What will you do with your life?

Caught up with the expectations of others? We may miss the opportunity to go after what we truly want

February 23, 2019 05:00 pm | Updated 05:00 pm IST

Illustration and Painting

Illustration and Painting

During the last fortnight, I spent time with university students in different parts of Tamil Nadu. All of them were warm and courteous, making me wonder about their polar opposites sighted often enough, off-campus. Trained for the most part of the first 10 years of their lives to not speak up spontaneously or question the teacher-figure in the room, both groups took some time to warm up.

And then, they let fly. Some of them had thought carefully about literary and cultural passages that were under discussion and came up with surprising responses. As I studied their fresh faces, I wondered what sort of choices they would make and remembered the lines of Mary Oliver, a poet we lost very recently “What will you do with your one wild, precious life?” What indeed?

All through the year, advertisements and articles in the media of every kind pound young minds ceaselessly with suggestions. Messages, both direct and otherwise, reach them about how they might improve themselves, starting with their appearance and going on to various crash courses to help them get a job, get on, get ahead. Do these intense crammers really help? A personality that fits other peoples’ image of you may not be you at all. A recruiting officer who had set up interviews told me how he was impressed when the first candidate of the day told him that his favourite pastime was reading. “What are you reading?”

“Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus” was the answer followed by a neat summary of the book. The rest of his responses also came through smoothly and confidently. When the next candidate and the next entered and were interviewed they too said nearly the same things. They were all clones of the same training academy. Now manicured into acceptability, where had their true personalities fled to? We discussed the anxiety they must have felt as they prepared for the interview.


Before you enter a tunnel others feel you should be in, so that you will occupy the positions that those queues lead to, ask yourself what you really want to do. Is it to work with India’s unbeatable range of colours and fabrics? Is it to work in the archives to research our socio-history? Perhaps it is to plan tours to largely unknown monuments in parts of the country that are not on the tourist circuits. Or to set up a school or help in a para-medical in a village.

Are they impossible to share with the expectations of your family and peers?

Remember that most health problems that arise from stress during middle-age are because people are not particularly happy doing what they are doing with their lives. Even those of us who are already on set paths and jobs that cannot be given up, can from time-to-time, question the validity of what we are doing; but if you are young, a great opportunity lies ahead of you. You can take that step to do what you want in life. It could be anything, but let it be a choice which suits your temperament.

If you are older and took a decision — today — to switch lanes, would it be such a bad thing?

Many years ago, an Odia writer and his wife visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry. Both were strongly drawn to the ambience of the place and discussed how, “some day”, they might move to Puducherry.

“Why not today?” asked the lady.

With that, an entirely new chapter in their lives began, far away from “home”, but in a new home.

The author is consultant, Publishing , Oxford University Press. minioup@gmail.com

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