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Follow Your Dreams: Unconventional Careers of Professionals
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Posted by : thedesk   Jul 7 2005
Unconventional Careers of Professionals
“I never went into business to make money. I went into business so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before."
– Amar Bose

Quick reference:
Story of the IITengineer who worked for social causes in rural India
From IIM to Journalism
IIT turned this engineering student into a novelist
The IITian who became a chief minister
How people choose unconventional careers
Celebrities from IIM – Bhogle, Sarabhai and Geet Sethi
From Stanford to Bollywood
Young entrepreneurs
Female IIM grad is Jerry Maguire to Sehwag and Rajyavardhan Rathore
Investment Banker writes successful book about life in IIT and five-point GPAs

Few years back, Vinayak Lohani was at a crossroads. The IIT Kharagpur graduate was about to complete his management education at IIM Calcutta. He confronted himself with the question most of us ask ourselves at some point of time in our career – What should I do? A question as simple as that is often the most difficult to answer. The Joka grad and ex-Infosys employee did what most fail to – answer the call of passion and follow one’s dream, withstanding in the process fierce pressures to avoid a route most considered a heresy after an IIT and IIM degree. Vinayak had an opportunity to join a rosy corporate career, much like his peers did. Instead, he took a path much less dared and decided to work for the destitute children of Calcutta. He began with three street children, met stiff resistance from many quarters, worked shifts at a training institute for subsistence and networked with friends from IIT and IIM for support.

That journey resulted in the formation of Parivaar — a shelter for the homeless and abandoned children. For months, he walked the bylanes of slums and red-light areas of the city, hoping to make a breakthrough. Recalls an associate, "The very first week, with just five children, food nearly ran out. We were worried about procuring paddy and wheat. There was no way out but to borrow locally. Eventually, some donations came in and we were afloat again." Vinayak and his seven-member staff, including teachers and helps, never let tough times dampen their spirits. The corporate world may have lost a bright young executive but over seventy five homeless children got their parivaar in Vinayak Lohani. Equally importantly, the former management grad got down to pursue work that he liked. The courage of Vinayak is a direct and simple inspiration to all professionals.

Story of the IITengineer who worked for social causes in rural India
Anuvrata ‘Dunu’. Roy, a chemical engineer from IIT Mumbai (1967) has achieved success doing path-breaking work for a social cause. He has shown how an engineer who works at grassroots level needs to combine understanding of social, cultural, environmental issues with technological issues. He, alongwith a few people started a community living experiment and carried out studies in environmental planning at Shahdol in MP. The Shahdol Group has emerged as a major pool of intellectual thought, attracting students, academics and activists. It set in motion innovative people-oriented methods of social activism.

He's a role model for engineers who want to work off the beaten track. "In those days, there was no tension of bagging the best job in the biggest MNC, so I could spend time relating engineering to social issues," says Dunu in response to why he chose this unusual option. Today, he's still works in the villages, offering advice on hazards and technical support.

‘We are encouraged to be successful, to go for money, status, the big car, the title, but when we get all that, we may not be happy. Often it hits people around 33, when they decide they have done it all in their career and they want to find fulfillment instead, says life coach Suzy Greaves in an article in The Observer. Family and friends pressurize young people toward options that avoid the risks of a hard grind or minimize the chances of landing a perceivable inappropriate job. Unusual careers are born when some of these talented people, trapped in artificial casks, break out of them.

From IIM to Journalism
There have been inspiring instances of professionals who’ve discovered their dream while working in another field and yet came back to pursue their goals. Sandipan Deb completed his studies at IIT and IIM and worked with the ITC group for a few years, seemingly headed for an impressive career in the corporate world. Sandipan’s father, like any other dad imagined his son to be heading an MNC one day, was in for a rude shock when the young man decided to exchange the boardroom suit for a journalist’s unwashed look. From a potentially cushy career in the corporate sector, his son decided to switch to an uncertain one in journalism. The vital aspect however, was that Sandipan had finally found his life’s calling in the world of writing. He took to where his heart lay. Says, Sandipan, “…after three-four years in the standard MBA jobs in advertising and then in financial services in the ITC group, I had this introspective phase. I looked at all my abilities and wondered which was the one thing that I could do and enjoy the most. The answer I got was writing." What he discovered then, gave the world a few years later one of the respected journalists in India who happens to be the managing editor of Outlook magazine and editor of Outlook Money. On how does one make sense of his career change after engineering and management to a completely different field? "Education is about preparing you for life, and in this the IITs have succeeded extremely well," he resolves the dichotomy.

