Labours of Love: The Magic of Doing What You Love

It takes a few small steps to take a giant leap in the direction of your passion

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life. — Wayne Dyer

Kalpana Chawla, J K Rowling, Shankar MahadevanHaving a sense of purpose and striving towards your own goal gives life a new meaning, direction and satisfaction. It not only contributes to health and longevity, but also makes you feel better in difficult times.

The best prescription for improving your happiness quotient might well be, "Do what you love and love what you do."

Considering that you spend a major part of your life working, it is imperative that you feel good about doing it. Or, else, you may fall sick. Research testifies to a direct correlation between an individual's wellbeing and professional fulfilment.

But, this is nothing new. Have we all not heard of the dejected engineer who would've rather been a doctor, but didn't due to an erroneous decision made during academic life, and is now a victim of chronic depression? You may call it a typical example - a square peg in a round hole. There are a number of such examples — of individuals who don't like what they do for a living. No wonder why most of them land up in their jobs/professions due to misinformed, misguided, or, worse still, casual career decisions made in early academic life, to which they are now stuck - lock, stock, and barrel.

But, there is good news. You can change your career at any age. Granted, that if you're in your 20s, the switch is less "risky," than say 40. However, rest assured, you can follow your inner calling regardless of how old you are, and what you're doing now.

There was an "ordinary" young woman who spent several years after graduating in relative poverty. Thereafter, for many years, she held a variety of secretarial jobs, including one at a publishing firm, where she had to send out rejection letters to prospective authors. She also worked briefly as a teacher, and later lived off the English public-assistance programme, while taking care of her baby daughter. During her child's naps, she frequented a small English cafe and created a story about a magical world. In 1997, J K Rowling's first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone became an instant hit with children and adults alike. The rest is history, a part of publishing tizzy, or folklore.

To date, six of the seven volumes of the Harry Potter series have been published and they have all broken sales records. The last three volumes in the series have been the fastest-selling books in history, grossing more money in their opening 24-hours than blockbuster films. Rowling's book number six in the series earned The Guinness World Records Award for being the fastest-selling book ever. It also sold more copies in a day than Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code did in a year. Come to think of it: The Da Vinci Code was the best-selling book the previous year!

Today, Rowling is one of the highest-paid authors and also one of the richest women in the UK.

Closer home, there was a man who started his career as a professor teaching chartered accountancy. His inner calling led him give up teaching and take the plunge into business. His first business foray was into textiles. Not satisfied, he continued his quest for fulfilment in another line of business - real estate.

25 years later, Niranjan Hiranandani is one of the most-respected names in the real estate business in India. His passion is clearly visible to everyone who has seen, or is part of, any of his projects, recognised for its modern and state-of-the-art aesthetic medley. This is not all. The Hiranandani Group has now gone international with 23 Marina - a 380 m high 90-storied neo-lifestyle residential tower coming up in the fashionable Marina of Dubai. Due for completion in 2008, 23 Marina is tipped to be the world's tallest residential tower. Hiranandani is a firm believer of following your dreams. He says: "I thoroughly enjoy the work I do. Though there is risk involved in everything you do, it is important to take calculated risks." He also notes that money is not the only driving factor. You also have to enjoy your work. He wouldn't have been so happy today, he says, if he worked only for money. Doing what you love may seem impossible; but, the stress, pain, injury and disease resulting from clinging to your old work may destroy you.

If nothing else, you take a few small steps in the direction of your passion. This is what it all needs! What's more, if we believe this to be a safe universe, such a leap into the unknown becomes easier.

Never too late

Research suggests that less than 20 per cent of us are able to figure out our calling by the age of 16. So, what if you have obtained a qualification in a subject that no longer excites you? When you made the decision to study to be an engineer, a doctor, an architect, or a scientist, you were about 16 or 18 years old. Why should you continue being stuck in a profession you chose in your formative years?

Harsha Bhogle is inarguably the most-admired cricket commentator in the world — a man many Australians wanted to be their Prime Minister! Yet, did you know that he started his career as a journalist, and that he is a qualified chemical engineer and management professional? In fact, he is an alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, the most-prestigious business school in India.

In many ways, Bhogle rewrote the rules of the willow game. When he started off, cricket commentary was not considered a serious profession, or vocation. It was difficult to think of it as a full-time career option. It was also a time when Indian commentators had not yet made a mark in TV commentary. In retrospect, Bhogle's rise to stardom is anything but obvious. Bhogle recalls, "[Cricket commentary] was not a career option those days at all. I did do a bit of radio commentary, wrote about the game, travelled to many countries footing the expenses myself, and sending cricket reports to different newspapers, till ESPN came on to the scene, sometime in 1995." The rest is, again, a cliche: a part of Bhogle's fairy-tale rise and rise.

