The confusing conversation around career choices

I just got off the train, after having completed a week-long trip to Andhra Pradesh, where our company is now expanding. Yesterday, I interviewed some engineering graduates for our implementation team.  After the interviews, the placement officer asked me to speak to junior college students regarding career counseling.

I wanted to keep the discussion conversational, more so because I had nothing particularly enlightening to share. I asked twenty students what they wanted to do after college.  Answers ranged from software engineer to army officer. I focused the discussion on core attributes that are needed no matter what career choice one makes – leadership, comfort with failure, developing analytical skills, and constantly learning and reading.

After the session, two students walked up to me and said their biggest concern was they did not know what they were passionate about. They said a previous career counseling session conducted by a paid career counselor focused on how one should do what one is passionate about.

But there’s a problem here. Indian colleges, including the best, provide no avenue for students to explore their passions or strengths. Moreover, passion is also a function of effort – when you invest energy in an activity and start seeing success in it, passion usually follows.

It will be a much more fruitful conversation to help students explore their strengths, and present to them career choices that leverage some, if not all, of those strengths.  Correct expectations also need to be set – like everything else in life, career also needs figuring out through a combination of effort, patience, and experimentation. For e.g. Someone who finds no joy in learning about object oriented programming can suddenly not become a prodigal android developer.  Someone with an outgoing personality may be a much better fit in sales or support, but these career choices are not even discussed on campuses.

Placement officers and colleges need to get their attention realigned to educating students on what’s out there in the market,  rather than just obsessing on placement numbers and philosophical conversations around passion. Unless we do so,  industry will continue to see an influx of ill prepared and demotivated workers.

Taking an inventory of the tough times

It’s been a tough week so far. The last two days have involved more-than-usual firefighting and some workplace conflicts. The good thing is that I work with a highly mature group, which keep conflicts highly professional and asks each other the tough questions. Nonetheless, undergoing a physically and emotionally tough day is taxing.

If you’ve read this far, you have realized this post is not written by the author when he is in the best of moods. Also, be warned that it does not get better from here.

But if you’ve come this far in the post, there is an upside! it hit me tonight that my definition of a “bad day” needs some calibration. So I thought of re-counting here some of my professional-life bad days, just to read myself later to remind myself that I’ve lived through worse.

1. My toughest experience, top of mind, was an instance when I was completely in the wrong (I’m going to keep a certain level of abstraction here). I had committed a grave error, and it was not just a mistake but something I will now classify as “willful ignorance”. I was called out on it, and frankly I should have known better. I rode on the assumption that my act will be overlooked, and that tempted me to take a short cut. If it was not for the good nature of some senior people involved who were on my side, it could have turned out bad.

However – it taught me never, ever to take shortcuts again. Between the easy-but-wrong and the right-but-tough thing to do, I now always choose the right-but-tough thing (or so I think)

2. Once, a customer threatened to “ruin my career” if I did not give him a specific business report he wanted on priority. It was clearly an over-the-top response over a banal item, by a customer well-known for his bad temper. More interestingly, when I took the matter to my boss at the time, instead of siding by me, she admonished me for aggravating the customer. Later, when I thought about it, I realized it was plainly an emotional response from her, because she would now need to meet the customer to discuss the outstanding item, and those two could not stand the sight of each other. She took it out on me. Thankfully it was a Friday, so I came home early and drank a beer to get over the memories of two outrageous encounters.

Lesson learned: sometimes you just got to take it. From everyone.

3. My job hunt in 2012. Before I landed a generous independent assignment, I was out hunting for work for more than 3 months. Those were tough 3 months. It took a lot to keep hitting job postings everyday, knowing fully well such searches take time. I held on, and kept going. Then one day, it was over and I was back in business.

Lesson learned: sometimes life hits you hard. Believe things will change, and you will feel yourself again. And keep going.

I started this post feeling negative, but having penned down the tougher times, today doesn’t look so bad. I think the trick worked!

Koshish muskuraane ki

Jaari hai koshish muskuraane ki,

Labzon mein ghum ko dubaane ki.

Har din ki is kashmakash mein kho diya khud ko,

Daudta hai waqt, jaldi hai use guzar jaane ki.

Ik taraf hain saaye mere zehan me jhoojhte mujhse,

Ik taraf zamaana, aadat hai jise mujhe aazmaane ki.

Phir bhi ummeed liye guzarte hain mushkilon se hum,

Agar hai Khuda, toh sifaarish hai usse meherbaani ki.

Yaadein taaza hai un lamhon ki, jab paaya thaa chain,

Raah dekhein, us pal ke phir se aane ki.

Jaari hai koshish muskuraane ki,

Labzon mein ghum ko dubaane ki.