IIT turned this engineering student into a novelist
Raj Kamal Jha, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, (Mechanical Engineering, 1988) is another one who took to a creative field after IIT. One day, during laboratory experiments of his engineering days, he discovered that his passion lay in the world of creative writing. He chose to do a master’s in journalism after graduating from IIT. Sometime back, he wrote a successful first novel, The Blue Bedspread and is currently a senior editor with the Indian Express.

The IITian who became a chief minister
Whoever said politics is the last preserve of the scoundrel has also to look at some of the finest minds who decided to join it. Jairam Ramesh studied mechanical engineering at IIT Mumbai, before going on to do a public management degree at Carnegie Melon University, and then spent a year at MIT studying technology policy, economics, engineering and management. Changing track, he has had a successful career in politics and is currently a Member of Parliament representing Andhra Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha, as also a member of a few important committees in the Parliament, including the Standing Committee on Finance. Manohar Parrikar did his B.Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering from IIT Bombay in 1978 and then turned an entrepreneur, producing hydraulic equipments in Goa. He joined politics in 1988 and went on to become a chief minister of Goa.

How people choose unconventional careers
Do people stumble upon their interests in careers that are unconventional or is it a conscious decision? If we scan though the graph of most of these professionals, we will find that they took the decision to pursue a different kind of career after a few years in another job. That also proves that the education system does little by way of identifying and counseling a talented child. The individual goes through a trial phase where he introspects and decides what is best for him. In the US too this problem exists, but its far more pronounced in India.

Stanford University professor John Krumboltz, an eminent figure in the field of counseling psychology, feels a common mistake is to assume that career decisions happen “naturally." He feels that most young people never make a career decision but simply follow a path of least resistance. He feels that a career decision that affects everything in our future – not just how we spend eight hours, 50 weeks a year. How much time do young people spend planning it and considering options? Many give more thought to choosing a new pair of shoes, he asks.

Krumboltz coins a new term called “occupationism"- a form of discrimination he finds just as bad as sexism, racism, or ageism. The harm done by occupationism is that people are often dissuaded from going into occupations in which they would be quite successful and happy because these occupations are not ranked high enough in the prestige hierarchy. He relates a moving story about a counselor friend who once confessed he was unhappy. He envied a colleague who had his name in the papers and wanted to be sought out nationally too.

Krumboltz told him that he was doing well and had people line up outside his door waiting to consult him. "Two months later, he died of a heart attack. Six hundred people came to his funeral. You should have heard the testimonials - people described how much they loved him, how much he had helped them. They had no idea he considered himself a failure," Krumboltz recalled. Just as people have no idea they are a success when they are alive.

Celebrities from IIM – Bhogle, Sarabhai and Geet Sethi
Talking of spotlight, there have been professionals who have changed track to go into professions they liked and made a mark as celebrities, and in a manner which may have been comparatively tougher for them had they been in their vocation for which they had originally trained. Commentator Harsha Bhogle, Dancer and activist Mallika Sarabhai and ace cueist Geet Sethi come to mind in that respect. Each of them has been a champion of his or her field and has put the inherent creative instincts to the best possible use. Take Nandana Dev Sen, a Harvard graduate who chose to switch to acting in Hindi movies and has acted in Gudia, screened at the Cannes, London and Montreal World Film festivals and won a National Award in 1997. These are people who have achieved fame after excelling in hallowed institutions. Harsha, Mallika and Geet –all went to IIM Ahmedabad. Multi-faceted Mallika later went on to do a FPM from IIMA.

From Stanford to Bollywood
The champions of tomorrow too continue to carve out newer paths each day. Prita Uppal is a co-founder of Filmigame, a trivia game on DVD that is now marketed internationally. Prita followed an established path, going to Stanford to do a master’s in mechanical engineering and worked for Eaton Corporation, a large global manufacturing company. During an MBA at Harvard, she got hooked to Bollywood films and worked on an idea of creating a technology to make DVDs interactive. So, instead of a high-profile placement after HBS, Prita chose to do her own stuff. She recalls: “All of last year I was just trying to find the right application for this technology and that is when I met my partner, Sunaina who was very interested in Bollywood and the idea came about. Bollywood has such an incredible connection to all South Asians worldwide. The South Asian market is ripe for new products and yearning for new forms of entertainment, so it really seemed to be the perfect application for the perfect market." says Prita.