Creating opportunities

There is an old saying, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." Kalpana Chawla did exactly that. Born in 1961 in Karnal, a small village in Haryana, Chawla and her brother, Sanjay, shared a childhood interest in flying. When she announced to her father that she wanted to study aerospace engineering in college, he told her she should study to be a doctor or teacher. Undeterred by a male professor, who told her that engineering was "unladylike," Chawla obtained a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Punjab Engineering College, in 1982. Though her father had hoped she and her brother would join him in the tyre business, Kalpana had other ideas. She topped her engineering class at the university and was offered a job in her own college. As her dream wanted, she was also accepted at the University of Texas, US, for a master's in aeronautical engineering. Because her father was travelling at the time and no one but he could make the decision, Chawla took the teaching position. She had already attempted to go to flight school following in her brother's foot-steps but was unable to join the class without the consent of her father. Finally, in 1988, with a PhD in hand, she began working at the NASA Ames Research Center, US, with powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. Her date with history came, when she soared into space - an astronaut in a manner born.

Where is the risk?

People often talk about risks associated with doing what you love. Ironically, when you follow your calling, the risk comes down. Imagine doing what you love and being paid for it! Ask Shankar Mahadevan, the software-engineer-turned-award-winning-singer-composer, who left his "secure" job with a software company to pursue his life-long dream of singing. He's done well for himself, you would agree.

Other examples of those who have traded their security with success are: Madhuri Dixit, a microbiologist who became an actress; Lalchand Rajput, cricketer-turned-coach-and-administrator, Amisha Patel, genetic engineer-turned-screen siren, Anil Kumble, mechanical-engineer-turned-leg-spinner, and Mani Ratnam, management graduate-turned-film-maker. The list is only representative, not comprehensive.

Contrary to what most people believe, the risk associated with doing what you love is lower than the risk associated with a "secure" job. Think about it. When you look for newer avenues to apply yourself, wouldn't you end up becoming a lot more self-reliant? Most people view their employment as a type of security. But, in the real sense, there is no such thing as job security. Everyone knows that s/he can get fired anytime, with or without notice. The feeling of absolute security can come only from within - from a knowing that you will be able to deal with any setbacks in life. Once you experience this truth, success, abundance and fulfilment will come your way.

Remember Marsha Sinetar's book, Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow? Sinetar's work comforted its readers that money would follow, but not necessarily immediately, if one made a work change in the direction of one's passion. Most of us take no action hoping that money and security will be there even before we change vocations. This is often not the case.

It takes considerable grit and determination to go the independent way. "Whenever you see a successful individual, someone once made a courageous decision," extolled Peter Drucker, one of the most admired modern management gurus in recorded history. This is inspiring courage - a belief in believing in oneself that differentiates individuals who answered their call from the rest.

It Begins in Childhood

From our childhood we are coerced to follow the conventional path. Along the way, through happy accidents, we discover small pockets of doing what we love. Unfortunately, due to the tremendous strength of our conditioning, we relegate our attention to doing what we must to survive.

Every individual is gifted. Almost 60 per cent of children do not know what they are good at, or they are not exposed to prospective fields and careers. Parents ought to, therefore, encourage their children to explore and discover their calling - for the higher purposes of one's existence in life, career, or think of what you may.

Seek, and You Shall Find

We must first seek what it is that we are aiming at; next, we must look about for the road by which we can reach it most quickly, said philosopher Seneca.

Things have not changed much since. For one simple reason - all of us need help, inspiration, and guidance, in our journey through life. This is not all. Even those who are most successful need reminders and fresh articulations of truth: they also need to rethink, redefine, re-focus, and strive for excellence. Easier said than done? Not really!

Now, the big question: are there universal conditions that guarantee success? As Tom Morris, a professor of philosophy, writes in his perceptive book, True Success, "Genuine achievement [should] begin with something in the inner life of thought, feeling, imagination, and judgment, and provide for our moving into a form of success in the outer world that will resonate deeply with our innermost needs and values."

How can we attain this sort of harmony and balance necessary for true success and happiness, you may well ask. Morris is again pragmatic: "The quest for success should be an exciting and fulfilling adventure. A desire for success in any activity should be redefined and enhanced by a broader perspective on what it takes for success in life." Morris does not shed new light on old problems; rather, he draws inspiration from the great thinkers, and explores the continued relevance of their message in the troubled times we now live in. Interestingly, Morris also arms his philosophical radar with the kind of success that is available to every human being - living, breathing and thinking - which only means using your talents and following your heart without equating wealth, fame, power, or high social status with success.

Great thinkers have always identified the basic dimensions of human life as: the intellectual dimension, which aims at truth; the aesthetic dimension, which aims at beauty; the moral dimension, which aims at goodness; and, the spiritual dimension, which aims at God. Dimension is where the action is. Says Morris: "A spiritual malaise, within any person, inevitably infects relations between, and among persons, preventing them from being the best that they can be."

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri likes to call himself an eternal soul disguised, among many things, as a writer. He is the author of more than 1000 published articles — on business management, philosophy and everything in between. He is a certified counsellor and has addressed thousands of students and parents on exam-stress in public seminars. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj is Editor and Publisher of Complete Wellbeing.

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