How to make career choices? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)

Question: Sir, after completing B.Tech, should I go for higher studies or a high paying job? How can I decide that?

Speaker: What’s your name?

Listener 1: Sonu Singh, 3rd year B.Tech.

Speaker: After completing B.Tech I do not know that I should go for the job, or for higher studies, or something else. Sonu, usually in life when you are stuck between two or three choices, you will find most of the times that none of the choices are really good for you. So, my question will be that why I am unable to choose between A, B and C. Life says that whenever you are unable to choose between A, B and C; had any of these three been really what your life is looking for, then you would not have been confused. Confusion itself is an indication that these, all three, all five, all eight, are sub-optimal choices.Do you understand what is meant by sub-optimal choices? A sub-optimal choice is that which is not really reaching the maxima. It’s a compromise. First of all, let’s understand what work is because all three questions that you have asked relate to work. Right? What is work?

What is your age today? 21 or 22? You would be working for minimum thirty to forty years. Your total work-life duration will be at least thirty to forty years. Do you see that? That means, particularly till the end of your life except for the last ten years of your life, you would be working. How many hours a day do you sleep? Six hours to eight hours. Right? One or two hours for your other regular physical activities; eating, washing and such other activities. You are left with around fourteen hours. Out of which, how much time do you think one spends working? How much time do you think you spend on working? From one end to another end? End to end means, starting from your home, going to the workplace and coming back to your home. So, how much time do you think you spend working? If you are in NCR, it would be a minimum of twelve hours or it could go to sixteen hours. Because one hour of commuting time either way is the standard. So, two hours you are anyway spending just in commuting. A typical office day stretches to minimum of ten hours, twelve hours is the minimum, it could be fifteen hours, and it could be sixteen hours. So, taking away the sleeping time, you are left with around fifteen hours or so in the day, of which twelve to fifteen hours you are spending in work. Remove the sleeping part, how much of your total waking life you spend on working?

What percentage of your total waking life are you spending on working? Eighty percent! You remove the holidays and the other leaves you take, and yet you will be left with seventy or seventy-five percent. You will be spending three- fourths of your waking life, working.

Understand the significance of ‘work’!

You will be spending three-fourth of your waking life working, which is practically your entire life. So, what is work? Work is life itself! Now somebody who does not make a wise decision with respect to work, is he loosing out merely on work or loosing out on life itself?

Listeners(everyone): Life itself!

Speaker: He has not only spoiled his career but he has actually spoiled his …..

Listeners(everyone): Life!

Speaker: Remember, I am not yet talking of ambition and money. I am just talking of the time you give to work. I have not yet talked of money. I have not yet talked of how high you rise in the corporate hierarchy and such things. No, that’s not my concern. My concern is that an adult being works, he acts and this action is life. If he does not know the direction of his work, if he does not know where to place his work, then he is condemning himself to hell. He is saying that let my life be hell. Because all the day you are working and if work is something that you do not like, if that work is something that your heart does not agree to, then you will suffer and suffer badly. And, that’s what is happening with millions and millions of people around us. Under the influence of various forces, people choose careers, work streams, that are intrinsically unsuitable to them. And then, because of inertia, because of fear they find that they can’t even get out of the rut they have put themselves in. The result, they make a wrong choice and then they have to stay with the wrong choice. First of all you make a wrong choice and then you stay with the wrong choice because you dare not do anything else.

Have you heard the story of the crying woman inside the train? So, there was this woman who was sitting in a long distance train and her co-passenger who did not know her, was sitting in front of her. Two strangers sitting in front of each other. So, the train left the station and after a while the co-passenger sees that the woman is tensed. He notices that people are tensed, nothing big about it. A few hours and he sees that she is actually worried, her forehead is freckled and she is showing physical signs of distress. She is fidgeting, she is looking here and there. He becomes a little concerned, but he thinks that she may be tensed because she is leaving a few people back. There is something in the personal life which is keeping her nervous. The day passes and the night comes. And when the night comes he finds that she is actually shedding the tears. Her eyes are moist. So he gathers courage and asks her that what is wrong. She doesn’t reply. He doesn’t press for the answer because one can’t press strangers for the answers. He goes off to sleep. It’s a long distance train. When he wakes up in the morning he finds that she is actually sobbing. Streams of tears are flowing down her eyes. He again asked her that if is there something wrong. ‘Is there someway I can help?’ She says nothing. So he keeps to himself. By the time the evening comes, it’s a long distance train as is being said, by the time evening comes the woman has gone mad with the grief. She is hitting against the wall. She is actually crying out. Somehow this is too much for the man. He catches hold of her and said, ‘Please tell me what’s wrong? You are getting hysterical for what reason?’ She says, ‘Since yesterday I am sitting in the wrong train. And every passing station reminds me that I am sitting in the wrong train. That is why as the train is moving along, I am getting more and more depressed.’

