Getting ready to run

I graduated five years ago. With all the starry eyes (yeah right!) and quaking toes (more to the point) of a fresher in the jungle (a la babe in the woods). Several hundred nights of poring over job advertisements, college prospectuses and websites offering the magic solution to making you employable, later….here I am.

I’m beginning to receive frantic calls from the younger siblings of friends, kids of my parents’ acquaintances and other such woe-begone beings who are facing the same situation I was a few years back. What to do and how to do it???? So here my precious, is a realistic albeit cynical look at what life is going to be like for you in the next few years:

You will spend the next two years (at least) trying to learn the language.
Yes, on top of language of instruction, second language, third language, mother tongue (welcome to the Indian education system!) you now realise the entire purpose was to equip you to keep picking up the jargon easily. The first thing to do in a new place is to pick up the local lingo. Every single culture, geography, race, profession, industry, company, department…in fact every single group of human beings has its own unique lingo.

If by some stroke of genius you do know at 21, which group’s label you want to spend the rest of your life toting, then your first step will be to learn to talk the talk. So you will read newspapers, journals, books and browse websites, google for every conceivable new phrase you hear in this context and watch every interview with everyone remotely connected to this group. At the end of it, you still won’t know what 90% of the words mean but you’ll sure know how to sound like you do.

If on the other hand, you are endowed with a normal intellect (and adequate confusion) like the rest of us, you will decide to ‘do everything so I don’t have to decide just now’. In time you’ll realise the lingo for that is ‘keep my options open’. You will still do the very same things that your more secure-in-their-choice peers do. All of you are going to be ruing your decisions in a few years anyway.

You will build a neighborhood in this group and burrow into it.
In most other human situations, a person would build a base in a new place and then extend it by developing his territory, interacting with others around etc. In this case alone, you will build the surrounding first and then jump into the centre of it. You will learn that NETWORKING is not something that TV executives do. Friends, relatives, neighbors, the man in the next building who gets his newspapers delivered by the same guy who supplies to your house, the uncle of that classmate who had a crush on you in seventh grade….all of these people will magically transform into key-holders. Every single one of them has a key to open a door that may as well lead to the elusive S word (SUCESS!!)

You will learn to smile at people you don’t know, people you never liked, people you thought were extensions of the furniture, people you didn’t realise were alive until they left. You will even learn to make small talk. And with a whole lot of mistakes and skinned knees (think learning to ride a bike), you will even figure out how to fit in a request (plea for help) in all that.

You will have the profound realisation that other people’s egos can be your friends…like huge furry exotic felines that need to be stroked and pampered so their owners will let you into their homes.

You will be depressed, dejected, frustrated and angry.
And you will learn to keep quiet about it.
Oh, don’t believe me. Struggle and protest all you like that you won’t give in to such ‘disdainful’ practises. Rebel all you want. At the end you’ll realise rebellion is a luxury only teenagers have. That is if you want the other luxuries that an adult can have. Of course money can’t buy you everything. But it sure can make you forget that there are other things that don’t come with a price tag.

It is a rare person who finds what he/she truly loves. And it is an even rarer individual who actually manages to do it. And I have never met anyone who stayed happy doing what they wanted. Dreams are in a different planet from reality altogether. Dreams don’t include hard facts like corruption, practicality, competition etc.

You will succeed. And you’ll gloat. Then you’ll fail. Or you will fail. And you’ll mope. Then you’ll succeed.
This is a philosophical statement. Sucess and failure come to you in near-equal doses and in totally unpredictable ways. Confidence in one’s abilities is a good thing but life is a nasty, sneaky ol’ pro at shaking that secure feeling. Things have an annoying way of changing. People have an annoying way of changing. Your own body, mind, spirit have an annoying way of changing.

In the working world there are these gargoyles called Performance Appraisals where you get to meet bouquets and brickbats in the same room. One of the most popular thought-structures ever designed…the SWOT analysis (Strengths-Weakeness-Opportunities-Threats) is a visual tool to get your confusion down on paper. Personally I no trouble thinking up things to put down….I just can’t figure where to put what. Ahh….the painful process of self-realisation.

You’ll shift from seeing your dream like a sunset on the horizon to watching for the signboards along the way that tell you how far you’ve gotten.
Ah, milestones. Its a good concept. It is the regulator on your adrenalin surges. Milestones are your way of assuring yourself that even if the horizon even furthur away than when you started, hell…you’ve come this way. I hate to tell you but it will be a long while before you realise that moving only makes sense if you’re going in the right direction. Otherwise you’re just running around in circles.

Somewhere you’ll make the choice. And keep making it every day of your life thereafter. The choice of measuring your sucess in terms of how far you’ve come on the road you’re on. Or choosing to think you’re nearer to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is not an easy choice, either way. Really, really believe me on this one.

The mid-twenties will happen to you.
Oh yes, quarter-life crisis. You’ll have been so busy watching everyone else who ran past, counting all the ones you left behind, pacing the ones you consider your equals….you’ll realise one sudden morning that you haven’t given a thought to one person in this race…YOU.

Everyone I know has faced and still is facing this situation. The reason I’m talking about in this column is that it affects every area of your life…most visibly your work. This is the time when people finally give up their first (and utterly disillusioning) first job or decide to go back to college or jump into a field that they know nothing about. This is the culmination of all the fears, insecurity, frustration and pain of the the past few years. This is the first glorious catharsis of the adult that you suddenly find you have become. It is a painful thing to accept that all your effort and labours of the past few years have been spent in building a profession, a life that you don’t like.

But it is a wonderfully liberating thing to be able to shrug it off and start again. And you will start to learn the lingo, find a neighborhood to burrow into all over again. This time you’ll be able to laugh at some of the things that happen to you and to other people. You may even make some friends along the way. You can practise and even perfect the art of getting into the rat-race. But once in, its learn on the go. Something like what designers of Hollywood celebs too….just figure out how to get that damn dress on. Whether it stays on or not and how can be thought about later.

In a nutshell, you can and probably will spend a couple of years actually preparing to get do something and you’ll spend the rest of your working life trying to figure out what that something should be. Welcome to the working world of reality.

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