Friday, May 14, 2010

The road less travelled

I am one of those lucky few who do what they love for a living. Today, I am in the business of communication—in the corporate world, as a magazine editor, as an occasional columnist and as a teacher of writing, all of which I find rewarding.
It was not always this way. In my earlier avatars, I tried to enjoy my work even if it was not what I really wanted to do, but felt dissatisfied most of the time, especially when I knew someone else could do a better job of my work than I. For years I struggled as a bank officer and company executive wearing a succession of hats that did not always fit.

Fortunately, throughout my youth and into my early forties I was able to pursue my childhood passion of cricket, thanks in part to the interest my employers had in the game, which made my professional angst bearable.

Cricket is a great teacher: playing the game, you learn to handle victory and defeat with equanimity, to play for professional pride, to be a team player, to hope for a better tomorrow, no matter what your travails today. Trained in the school of glorious uncertainties and hard knocks, I always dreamed of creative pursuits that I would one day be able to indulge in, shrugging off the negative reactions of the naysayers—of whom there’s no scarcity—to my eccentric plans.

Luckily, if my own extended family was an amused onlooker if not a total convert to my ways, my wife and children stood by me when I took risks I should not have as a responsible husband and father. Perhaps they had no choice, but they were able to appreciate the psychology of a maverick, even if anxiety was part of their daily life.

One thing led to another, and after more than a decade of a freelance existence as journalist, writer and editor, I landed my present job, which continues to give me happiness four years after my formal retirement. The day I received my appointment letter ten years ago, I told my mother: “I am what I am today because I made so many mistakes.”

My friend Krishna, a brilliant illustrator and graphic designer, has for a couple of decades now stood steadfast in his resolve to be an independent resource person rather than someone’s employee. I am sure he went through tough times, but his has been a remarkable success story.

Another friend who was a college lecturer before she became a journalist, never gave up music, which she had learnt as a child and which later gave her a parallel career of immense satisfaction. In her fifties, she turned to writing plays as a way of dealing with personal loss and grief, and since has made a name for herself as a playwright. What better retirement plan than music and theatre?

My lawyer friend Swaroop is also a promising Carnatic flautist and talented writer of fiction and non-fiction. When in court, he may occasionally run into a crabby judge who decides to have him for lunch, but he can retreat into his own world of song and letters whenever the going gets tough. Young Nivedita is a business management graduate who works as an editor in a publishing house, but is also a Carnatic musician, writer on music and TV personality. Talk of versatility.

I am no advocate of mindless risk-taking, nor do I underestimate the value of a conventional education and a sound professional career. All I am saying is that if you listen to your inner voice and chase your dreams, you have a good chance of finding fulfilment—provided you equip yourself for whatever path you wish to follow without the protection of a ‘secure job’—which in any case, does not exist in today’s environment. My friends who have taken the plunge or will soon take the plunge are examples of people who use both halves of their brains, productively, profitably.

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