That is the story of the most of working professionals. First you get into the wrong train, then at every station you have an opportunity to get down. Getting it! Life gives you so much opportunity. It’s a long distance train, it stops at many places. You could have de-boarded it anytime. But then you don’t have the guts to get down either. First of all you are getting into the wrong train, and now you are in the wrong train you keep on going along.

As you go along, your suffering keeps increasing and increasing. First of all out of ignorance or out of fear, pressure or other kinds of influences, you choose the wrong direction of life. And then you find that you do not have the courage to change the direction. Don’t let that happen. You asked me about three choices that is A, B, and C. Now isn’t it obvious that anybody’s career choices include this A, B, and C? How is it possible that if there are two hundred unique individuals sitting over here, all choices are limited to these three?

If you are really unique and you are actually individuals then your career choices will show that. Its more or less a herd mentality, that everybody wants to go in the same direction. How can the same kind of choice be the right choice for every body, if you are really unique? It is obvious that our choices are not our choices. It is very obvious that our choices are not our choices. They are coming from our environment. But who has to live your life? You or the environment? Who will live your life? Would you live your life or those people would live your life which are giving you these choices? Yes!

Yes, YOU would live your life. If you are going to live your life, then you must find out that which really calls you. Do you understand the difference between work and calling? Working is one thing and realizing your calling is another thing. ‘Calling’ is a word that is used to describe the work that really beckons you. It is that which if not done will never leave you satisfied. Most of us never respond to our calling. Most of us even do not know what this ‘calling’ is. It keeps beckoning you. It keeps giving you signals. If you are insensitive, you will not catch those signals.

If you are afraid, then you don’t have space to listen to that little voice. Ask yourself what is it that I can do even without being paid. Can you ask this question to yourself? What is this that I can do even without being paid? And if you find something that you can do, and nobody pays money for you, then that is your calling. Find out something that you want to do even if you have to pay money for it. Instead of getting a salary or compensation even if you have to pay the money to do that, you will still do that. That is your calling. Are you getting it?

There is a character of Howard Roark, the architect in Any Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’. “Architecture is his calling”. He has not taken admission in the architecture college because his papa had told him to. Architecture is his life force. He designs a particular building and he says that I design it because I am in love with it. The client says, ‘No you change the design. If your design is constructed, it will cost me these many dollars extra.’ Roark says, ‘You deduct these many dollars from my fees but I will not change the design’. When that start happening then you know that this my calling. ‘If you want you can hold my entire fee, pay me anything but I will not change my design. I love this design.’

Is there anything of this nature in your life? And if there is, then it is beautiful. And if there is not, then you better find out. Have you heard of Richard Brandson? The founder of the Virgin Brand. Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records etc these things.

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: Once he was asked about what one should do in his life. He said that if you want to fly kites, fly kites. Then give your everything to flying kites. The question was about entrepreneurship. He said that if your heart is in the flying kites, then do keep flying kites. You will be able to make money about it. One does not need too much for the livelihood and that much is available. But then don’t remain confused. Once you find out that you love to fly kites, then just fly kites. Become a master in flying kites. And whenever you have mastery in something, life is with you. Unknown forces come to help you. And you benefit in both ways. One, you are doing what you love to do and second, you are getting help from the unpredictable quarters.

Won’t it be wonderful that you have been paid for doing something that you anyway enjoying doing? Is that not all that what you call heaven? What am I doing? I just do what I enjoy doing and also getting some money for it. Isn’t that beautiful? I am opening the possibility to you. Would that not be beautiful? But that will not open up to you if you keep thinking that life is all about moving in a particular well-laid, well-determined directions. If you say that there are only one, or two, or ten ways of earning livelihood that the society has approved of and I will follow only those ways then there is no hope for you.

If you are really unique, then you must have your unique inclinations. Have you tried to nurture them? These unique inclinations could be anything. Somebody just might like watering plants, somebody may just enjoy reading comic books and it could be just anything. You are privileged that you are living in an age where the economy is more open than it was at any other point where you have the tremendous power of the internet, where the world is economically more prosperous than it ever was. Your country is growing at the heavy rate of growth. Why must you compromise? Remember, we said right in the beginning that if we are compromising with work, we are compromising with life.

