be another in a sequence of calamitous decisions that had earlier led him/her to engineering school. Business school & engineering here are mere examples. My point being that, while a small fraction of students make informed decisions, and figure out the why’s/how’s and what’s before they go to college, most aren’t given the opportunity to do so.

Quality education is everyone’s right. How can we expect our youth to be good at something they don’t like? It’s akin to expecting all kids to be good artists. Absurd, isn’t it? That is why I think India needs career counsellors. I propose that every school make proficiency tests compulsory at all levels. That the students are given regular feedback on what they are good at, and that parents be discouraged from forcing their children to study subjects they don’t like. We need to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, so our kids can derive the maximum benefit from the Indian success story. For, like the American dream, I would love each kid to dream of an Indian dream. Imagine the potential we could have with 300 million enlightened souls, doing what they love; giving it their all, for themselves and for their country. In an ideal world this would all be easy, but all it takes is a few people, the rest will slowly but surely follow suit. I leave you with a line from Chaos Theory:

It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world”

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Rahool is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and the University of Pune with degrees in electrical engineering. He writes part time and presently lives in the United States. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]