Doing what you like and/ or liking what you do

March 2, 2009


I have great admiration and respect for people who do either. But it is my submission that most of us fall into neither. I never ever miss an opportunity to be introduced to people who fall into one of the two buckets. It was one such chance introduction to a friend’s friend a couple of days back that has prompted this post. He endured the agony of a 5 year engineering programme from one of India’s leading engineering colleges and then had the courage of his conviction to chuck it up for what has till date been a torturous journey into the world of film making, his passion. And when you do interact with such people it is wonderful to experience the simplicity to which existence can be reduced to. I honestly believe that much of the unhappiness that we think is part of our lives can be attributed to falling in between these two serene and harmonious states of being.

I have a vague notion of what is it that I would like to do. But nothing of my life thus far has prepared me for liking what I do. I am not even sure if these states are mutually exclusive. To make it abundantly clear can you do something that you “don’t” like and still have the maturity to like what you are doing, if not for anything else, at least for the specific purpose of remaining in harmony. As is standard practice for me, I wander into the realm of sport and keeping asking the following questions:

1. What is it that makes a Federer a Federer. Is it the sheer joy of playing the sport or is it the high of winning that keeps him going.
2. What does it feel like to be, for instance, a Diinesh Karthik during the Dhoni era when you know that unless things improbably wrong, you know you have no hope in hell of playing for the country for a reasonable, extended period of time, or a Roscoe Tanner to be playing at the same time as a McEnroe or a Borg or a Connors when you go into tournaments knowing fully well that you have to be able to beat at least 2 of these legends to emerge a winner. And after how many such tournaments and humiliations do you realise that there are other ways to earn a living in this world.
3. How does one ensure or even try to ensure that the attribute to like what one is doing is instilled in people. Can this be done at all or are a few condemned to suffer in its absence.
4. Can education (not necessarily of the schooling type) be helpful here – will it help us to identify what we like doing and at the same time prepare you for the times when you may have to do things that you do not fully enjoy.
5. How relevant is parenting in this whole scheme of things

I think the ability to handle choices is one of the building blocks for developing this perspective and I am not sure that enough effort is put into helping young adults in the matter of choosing and equally importantly understanding the whole business of consequences of their choices. In our own Indian society, concepts like Karma and Destiny tend to obfuscate and confuse, rather than be used as development frameworks.

Also, the fact that we are an economy that has been starved of capital for a long time also tends to skew a whole lot of things towards a bias that can be minimised only over an extended period of sustainable, widespread and deep rooted economic wealth creation. After all, unless we have something to feed and clothe ourselves, issues like liking what we are doing exist only in hypothetical vacuum. The economic progress that we have been seeing over the last decade and a half has a lot to do with the fact that even people like me are indulging in such flights of fancy. Once even a basic level of economic security, real or perceived, is assured, these issues become much more real and felt.

I guess what is important is an acknowledgement of the fact that learning to like what one does is has also a bearing on ultimately getting to do what one likes. It comes with the territory and as long as we are clear about why we doing what we are doing, we will move into one of the buckets.

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One Response to “Doing what you like and/ or liking what you do”

  1. sridhar rentala Says:

    To add to your Dinesh karthik point- Why do the 15 other teams out of top 20 in formula One participate and burn obscene amounts of money every year?I mean advertising mileage just doesnt cut it…

    As you rightly said in a country where for abt 60 years it was dinned into our heads ‘to be happy with what you have’,having a choice about liking and not liking your job is purely in the realms of adventurism.
    Pursuing one’s dreams (in the entrepreneurial sense) was and is never an option for the majority of Indians.
    Those who did were inevitably greeted with failure..Your freinds friend i would say is doing the right thing, but how long is he willing to hold out is the moot point..The more ‘reckelss’ i would guess hold onto ‘dream chasing’ well into their 30’s..The smart ones/weak ones would experiment out of college for a few years and fall in line by or be broken by the time they are 28-29 or get married which ever is earlier.:)

    India was and will never be known for path breaking world changers or innovators – we are excellent executors and followers under a foriegn hand…Vinod dham can be the father of the Chip -But without the Firangi ‘Intel’ Mother – he would have been just another Indian ‘playing with himself’ in pursuit of happiness.

    Why hasn’t any huge earth changing invention, biz model or whatever in the last 200 years not come out of india?
    Top of the mind- Internet, Mobile, Electricity, Cars, Planes,trains,cinema,TV,Cable,Microsoft, google,cricket..even blogs…nothing not even one Indian Orginal…
    the only Indian orginals that i can think of – honestly – Biriyani, chicken Tikka..hmmm…nothin else comes to my mind..
    So much for indians pursuing their dreams – either we were not sleeping well or having nightmares for the last 200 years.


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