I think I was nine when my father came home one day and announced he was buying a buffalo. Yes, you heard that right. Appa had a regular office job; he diligently went to work every day, although his mind was always wandering into all the things he could do other than his job. This time it was dairy farming.
Of course, it was just one of many ideas he acted on. The buffalo didn’t happen, but that’s another story. My dad then tried being an organic fruit and vegetable supplier, a landscape gardener, a horticulturist. Once, he nearly started his brand of pickles and chutneys. He also tried being a builder, but that didn’t end well.
People labelled him a maverick, too old to take these risks. Family members would advise him to hold on to his job and stop trying things he knew nothing about. I don’t think it bothered him.
— “I can do wonders,” he would say. They would laugh. We laughed too.
My father is now 82 years old and is a farmer. He grows things on a little patch of land in Zhadshapur, a small village in Belgaum. He says he’s finally happy waking up every morning and going to work. He also says he sleeps well and has beautiful dreams. And whenever he visits Mumbai, my friends get bright orange pumpkin wedges and red plantains as return presents.
The red plantains are his specialty. They are hard to grow, he says, and can fetch a good price in the market, at least Rs 20 a piece when he last did the rounds. His last harvest was 100 plantains and it thrilled him no end. Every member of the family has heard the story.
When I was a child, I read a book Why I’m like Dad. It was mostly about genetics and stuff, but somehow the title stuck. Years later, when I abandoned a safe and bankable career in the pharmaceutical industry to try a career in writing, I remembered that again.
I remember what motivated me was boredom. I could not imagine doing things on loop, where one day would be exactly the same as another. I then became a copywriter, and for a long time, my family couldn’t make sense of me. My spotless academic life now had a permanent blot.
I remember being a salesperson for children’s encyclopaedias when I was still figuring out what to do with my life. I sold a few books, too, so maybe I wasn’t bad. I also graded papers for a coaching institute, teamed with a friend to design clothes for children from textile waste, tried being a yoga assistant, a tutor, proofreader and a research assistant. I managed a helpline for stray dogs and an NGO store. I worked in a placement firm, trying to sell dream jobs to people. I wasn’t very convincing. And oh, I also co-founded a content management company and watched it go bust in a year. I wrote resumes, presentations and speeches for other people. I designed visual aids for pharma companies. I later worked as a journalist, an editor, a teacher. It got me closer to who I was, but it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Was I trying to find my passion? I don’t think so. I was just trying to do a good job of whatever came my way. For the longest time, I have been trying to construct the perfect answer to “What do you do?” The reason people ask this is to figure out who you are. But what if you are not just what you do? What if there are so many other facets to you that you are unable to showcase in your job? I think this “find your passion” thing is unnerving. I know that I love beginning things. I am adaptable and curious; I can learn pretty much anything on the job. But when something is not working for me, I am incredibly good at letting it go. I did worry that I had commitment issues but maybe, just maybe, for some of us, there is no one calling. Isn’t it a relief to know that?
Right now, I write children’s books. I tell stories and talk about finding your path. I still wonder what to put in the “Occupation” box, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. At some point, I stopped tailoring my resume to sound consistent. The point is: What’s the harm in not knowing what you want to do? Why is it so defining? As a mother, I meet parents all the time, and they annoy me, most of the time. Parents of teenagers are especially a worried lot. “She has no idea what she wants to do”. or “He is so confused, please give him some advice”.
I loved my students, especially the ones who didn’t know, because I don’t believe “chasing your passion” or “knowing what you want to be” means anything. What will really get them far is knowing how to do a job, any job, really well. We all know there are things we are good at. There are things the world will pay us for. And there are things we love doing. Sometimes the three intersect. But even if you get one of the three right, you are on your way somewhere.
I am sure there is not a single person who hasn’t had the urge to “try something different”. No matter what your life stage, no matter how much your job pays you, sometimes, your inner voice urges you to go ahead, just try it. And just as quickly, your inner pause button stops you. “Are you crazy? That’s not even a real job!”
I have been lucky, because, over a period of time, my inner voice and I have become best friends. Very often, our rational mind can make some irrational decisions. We just have to stop getting in the way. Sometimes, life also puts you in situations when you make fearless decisions. Like the time I quit a high-profile job to go teach at a school on a hill. It took off a zero from my pay check, yes. But it added zeroes to my emotional quotient and gave me a rent-free life for a year while I figured what to do with my marriage. To me, it was the most practical decision I ever made.
But what if we can make such decisions even when we are not in extreme situations? What if we let ourselves try new things, even if we are afraid of failure? What is the worst thing that can happen?
Yes, that’s probably what my father would ask. If he can try something new at 80, anyone can. At the end of the day, half-hearted careers means half-hearted people. That means half-hearted relationships, half-hearted marriages, and eventually, half-hearted kids. And all it would have taken to not make this happen was to try something else.
What I really want for the future is an alternate universe to Linkedin. Where you can look at the unlinkedin profiles of people, where things don’t add up, where people will share their failures instead of their successes and be stronger for it.