Friday, December 28, 2012


“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; 
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; 
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” 
― Louis Nizer

I think I have WAS, you know...Work Aversion Syndrome. Either that or I am in the wrong line of work...and have been, for a long time. Actually, forever. There are two schools of thought regarding work - you find your passion, something you have the aptitude for, pursue it and find a way to monetize it. The other view is that finding a passion is a pipe dream for most of us, so we have to just suck it up and do our best in whatever work we end up doing. My opinion on this issue depends on which blog I am reading at the moment. I aspire for the former but I am struggling with the latter. Hence the dilemma. A moral one. One that defines your character and your attitude towards life. Or is it your character and your attitude that defines your work?

I have googled both phrases ‘How to love your job’ and ‘How to find the job you love’. I have attended a webinar or two and read countless blog posts on this contentious subject. All this in my quest to understand why it is that I am inept at my job. For lack of trying is the obvious answer. But what keeps me from trying? What is the reason for the mental block? I am not buying the ADD/ADHD argument either. When a blogger swears by finding your passion and making it your livelihood, despite my lingering doubts about whether or not I have any, I am inspired. And then I come across another blog post, with an opposite stance.That we should choose a career not based on what we love doing but on who we are. So then, of course, I do an about face and feel guilty for encouraging reckless, irresponsible thoughts. Most of us do what we have to do. We step up to our circumstances and learn to be mature, responsible and practical. In other words, we learn to get on with it and somehow get better at it. Unless of course when we don’t...get better at it.

Where I come from, your career choice is decided for you sometime around middle school by your parents. More often than not, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have the aptitude for the chosen field. It doesn’t matter that you are not even remotely interested in it, let alone have the IQ for it. A misplaced and prevalent philosophy is that as long as you work hard and put in the right effort, anyone can be successful in their job or career (there is a difference as I have learnt, will come to that shortly). It reminds me of the herd mentality. If it is good for so-and-so’s child, it will be good for my child too.

Success is a very subjective term. What defines success for me might be laughable lazy logic for someone else. But if it fits the individual’s definition and motivates them, then that’s all that matters. Right? Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The majority of us survive on validation, from people we love and respect. We would shrivel without it. So we have umpteen reasons to not follow our dreams and our aspirations. Instead we are slowly inched on by the sea of expectations and eventually lapse into mediocrity. Our hopes are waylaid by our duties, responsibilities, fear and complacency.

So, where was I? Right....there has been an enormous amount of time and money invested in this career choice even before the kid knows his or her own mind. But coming from a culture where one-upmanship and competitiveness is pervasive (maybe it is not the culture, rather a human condition), there is no time to dilly-dally, to figure out what inspires you. It is considered a luxury by some and frivolous by the rest. We are bound to conform to society’s expectations and most of us are hard pressed for time and affordability to be able to delve into whatever our mind takes a fancy for. Our curiosity is stifled and the learning process becomes mechanical. Why go reinventing the wheel when there is already a functional method in place and a successful one at that? We have neither the inclination nor the means. Everything is decided early on so we can be prepared and available when opportunity knocks. Even if it doesn’t, then at least we are equipped with enough credentials to go knocking ourselves.

But if some of you refute my claims of lack of choice, then the argument is that even if given the choice, most of us pick a career out of fear. Fear of being left behind. Fear of underachieving. Fear of coming up short in the eyes of peers, friends and family. Very few of us realize and nurture our dreams and follow through. There are a few who wake up and realize that it is now or never. That would explain why we see people switching from one line of work to a totally different, unrelated line of work and excel at it. They decide to give in to their restlessness and either hesitantly dip their feet to test the unknown waters or enthusiastically and uninhibitedly dive in. They take risks, they make mistakes, they learn, they thrive. They are in their element. They emanate such confidence and happiness that it inspires people around them. That is what being in the right field does to you. It puts a sparkle in your eyes.

As you may have guessed by now, I don’t have a sparkle in my eyes. My very first yoga teacher actually told me so during my first class. I wondered why, maybe it was my glasses, I should have gotten rid of it sooner :-). Seriously though, for some of us, it takes longer to realize that we are in the wrong place. But by then we are mired in it deep enough that extricating ourselves from the situation seems like a herculean task and it is easy to give up after a few token tries or .... easier still to ramble on about it like I am doing now :-)

Why do we work? 

To provide for ourselves and our family.
To survive, to thrive.
To be responsible.
To justify our education.
To find fulfillment, either through work or what we gain from work
To earn money, benefits and perks that come with it
To feel pride in our abilities
To stay in the job pool in case we run out of choices in the future
To not feel guilty about throwing away opportunities
To realize our potential, our purpose.

These are all the intentions I myself or people I know have towards work. But to take it one step further and ask the bigger question - what transforms a job into a career or vice versa? I think the answer to that would be passion for what you do. It makes all the difference. There are those who love what they do and have the drive for it. And then there are those, in spite of doing work they are not passionate about, still find it in themselves to do their best. They are a mystery to me. I see many of them at my work and often wondered how to tap into their motivation. Then there is the third kind, people who cannot come to terms with doing work that is incongruous with their natural ability, aptitude and values. I belong to the third kind.

I have survived in the job market by sheer kindness of people. The people who hired me and the people who worked with me. What pains me is that I feel helpless to reciprocate. I am not naive enough to think that they are being charitable (actually an ex-boss in India would often remind us that they are not running a charity:-)), it is just that I could do more and be happy and creative doing my job instead of daydreaming and distracting myself to pieces. If only I could find a way to make this my career instead of a job and in turn transform myself from mediocrity into an inspired IT professional.

