The idea of doing something “different” is rarely encouraged. What does it take to defy convention and follow your dream of an alternate career?

Growing up in the 1990s India, we were taught that to be a success or even respected in society, one had to have a “proper” degree and a job. Doing something you enjoyed, or were passionate about, wasn’t encouraged or even discussed, unless you were passionate about medicine or engineering.

Today, things have changed. Colleges and universities have increased their offerings to accommodate more offbeat areas of study and the view that alternate careers are for people who didn’t get mainstream jobs is slowly being wiped out. But what does it truly take to follow your passion?

It's all about love

“There is this notion among our previous generation that a job isn’t something to be enjoyed,” says C.S. Amudhan. “That a job essentially means getting up in the morning and driving through the heat and traffic in a two-wheeler and continuously wiping sweat from your brow.”

Amudhan is the director of the hugely successful Tamil Padam, a spoof of commercial Tamil cinema. Originally an advertising executive, Amudhan discussed the idea of a spoof on Tamil cinema with a friend, who suggested that he write a full-length script. “He happened to know Dayanidhi Alagiri, who was just launching Cloud Nine Movies,” says Amudhan. “One thing led to another, and two weeks of discussion later, we had started shooting!”

Amudhan, now working on his second film (aptly titled Rendavathu Padam), says that he never thought his lack of technical training as a liability. He believes that it enables him to think differently and to constantly surprise his audience. When quizzed about his parents’ reaction, he laughs. “I am the only child; bit of a spoilt brat. There wasn’t much of a reaction. I guess they just wanted me to be happy, and I’m very happy. I love my job”

Vinay Aravind is another person who loves his job as a Candid Wedding Photographer. A lawyer who graduated from National Law School, Bangalore, he discovered photography when he quit his corporate job to satisfy his need to do something creative. Today, his work has been featured in publications like The Rolling Stone, Femina, Wedding Vows, and BBC Good Food. “I bought a camera, picked up some basics, and shot a friend’s wedding. I spent a month processing the pictures and learning the software in the process, and based on that I got a paid wedding to shoot. Then based on that I got another one …. Of course, there were phases when I was delaying paying my credit card bills and the bank balance was dangerously low, but I guess it helped that I had a supportive family and some die-hard optimism,” he says. Shivya Nath is no stranger to new experiences; they are part of her job as a travel writer. She travels for a living and her stories have been published far and wide, including National Geographic Traveller, Lonely Planet, and The Forbes Travel Guide among others. She recently co-founded India Untravelled, an eco-tourism start-up with a view to introduce and promote travel experiences in rural India. However, she didn’t have as much luck as Amudhan and Vinay with her parents when she jumped from a corporate career in Singapore to travel for a living.

Today, Shivya receives sponsorships to review and write about travel experiences. “Unfortunately, there is no magical formula to find the money to travel,” she says. During her initial experiences, she had retained her corporate job and continued to save until she felt financially confident enough to quit. “Now that a part of my income is drawn through travel writing and India Untravelled, “work has become the pretext of many of my travels,” she says.

A different step

Money is perhaps one of the biggest factors that affect a career search among young people today. Financial security, the pressure of “settling down” and fulfilling the great Indian dream of having an “own house” and a big car are ingrained in most of us.

Srini Swaminathan, who taught children in the municipal corporation school at Dharavi in Mumbai, had the same dream. A state rank-holder who got into BITS-Pilani with a full scholarship, his initial priority was to make money and stabilise his family’s fiscal situation. “We were in abject poverty. My mother worked so hard to raise me and my brother. She told us education was the only way out of our situation,” he recalls.

After a couple of stints at volunteering, he took a few coaching classes for tsunami victims and had what he calls his “awakening”. In 2010, he came across Teach for India while working in Australia and “decided that if it wasn’t now, it would be never.”

Mirnalini Venkatraman, a post-graduate in Biotechnology, gave up her full-time job as a genetic research analyst to work in the non-profit sector. “It was a choice I made after few months into mainstream work,” she says. “I felt I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile. It was tough leaving a full-time mainstream job and starting something entirely new and fresh, without any previous experience. But there are problems and there are solutions. I want to be part of the solution.” She asserts that passion versus money is always a tough call, but is grateful for the support from her parents and her fiancé.

Chasing dreams and following passions that don’t conform to convention sound beautiful in theory, but fulfilling them require work, probably more than that required by a regular desk job.

They also require support, not just from those around you but from yourself, an unwavering belief that you are meant to do what you are now setting out to do.