Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To change a lightbulb

A couple of days ago I was the 'chief guest' at the annual debate competition @ NIT Calicut, called 'Spitfire'. As per tradition, I was invited to say a few words.

When asked to speak, I really have only one thing to say: 'Follow your Dreams'. I might modify this message, depending on the audience. Use different examples. But the essence of the message remains the same.

I don't for a moment believe that I can erase the years of conditioning from parents, teachers and society at large. Which is, follow the path of least resistance. Get a good education, get a good job, get a home loan, get married.

*Repeat cycle with own offspring*

But my guess is, a handful of young people in that audience actually want to break that mould. And people like me, with a slightly different outlook to life, give them the courage. The courage to say go-phoeey to the rest of the class which is pretty damn sure the regular way, is the only way.

Yesterday, the first question came from one such regular, who gave a 3 minute speech on why following your dream is not practical. Because we are middle class.

I said, "If you don't want to do something different, please don't do it!"

Sometime later another young man repeated the same argument.

I said,"If you are happy, if you are charged up, doing a regular job, please do just that!"

The question is, are you, really?

The 'most wanted' job on NIT C campus right now is with Amazon. Last year, the company picked up 12 students for a package of Rs 16 lakhs.

The next 'most wanted' jobs on campus are with PSUs. The perks are good, and so is the take-home.

"But students from NIT don't really stick with these jobs," says a student."These companies may stop coming to campus."

Instead, some PSUs are planning to shortlist BTechs from all over India, based on their GATE scores. The top 500 would be eligible for jobs, regardless of the college they are currently attending.

So, then what? The hordes of engineers who are 'happy' with the way the world is will then decide to 'be different' and try for an MBA.

A few kilometres from NIT is the breezy campus of IIM Kozhikode, situated on a hill. The architecture rocks, the view is better. And the lecture theatre in which I have an informal session organised by the E-Cell has a projecter & Powerpoint.

The dilemma remains the same, only the names of the companies and size of the package is different. Because very few students are actually *charged up* about marketing or finance or HR...

And so we remain like 30 watt bulbs, feeble and dim. Never knowing the radiance of our true potential. Yet somewhere yearning, to feel that glow from within.

To feel activated, to feel alive, and truly human.


  1. Your absolutely right. However as a culture dependent society, there are too many pressures and too little mentors and guides to encourage such thought. Though, Its heartening to know that its picking up.

    A Senior citizen friend of mine used to say, "why do you want to be an engineer, when you dont want to design anything? when you dont want to get your hands dirty? When you just want to sit in a AC office with a lot of money?Thats not engineering"

    Today, everyone is looking at a an education as a money back guarantee, not that money is not important, but then your only looking short term, and will burn out if you don't enjoy what your doing.

    Very relevant post.

  2. nice :)

    A better metaphor than a 30 watt bulb would be - we are 1000 watt bulbs running on a low voltage :)

    [Pardon me, but I am an electrical engineer :D ]

    To "Follow your dreams", if I may humbly add, that it is absolutely essential for us to realise what is it exactly that we dream to do. Being a mediocre at IIT has helped me clear the vagueness to a certain extent, and another two years in some campus wouldn't hurt me in making that "vague" gone for good! :)

  3. so true Di.. Problem is that no1 helps you.. Family, partner/spouse, society at large, every1 looks down on you for saying or doing smthing diffrnt than d cycle u mentioned..1 has to fight the cause, +all these people.. And hence few continue n most like me cave in,for immediate peace.. Kudos to those who tk the alternative path, the right path!

  4. I believe it is an outcome how children(specially middle-class like me) are brought up. You don't have an experience with taking risk, of making it on your own. Plus the society doesn't look accomodate failure. And we as a nation are not individualists. The brightest students in fact have a higher inertia to tread unconventional paths

  5. Awesome post...Just what my heart says about myself...Go and explore even if in late 20s...Its never too late to explore and pursue what your heart wants to...The society incl. parents, spouse etc. all unknowingly put pressure on you but somewhere deep inside you are convinced you are not cut out for it...And then selfdoubt sets in but seriously we needto take that one bold step at some point...

  6. This also has to do a little bit with the risk-taking ability ingrained in us from childhood to when we grow up. For example, even now my husband wants to start a business, I also want him to do what his heart desires, but the thought of leaving a cushy well-paying job to an enterprise fraught with risks is sometimes what makes us undecided.

  7. Hello Rashmi,

    You book "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" has made its TV debut...its on the Spice Jet ad...

    Way to go....

  8. Just today I was reading in a Psychology book (by a guy called Theodore Bryant), how our society, throughout school, college, and life, conditions people to treat failing as something to be ashamed of, not as a learning experience. This breeds a subconscious but intense fear of failure, since it's now associated with shame/humiliation. This obviously leads to risk-aversion in the vast majority of the population. The key message here is, 'failure is a stepping stone, not a tombstone'.

    As India is a relatively poor country with a deficient social safety net, monetary pressures are much more on our youth than in the West. This forces our young people to accept employment immediately rather than experiment and 'find themselves' for a few years. This is probably the critical reason innovation & invention rates are so much higher in developed nations as compared to developing ones. Our people rarely get the chance to think outside conditioned loops.

    I am a graduate of the 'breezy campus' above. After just over a year in an FMCG job, I left to try my hand at entrepreneurship. But my little boat ran straight into the gale-force economic crisis :D The venture eventually folded and it wasn't pleasant, but I couldn't complain much, when such huge ships as Lehman Bros were floundering. I definitely learned more about myself and about the world in those few months than I did in my entire MBA & 'regular' job.