So what made me continually try for a job that I know I am not good at? Why is it nearly impossible for some of us to take the road less traveled? I don’t see an easy answer to this dilemma (hence the long drawn-out post). The individual’s priorities and beliefs might help define the answer. I can expound on this ‘job-career’ dichotomy till I am blue in the face. But unless I am willing to believe, to try, to fail, I will be going around in circles with a question mark written all over my face.

What follows in the next sentence is not advice (I am a fine one to give advice, anyway), it is a plea. Go find your sparkle, if you haven’t already. If you have, please tell me about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

License to jest

“In India even the most mundane inquiries have a habit of ending this way. There may be two answers, there may be five, a dozen or a hundred; the only thing that is certain is that all will be different.” - Eric Newby, Slowly Down the Ganges

Whenever a group of Indian friends gather for a party, there is always plenty of food and much laughter. We laugh about the many things that are oh so wrong in the country we were born and raised in. Our conversations are loud, lively and range from politics to phone-plans. Nothing escapes our critical eye. And the 'criticalness' increases exponentially when they join forces with twenty more pairs.

We criticize with abandon and pounce on all that is bad. And because we don’t see ourselves as perpetrators of the hopeless problems there anymore, we relinquish all responsibility. It is so much easier to cry foul and pass judgement from the comfort of our homes thousands of miles away when none of the problems affect our day-to-day living.

For most of us immigrants, the place where we raise our kids is now home. All that ties us to the land of our birth is our immediate and extended family. We dread the expense and the long tiresome journey that we embark on every couple of years or so. We do it nevertheless. We do it so that our kids will know where we come from. So that they can experience and learn from a country that is worlds apart. And of course, to quench our nostalgia.

There is just one little implicit prerequisite to be able to join in on the bashing - you have to be at least part Indian. Many of us are not as accommodating when the criticism comes from someone who wasn’t born or raised there. We never fail to find humor in our faults and eccentricities as a group. But we tend to be sensitive to derogatory humor and judgmental comments from someone who hasn’t lived there. I wonder why. Is it because it is part of our heritage and so an innate reverence to the land of our birth is assumed, regardless of which country’s citizenship we now hold?

Some of us get defensive when we have to explain why we are the way we are. It irks us that we are perceived as an unsophisticated culture. There are a billion different reasons why we are so different and by the same breath, same as the rest of the world. The way we bobble our heads to show consent; the way we relish using our fingers to dig into the food; the way we talk out of turn; the umpteen different languages and dialects; the spicy food; the smell; miserable roads; impassable traffic; bovine and pedestrian ridden highways; power outages; exquisite clothes; opulent weddings; multitude of musical traditions; rules and regulations that one would never know even existed; the gaps - more like gorges actually - between the poor and the wealthy; the mysticism; the scandals; the yogis, yoginis and god-men; secularism amid communal discord; the martyrs; the history; the ancient temples; grand palaces; dazzling movies and even more dazzling movie stars; noisy, smelly bazaars; mosquitoes; idyllic landscapes; the heat and dust; dirty public transport; brainiacs; artists; intellectual elites; ambitious over-achievers; chronically lazy under-performers; pollution; corruption; cheap labor; abject poverty; compassionate activists; committed nonprofits; for profit clinics; philanthropic celebrities; innovative entrepreneurs... We have them all. And so do most countries, well maybe not the yogis.

We expect the outsider to take the quirks and faults of the country and its people as part of the fabric of the culture. Just like a seasoned traveler would take everything he or she encounters in a foreign land as part of the rhythm of the place. Run it through a sieve and only praise the best of experiences and ignore the bad, and maybe acknowledge it, if they have to, to be fair.

I don’t take it personally when I have questions posed to me that would surely ruffle a more sensitive immigrant. I believe that objectivity helps people understand a different culture. I don't consider it a personal affront when someone jokes about our ways. After all, I too have assumptions, curiosities, prejudices and criticisms of cultures that I don’t know much about. If I don’t ask questions and am not curious, I am bound to stay ignorant.

When my non-Indian friends come across anything even remotely Indian in the media or elsewhere, they ask me about it. It could be a movie, a dance show, a calamity or a bunch of pictures depicting the craziness and chaos of the place. There is one popular picture that does the rounds. It is a picture of an utility pole with a huge tangled mess of wires and cables at the top which then miraculously find their way out to provide service to the neighborhood. To me, it is a perfect example of function amid the chaos. I enjoy these questions. I feel that the more open we are in our conversations about our differences the less chances there are of misunderstandings.

Travelling is the best way to learn about different cultures. But there are a million other ways as well. Like watching movies from all over the world. Especially independent movies. My husband and I started watching them a little over a year ago and we seem to have only skimmed the surface of this beautiful world of art. So far we have watched movies from Iran, Korea, Italy, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Spain, England, Israel, China and one most recently, from Iraq. While watching these movies, we find that many times, we can relate to the sentimentalities, humor, hardships, class struggles and the immigrant experience in any culture.

I find that the more we are exposed to different cultures the more tolerant we become of our differences and more adept at recognizing commonalities. We loosen up and learn to laugh at our strange ways. It is when we see ourselves as a misunderstood community that we are susceptible to be hurt from seemingly insensitive remarks. That’s when we find the humor directed towards us crude, arrogant and disrespectful.

It is hard to belong when you look and speak different from almost everyone in the community. But if we are not comfortable with where we come from, the color of our skin and our idiosyncrasies, then we lose sight of the fact that we are only a small part of the multitude of colors, languages and cultures that make up this world. So dear reader, here is a question for you... when someone pokes fun of your culture, language, food, mannerisms, whatever, do you feel the smoke shooting out of your ears or do you good naturedly join in and debunk the weirdness?