Statutory Warning: The author is a proponent of the ‘Long copy’ movement from the post-classical era in advertising. The following article may contain sentences that are over 3 words long. The article has been spell-checked to ensure that it does not comply with WhatsApp. Though the author has a valid Twitter account he barely uses it as nothing that he writes is within 140 characters.
Rahul Sethi is currently an associate with Training Sideways. In his 37 years on this planet he has donned many caps depending on the weather, fashion trends and his mood in general. At times, he has chosen to not wear a cap and let the wind play with his hair.
“So where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” That clichéd question that most of us entering the corporate workforce in the 90s and early 2000s faced at job interviews. Those of us who attended an MBA entrance coaching class would surely remember being tutored on the ideal response to this monumental query that stood between us and the realization of our dreams. Hell, I’ve even asked it of many a job aspirant when I was on the other side of that table. The only fitting answer I ever heard to this question was from a colleague at my first job in an advertising agency, “I don’t know what shirt I’m going to be wearing tomorrow, the f*&# I know where I’ll be in 5 years!”
Growing up in a country with a billion people and less than a million opportunities (ok don’t hold me to that number!), we’re programmed from our childhood to focus and compete. If you’re good at ‘studies’, focus on becoming a doctor or an engineer (software if you please…). If you can’t tell a frog’s heart from its intestines and think that the laws of relativity are Uncle and Aunty, then focus on becoming an MBA or a CA. If it still doesn’t add up then focus on the civil services exam… oh by the way, if you’re female, then focus on getting married.
Blinkers firmly fixed on our eyes, we race like grey hounds in our designated lanes. We can see clearly down the track, the milestones are marked out prominently. And far away in the distance, straight in the line of our vision, we see the goal, our destination. Dare not thou flex thy neck in either direction! Let not the iris wander! For if thee lose focus but for a moment, thy feet shall falter and the body fall. The forest dense and dark shall gather up around thee, and thou will be lost forever in the woods.
And maybe that’s not so bad; this running on a single track. I’ve got to admit you can show me many examples of successful, happy people who never strayed from the beaten path. But must everyone find happiness at the end of the same path? Get access to that path by giving the same answer to the same question asked by gatekeepers who have previously walked on the same path?
What if you bit the forbidden apple? Banished from Eden, what if the menacing forest outside turned out to be a magical maze with a thousand inviting paths with no destination in sight? What if the twisted path you now choose to walk down suddenly crashes into a massive banyan tree that blurs the distinction between path and surrounding? What if you langrously wove through the one hundred arms of the shaggy headed banyan tree (credit: Rabindranath Tagore); branches that reached down to caress the ground or roots that rose up to play with the countless birds nestled amidst its green leaves – who is to say for sure? What if a dozen different paths emerged from where the tangles of the banyan tree trapped the path you arrived by? What if you let yourself wander down any or many of these paths? What if you chose to walk on a path with not a destination in mind, just to walk?
I’m not implying here that we should all abandon our jobs and become nomads traversing the globe. (Though if that’s what you really want, please go ahead by all means; you were only waiting for this inspiring article I suppose…) I am definitely not decrying the specialists, the academics, the industrious, <and one more word I cannot quite recall>. I just know, in every blood cell coursing through my veins, that it’s alright to stray from the beaten path. To enjoy the journey without a clue of where you will land up at the end of the road. Because the end of this road is only the beginning of the next one…