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Choosing to surrender material success for your passion

People who choose to surrender material success in order to pursue their passions have to contend with their life choices being ridiculed by friends and family members.

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Sharell Cook

Updated: Dec 17, 2011, 10:04 PM IST

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People who choose to surrender material success in order to pursue their passions have to contend with their life choices being ridiculed by friends and family members, writes Sharell Cook

Follow your dreams.” “Discover your passion.”  These traditionally western concepts are encouraging more people to shun stability and launch themselves into the unknown in hopes of finding fulfillment.

India certainly isn’t a stranger to the idea. Robin Sharma’s popular series of books, spearheaded by the The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, espouse just that. According to his philosophy, everyone should practise creative envisioning, find out what they love and direct their energy to it. But how well do these ideas gel with the mindset of the average Indian today? Ask someone and they may comment, “You need to have a Ferrari first before you can sell it.”

Manoj, 39, didn’t have a Ferrari but he did have a factory. He followed in his father’s footsteps to become a mechanical engineer. His father, who obtained his qualification from a premier engineering college in Mumbai, owned five factories. “I felt a great deal of pressure to live up to my father,” Manoj explains. 

“However, engineering didn’t help me grow as an individual. I became disenchanted. I felt that my passion was to create social and cultural change, but that couldn’t happen in manufacturing.”
The man who sold his factory

Manoj ended up getting rid of his factory. He went on to establish a successful community website for his local area, Powai.info. Although he’s found fulfillment in his work, he’s also found that people’s perceptions of him have changed. “People look at what I do as more of a hobby than a business and wonder how I can possibly make money. Many don’t respect me because I’m not in a traditional job.” Manoj, however, remains inspired and believes in his vision. “I want to keep serving people. My goal is to turn Powai.info into an event management company and hold a high profile Powai Festival that will bring people together and put Powai on the map.”

Remaining focussed and motivated in the face of societal disapproval isn’t easy though. Just ask professional photographer, Prasana, 36.  An MBA, he worked briefly in advertising before giving it all away to pursue his passion just over 10 years ago. 

“People tend to look down on me until they learn that I’m an MBA. I’m still seen as a good for nothing guy. I’ve had so many relatives say bad things about me. My NRI cousin advises me often on the need to settle down and make money. My sister didn’t speak to me for three years because I couldn’t attend the fixing of the alliance for her marriage. I had a big shoot that day, and was struggling hard to get a break. The constant fear of failure and ridicule gives me nightmares as people  are waiting to laugh at me for making a ‘wrong’ choice and say ‘I told you so’. My wife is my pillar of strength,” confesses Prasana.

But how does following one’s passion come in the way of fulfilling one’s duties? Is it possible to do both at the same time? Prasana makes a good point, “It makes it very difficult for guys to get a bride. In a male-dominated society, the husband must be well employed.”

Sujata (named changed), 26, whose parents are in the process of searching for a suitable groom for her says, “My mother is mostly concerned about guys’ jobs. She’s trying to outdo everyone, and is determined that my husband be better than my cousin’s husband.”

The seduction of money
Indian women aren’t free from expectations though. Duty often dictates that they get married at a young age. Rekha (name changed), 24, studied fashion at university. She loved it and it was her passion. “However, I never got the chance to enjoy my working life, as my mother pressured me into marriage early,” she rues.

For India’s upwardly mobile middle class, money and status are a huge issue. “Our society is more obsessed with material success and less concerned about job satisfaction. I still feel pressure from my family to fulfill expectations such as owning a house, a car, and having investments, and gold jewellery even if I can’t afford any of it. So even if my job is different, the expectations are the same,” Prasana states.

According to Manoj, “Young people these days trade passion for money. The get seduced by it. There’s huge pressure to perform.”

So, it would seem that alternative career options are okay only as long as they make money. That is, unless you already have money. “Only the well-off can afford to pursue their passion,” Manoj says. Pradeep, 37, who’s been a professional DJ for the past 20 years, confirms this. “These days, DJing is extremely competitive for those who want to get into it. It was far from a respectable career when I started, but Bollywood has added glamour to it, and now so many young kids want to be DJs. Earning an income isn’t a concern for them if they’re wealthy.” 

Cultural issues aside, the technology boom is undoubtedly helping those who are determined to find and pursue their passions in India. Prasana’s advice to anyone who’s thinking about following their dreams: “I’ve learnt that we have to decide what we want from life and not crib about what we don’t have. A software job will give material wealth and success, but I’m happier with what I have. I’ve learnt to ignore all the insults and concentrate only on my work.”

Sharell Cook is the author of Henna For The Broken Hearted and maintains a popular blog called Diary of a White Indian Housewife

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