    In sum, I would say it's good to experiment for at least a year or two, so you see the Real World™ and get your head screwed-on straight (bloated-ego IIM MBAs often are in especial need (mea culpa).) Living an unsettled life for any longer is a matter of personal choice; whether one seeks adventure from life, or leisure.

    Nice article, nicer approach to life :)

  9. Being from NIT Allahabad, I have seen these situations very closely. I did MCA from there, 95% of the people in my batch joined that college just because of the companies (of course packages) that visit at college. Most of the students study/work hard/mugs to get gud numbers in order to get good jobs, thats it. That's everyones life is at colleges. Nobody studies to get knowledge, to get better at design and architecture.
    Somewhere the society is responsible for this, everybody wants to see you as winner always in each sense whether it is studies, sports or your any other hobby and when the person sees that he is not getting enough attention or appreciation doing different things, goes into a shell. After that he tries to get better what other are doing to be good/winner in everybody's eyes.

    It makes them afraid of failures that is why in engineering colleges you will see that toppers are always arguing teachers for 1 or 2 marks to be in on the top.

    Once you are afraid of failures, you won't be able to understand what is success and hence success has no meaning for them :P . just paying the home loan on time is success for them.

  10. Hello!! :)
    I could so easily and effortlessly relate to your post. am a 2nd year MBA student and at the end of 2 years all you want to do is get "that" job!! and to get there , you just might end up compromising on something else that you would have loved to do.
    It is sad but true!
    But yes, if you have a dream, you must work towards it. your book 'Connect the Dots' has enough examples for youth like us to follow. Eventually it is an individual's perception and CHOICE that he/ she makes.

  11. The vast majority / average students are too busy trying to have some fun between exams to be bothered about getting fired up for enterprenuership.

    Few years of grind in Corporate life definitely change that perspective.

    So in my opinion the percentage of working adults taking notice of the importance of your advice will invariably be higher than the percentage of students doing the same thing.

    This is not to say that your 2cents of wisdom will go waste! Even if one student takes it seriously and acts on it, your trip would be fruitful.
    Its just that sometimes our expectation as adults should be tempered by what it feels like to be children/adolescent.

  12. 'Dream, Dream, Dream
    Dream transforms into thoughts, &
    Thought results into Action'- Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam
    Why not every one follow there Dreams and be happy rather than doing what others want them to do?

  13. it's because of the posts like this that I visit this blog inspite of having a regular feed in my google reader!!
    totally worth it! :-)

  14. This post looks incomplete to me. Can somebody tell me what is the the conclusion here?

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being a normal boring person. Tell me honestly Rashmi, lets say you have actually followed your 'dream'. On an average, how many days per year of your career do you really feel that kick which you were looking for when you started following your 'dream'? And how many days do you spend worrying about whether your book made enough money to impress the publisher?

    On a different note, our indian society and schools always discourage individualistic thinking, which is essential to dreamy thinking.

  15. though i agree with what you have written..what beats me is whether there is a solution to it??the being middle-class argument which was put up may be correct to some extent...without a solid financial backing,it does become difficult to leave the safe path....

  16. nice one

  17. The book " CONNECT THE DOTS" has bewildered my mind (for last few months). i appreciate the message taught by this book. It jus opens the mind and broadens the spectrum of perception and visualising self potential. Rashmi, ur post is really true...but ground guidance is really required for the ones who wish to pursue their dream of being ENTREPRENEUR.......loved ur book......thanx

  18. Nice Article Rashmi:)

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  21. Engineering is not a discipline it's a mindset you get . similar to the artistic one . I listen to indian / brazilian classical ,play violin write poems/ghazals etc to keep art alive inside . I did B.Tech in ECE to have the technical mindset . Because living with the one aspect only is something like you enjoying only half of the life .

    words are merely symbols nothing more , but when embedded with deep thoughts , they emit powerful wave packets so much powerful that they almost suppress all other your mind wanna . i felt it while reading 'War and Peace ' , ' Alchemist ' 'Animal Farm '.

    I believed in merely dreams but Alchemist suggested feel the pulse of nature/surrounding both should be constructive rather contradictory . Believed in democracy but Animal Farm strongly says Gov's will be Gov's always no matter of which type ....

  22. Very nice observation.As per the increasing economic condition of India one can easily see the improved standard of living of people,its no doubt that middle class people of India are considered to be 'rich middle class'.To maintain this one needs to have excellent perk,lavish lifestyle etc etc...But today the more emphasis is on aping others i.e to walk on the same monotonous path which has already been shared by many.

    I want to share a story with you ... I was a vivid listener of 'Awakening with Brahma Kumari'a few times back. In one episode of that a young boy of late 20's who was having a habit of ''Discovering his own path'' called them, and told that He was very Good student in his school days, every body wanted him to be an engineer from IIT and become an IAS officer. He managed to get a seat in IIT but he chooses to become a painter and sculpture as he badly wanted to do that.But after some years when he look at his school friends then somewhere he doubt himself of whether he has taken Right decision.

    I believe now a days youth is very much confused.At one hand they wants to have excellent perk,lavish lifestyle, and on other hand they said 'We don't want do what other want us to do', but ignorantly they do that only, what other do.It not only happens with career but with lots many issues of life.

    The possible thing is to choose either of them and then to sustain over it,no matter what happens.

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