Many of us think that let me do anything, at the end of the month I will get the paycheck. I will do anything and ultimately, I will get the paycheck at the end of the month. Let me just do anything, I will ultimately get the paycheck at the end of the month. That is what matters. But tell me that you may get paid on one particular day in the month, but how many days there are in the month?

Listeners(everyone): Thirty days.

Speaker: How many days there are in the month? Thirty! On how many days will you receive the cheque?

Listeners(everyone): One.

Speaker: One. How many days are left?

Listeners(everyone): Twenty- nine.

Speaker: What will you do in those twenty-nine days? Will you just keep waiting for the cheque? Or will you sleep on those twenty-nine days and wake up on the thirtieth day? You have to live through the entire month. How will you live? How will you get out of your house everyday to go to work? How will you do that? How will you spend every hour, every second? How can you be causal about livelihood, work and calling? How can you allow others to dictate you in terms of this regard? Don’t forget the woman who boarded the wrong train. And it’s not difficult. It’s not difficult. You just need to have little faith.

Anyway the route that you are choosing will not give you what you desire from it. If you think that going on these conventional ways will give you security and lot of money, anyway it will not give you. If everybody decides to go on one single road, what happens to that road?

Listeners(everyone): There is a traffic jam.

Speaker: Jam. On a jammed road, does anybody move? You understand what I am trying to say? All of you decide to pursue one particular profession, what will happen to the jobs in that profession. Jam. Will anybody get that job?

Listeners(everyone): No, Sir.

Speaker: India is producing fifteen lakh engineers per year. If they all decide to go to a particular direction obviously most of them are not reaching there. An advantage with pursuing an un-traded, uncharted path is that the road is clear. If you take the road which may be bumpy, which may not have four lanes, which has just a single lane, which nobody uses, which may be little scary because it passes through the jungles, you will be at an advantage. Why will you be at the advantage? Because nobody will be there on that road. You can do whatever you want. If you want, you can sit on the middle of the road and have picnic. But you can’t do that on the highway because everybody wants to go on the highway. When everybody will go on the highway of this nature, there will be traffic jam. We all are struck in the traffic jam, yet we are not searching for our individual route. Remember life is not a highway.

Life is not a place where you can find one common road. Find out your individual road. You all must create your individual path. There are no pre-determined paths. But the mind wants to move on all the paths that have already been used t o make use of other’s experiences, to do what everybody else is doing. But if you will do that, then do not forget that you have only one life. Anybody here who has come with the inventory of life? ‘You know I have forty lives. It doesn’t matter, let me waste one life. Let me gain experience in three or four lives and then after that I will do something enjoyable.’

You have just one life. As far as you are concerned there is only one life. One single precious life. Ask yourself that what am I doing with it. The entire world is open to you. I repeat you are lucky to be born in the time of opportunities. Don’t waste what time has given you. Don’t waste what coincidence has given you. If you love cooking, then you must be in cooking. If you love to run, then run. Let nobody tell you how can an engineer go and become a chef. Let nobody tell you that. Today you have people from IITs and IIMs running real estate firms, who are running laundry services.

If you have gained an education, it should liberate you. It should not enslave you. We find our education enslaving us. We start saying that after getting a big degree, how do I do any small task. I am asking you, ‘Why can’t you run a very well-organised, juice shop? I ensure you that you will earn more there than you will earn in your run-of-the-mill job. Then that one juice shop can become a chain. What are these brands, Starbucks, Cafe Coffee Day? They are nothing but Chaaye waalas and Coffee waalas. Right? The Chaaye waala and Coffee waala are now a multinational company. Why can’t you start with your own juice shop? What prevents you?

Rotten belief. A false sense of respectability. That what holds us back. ‘Will I run a juice shop after studying so much? Your study has become your handicap. Will I run a small dhaba? Have I studied mechanical engineering just to make these small spare parts? Yes I love soccer but now I am an electronics engineer. How can I become a soccer coach in a school? I am a computer engineer, how can I go and start teaching the kids of three, four years in a school. How can I open a small school in a village? I am a computer engineer. Even though you know that you love to teach, you love to be with the kids, even though you realize that your village is in need of school, still you will not do that. You will not do that. Many of us come from villages and small town. Don’t we? Many of us know what is needed at our place. There is a tremendous opportunity there. But we won’t do that. Why we won’t do that? I am asking you. Why not? Why must you inspire to be in Bangalore, Gurgaon and California? Why not about your native place? So, Sonu, it’s not a question of option of A, B and C. There is D, there is E, there is F; right up to Z. And it doesn’t stop there.

As all of you are individuals, you must find your individual calling. That is the only way of living. Everything else is hell.

Excerpted from a ‘Shabd-Yog’ session. Edited for clarity.