When words can’t

Originally posted on Cristian Mihai:

words2Don’t you feel that certain human experiences can’t be expressed? That certain depths of the soul can’t be put into words, no matter how much we try? Yes, it feels at times that words are simply bleeding out of our hearts, and, yes, we do come close to revealing the essence of the human spirit, yet we fail. Time and time again.

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Memories of Maggi

Most days, I walk back from work. It’s pretty much the only exercise I get, not proud of it but that’s the way it goes when you’re hustling at a startup. My walks are important to me: it’s my 30 minutes of solitude, music and thinking.

Got a Whatsapp message from wifey as I was leaving office: “Maggi for dinner.” I think she was trying to tone down my expectations from dinner. However, little does she know how much I love Maggi, especially on a cold winter night like this. I had an extra spring in my step walking home towards my Maggi bowl. My walk got me thinking of a fond childhood memory.

Delhi is a glorious place in the winters. My family was never the very outgoing kinds. Dad worked hard to give us a good life, and there was never a lot of extra money to spend on going out. Still, mom would make small outings happen every now and then. One time, we got together with one family from the neighbourhood, and made a Sunday evening trip to Appu Ghar. I must have been in 3rd standard, so did not get to ride the more awesome rides like Roller Coaster and My Fair Lady. Still, the rides left an impression – I remember throwing a fit asking to be taken on a ride, to no avail.

However, what I did get was a big bowl of hot Maggi at the Maggi stall. Clumsy as I was, mom decided to absolve me from feeding myself, and fed me. The bowl was followed by a glass of hot milk. Of all the things about my childhood I have forgotten, I distinctly remember how good that bowl of Maggi and that glass of hot milk felt.

And then, I had Maggi again today. Told wifey the story of my Maggi memories from Appu ghar. For a brief moment, I met the 3rd standard kid inside of me, who cherished that little snack then, and cherishes it even now.

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The 30th birthday reflective post

My resolve to blog regularly has not worked out too well. I have been kinder on myself than before, though. I have come to realize that I will remain an undisciplined blogger. However, I also realize that I have an urge to write, maybe a more elementary human urge to be heard that I like to express through writing. So, every few months, a sporadic blog post will keep emerging. This is one of those sporadic blog posts. I am on a train back to Bangalore from Chennai, about to begin a 4-day vacation. Next few days will mark my 3rd anniversary, and 30th birthday. So it’s a good opportunity to get reflective.

When you hit an age perfectly divisible by 10, I think you end up evaluating things. Well, not at 10 and 20, you are too immature or too drunk to evaluate anything at those two milestones. Not to say you cannot be immature or drunk when entering 30, but I think this is one of the first birthdays in a long time when I have thought of taking stock of my life.

So, how am I doing? I think I’m doing good. I think I‘m happy. I am not particularly overjoyed; nothing exceptional has happened recently for me to feel ecstatic. But I remember a time when I was perpetually anxious, maybe sorrowful. That has changed.

I am sure of one thing – I am more connected with myself. I am aware of things that give me joy, and things that give me grief. I am aware of things in my life that need fixing, and I know what will happen if I do not fix them. I know life is uncertain, and that I will never be in control. I also know that in-spite of never being in control, the only thing that is in my hands is to wake up everyday and give the world my best.

So, net net, I feel I know myself a little better getting into my 30th year. I know I have far more to be thankful for than to be sad about, and that life has been kind. There is nothing to regret, but there is no time to get complacent. Here’s raising a toast to the last 30 years – thank you, you’ve been awesome.

Monday

I am getting back to blogging after 6 months on the unlikeliest of days. A Monday.

So many weeks and months passed, where every Friday, after a week of maddening work at my start-up, I would tell myself I would finally write a blog that weekend. The weekends brought their frolic, and somehow always managed to subdue the thought of sitting and typing my thoughts out here.

Today is the first Monday in a long time I am not working late into Monday night. I thought it was a good idea to use these minutes to come back here and drop a note, for myself to read later.

Work is the same – part fun, part stress, but overall very satisfying. My moment of joy on weekday nights is coming home to the wife and the dog, and spending some time just existing around them. Most days, that seems to be enough. It’s all I want.

Then there are days when dissatisfaction creeps in. With life, or money, or love, or career success, or social standing. All those petty things that tend to nibble away on your happiness. They come, bite sometimes, and leave a sting.

Although as time passes by, I am getting better at getting rid of the sting quickly. The dull moments come, take a toll. But I smile and tell them to move on. And I have found that if I assert myself strongly enough, the stinging feelings leave quickly.

Right now, that is my dominant thought, and the message to my future self. That only we, and we alone, can reason with our demons, and send them away. Other people can come and help, maybe show the way, but in the end it is us who must handle the difficult task of reasoning with ourselves and finding peace in chaos.

So keep looking. And keep rocking!