Monday, October 03, 2005

"Why not make your mistakes, enjoy the ride, explore all your abilities and discover new ones?"

Yet another forward. Its on the 'ambition syndome'. Very nice, read on..

Don't Hurry, Be Happy
All you have are your experiences. Why not make your mistakes, enjoy the ride, explore all your abilities and discover new ones?

I've spoken at well over 25 colleges in the last year, and I see this strange phenomenon. Our best and the brightest are in a hurry to go places - and worrying themselves insane about making the right career decision.

One of my students called a few months ago saying he hated his job. I asked him why; after all, it was from college placements. He said it was the highest paying job offered and with an overseas stint - he couldn't imagine not taking it up. He was, in fact, proud that he had 'won' it. I then asked him what he wanted to do - and it was something completely different.

All I could tell him was that he would be happier if he followed his heart - and that it was more important to trust your gut than your designation, location or paycheque.

I can't blame him. I was victim to what I call this 'ambition' syndrome. Each of us is taught that we need to have clear, specific goals - and that we should do our best to attain them. I was no different. A long time ago - or so it seems - when I'd settled down in advertising after a few false starts (trial-and-error, as I called it), I decided to prove things to everybody by having 'ambitious' goals. I secretly aimed to become a creative director by the time I was 28 and to run an ad agency by the time I was 30.

As things came to pass - I did become a creative director by 28 and, two years later, ran an ad agency - that too in the US, having started off in India. I thought I should be incredibly happy.

Surprise. I felt empty. The world didn't change. The sun still rose in the east. People still treated me the same. If that ambition was the purpose of my life, it suddenly felt completely meaningless. By focussing on the 'destination' and working insane hours and driving myself crazy to get there, I felt life had gone by in a blur. I suddenly felt 30 and old.

It came to me that carrying on further on this path (I had thought I would then set goals like earning my first million by the year X and so on) would make life even more meaningless.

Now your mileage may vary, but I decided to change. I consciously said I would forget about the 'destinations' and try enjoying the 'journey' instead. Out went targets and ambitions, in came simple things like enjoying every moment, seeing beautiful places, making room for serendipity and actually getting to know people. Some years later, my wife and I had a baby, and this belief only got further cemented. I was sure I wanted to be at home with him - and not go off tromping to work every day.

Perhaps, I've been inordinately lucky - but in the eight years since I made this call, I've had the time of my life. I've done different things: design front-ends for Yahoo! and Amazon, think-up programmes for a youth channel, pick VJs, create software, write ads, start companies, sell companies, help entrepreneurs and even write a fun column like this. All mostly from home. I'm not sure I could have consciously planned and been ambitious about any of it. The rolling stone didn't gather moss - but who the heck wants moss on oneself?

I can't imagine retiring and doing nothing, toodling around in a garden. Neither can any of the young people I speak with. Here's my belief - you're going to be doing something productive till you're well into your 70s. And if you're starting out today, or even in your 30s, that means you have another 40 or 50 active years ahead of you.

My point is simple - what's the darn hurry to get anywhere? We all end up in the same place anyway - I understand there's a 100% probability of death for all human beings, regardless of monetary wealth. All you have are your experiences. Why not make your mistakes, enjoy the ride, smell the flowers, explore all your abilities and discover new ones?

Back to my student - he called again a month later, said he'd changed lines, and was ecstatic. With due apologies to believers in reincarnation, I think this is the only life we have. Can we make the most of it?

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