Young entrepreneurs
The tribe of professionals striving to do what each is convinced about seems to be increasing, especially amongst the younger generation. After Vardan Kabra spurned a tempting pay package to start his dream school at Surat (remember him?!), three IIMA students opted out of placements last year. K Sharat Chandra, Praveen Y and Chhatrapal Ninave plan to set up their own business than work for big corporates. Sharat Chandra was with Kabra at IIT Mumbai and worked for Arthur Anderson Business Consultants for a couple of years before joining IIMA. Like Kabra, the trio were greatly impressed by a course in their curriculum—Laboratory Entrepreneurship Motivation—conducted by Prof Sunil Handa. “That is when I strongly felt the need to start on my own. Besides, I was in touch with Vardan too," says Sharat.

Female IIM grad is Jerry Maguire to Sehwag and Rajyavardhan Rathore
Application of professional management in areas like entertainment and sports is on the increase, with the spurt in media spending, advertising and burgeoning public interest leading to the need to introduce our own Jerry Maguires. Latika Khaneja, an IIM Calcutta alumnus is one of the successful sports agents around. She is the one who organizes the million moolah endorsement deals. She manages deals for stars like Sehwag, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Ashish Nehra and others. The job is demanding and requires innovative marketing skills. It’s a staggering range that includes persuading CEOs to invest in particular sportsmen, make convincing presentations, negotiate deals, examine legal angles of contracts etc. And Latika has done very well in a field like sports management where male managers are likely to start with an early advantage.

Investment Banker writes successful book about life in IIT and five-point GPAs
There are those cases where a professional feels he can combine his creative needs with his present work. This may be due to the insecurity which envelops creative ventures. And for Indians, job security is given huge preference over any venture where risks are aplenty. Thirty year old Chetan Bhagat, a graduate of IIT Delhi (1995) and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad (1997) was working for prominent Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong for over six years, when he hit upon a unique idea to write a book on his days and experiences at the IIT. He sat down to write a readable piece about the system and everyday life at IIT.

He began with an original idea and by the time he finished the book, named Five Point Someone, he had captured the cheerful insanity and typical irreverence in the IIT campus. It is about the experiences of Hari and his friends who remain underdogs because of their five-point GPAs (Grade Point Averages) during their years at IIT. It is about their constant struggle to beat a system that judges everyone by their GPA.

We Indians usually are serious people and prefer to look at our educational institutions with only a solemn, reverential eye. What Chetan showed was that campuses grow doubly memorable when you can look back and wink! He is different from others here, in that he has stayed put in his job (till now) as an investment banker and yet managed to produce a successful creative work. In effect, he showed that if there’s a desire to excel besides your profession, there is a place for you. Chetan's novel is likely to be made into a feature film soon.

The career options make it necessary for effective professional education to thrive. Good education does and will remain the training ground for perspectives to be formed and ideas to unravel themselves. Also, education teaches you the way to approach your problem, appreciate the solutions and apply the logical imperative. Sandipan Deb adds, "Engineering education gives you a fairly structured way of thinking. In doing a particular assignment I can actually see the entire algorithm in front of me - who should be sent where and how the assignment should be done etc."

As opportunities increase, pioneers blaze unusual career paths and professionals introspect and find that they do have it in them to pursue careers that satisfy their likes and passions; there will be more such professionals who will summon the courage to dare the world. There will be pitfalls along the way, but then it’s like the saying that goes: the greater boxer is not the one who throws more punches but is the one who is able to take punches and get up each time he is knocked down. Life is ultimately about knowing your strengths, something that we often spend a lifetime to discover.

Sources:

http://www.iimcal.ac.in/calumni/archives/vol.4/Iview_Sandipan.htm

 

http://money.guardian.co.uk/changingjobs/story/0,13870,1072030,00.html

 

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main8.asp?filename=In112004he_choose.asp

 

http://indianngos.com/ngosection/articles.htm

 

http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=122102

 

http://fixedreference.org/en/20040424/wikipedia/Mallika_Sarabhai

 

http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/pr/91/910528Arc1355.html

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