Wednesday, April 30, 2008

no ordinary problem..

Update: Article written by Thomas Barlow from the Financial Times

Waiting for Michel to tell me who wrote this piece. Irrespective, a pretty interestingly captured look at 'our' current generation. Disclaimer that this will not resonate with everyone that reads this blog. A large cross-section of people I know don't nearly relate to the sense of ambition or the 'problems' the author speaks of below, irrespective- an insightful read.


A friend of mine recently met a young American woman who was studying on
a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. She already had two degrees from top US
universities, had worked as a lawyer and as a social worker in the US,
and somewhere along the way had acquired a black belt in kung fu. Now,
however, her course at Oxford was coming to an end and she was
thoroughly angst-ridden about what to do next.

Her problem was no ordinary one.

She couldn't decide whether she should make a lot of money as a
corporate lawyer/management consultant, devote herself to charity work
helping battered wives in disadvantaged Communities, or go to Hollywood
to work as a stunt double in kung fu films. What most struck my friend
was not the disparity of this woman's choices, but the earnestness and
bad grace with which she ruminated on them. It was almost as though she
begrudged her own talents, Opportunities and freedom - as though the
world had treated her unkindly by forcing her to make such a hard
choice.

Her case is symptomatic of our times. In recent years, there has grown
up a culture of discontent among the highly educated young something
that seems to flare up, especially, when people reach their late 20s and
early 30s. It arises not from frustration caused by lack of opportunity,
as may have been true in the past, but from an excess of possibilities.

Most theories of adult developmental psychology have a special category
for those in their late 20s and early 30s.

Whereas the early to mid-20s are seen as a time to establish one's mode
of living, the late 20s to early 30s are often considered a period of
reappraisal. In a society where people marry and have children young,
where financial burdens accumulate early, and where job markets are
inflexible, such appraisals may not last long. But when people manage to
remain free of financial or family burdens, and where the perceived
opportunities for alternative careers are many, the reappraisal is
likely to be strong.

Among no social group is this more true than the modern, International,
professional elite: that tribe of young bankers, lawyers, consultants
and managers for whom financial, familial, personal, corporate and
(increasingly) national ties have become irrelevant. Often they grew up
in one country, were educated in another, and are now working in a
third.

They are independent, well paid, and enriched by experiences that many
of their parents could only dream of. Yet, by their late 20s, many carry
a sense of disappointment: that for all their opportunities, freedoms
and achievements, life has not delivered quite what they had hoped. At
the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work.

The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a
means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social
prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of
itself. Jobs are no longer just jobs; they are lifestyle options.
Recruiters at financial companies, consultancies and law firms have
promoted this conception of work. Job advertisements promise challenge,
wide experiences, opportunities for travel and relentless personal
development.

Michael is a 33-year-old management consultant who has bought into this
vision of late-20th century work. Intelligent and well-educated - with
three degrees, including a doctorate - he works in Munich, and has a
"stable, long-distance relationship" with a woman living in California.
He takes 140 flights a year and works an average of 80 hours a week.
Some weeks he works more than 100 hours.

When asked if he likes his job, he will say: "I enjoy what I'm doing in
terms of the intellectual challenges." Although he earns a lot, he
doesn't spend much. He rents a small apartment, though he is rarely
there, and has accumulated very few possessions. He justifies the long
hours not in terms of wealth-acquisition, but solely as part of a
"learning experience".

This attitude to work has several interesting implications, mostly to do
with the shifting balance between work and non-work, employment and
leisure. Because fulfilling and engrossing work - the sort that is
thought to provide the most intense learning experience - often requires
long hours or captivates the imagination for long periods of time, it is
easy to slip into the idea that the converse is also true: that just by
working long hours, one is also engaging in fulfilling and engrossing
work. This leads to the popular fallacy that you can measure the value
of your job (and, therefore, the amount you are learning from it) by the
amount of time you spend on it. And, incidentally, when a premium is
placed on learning rather than earning, people are particularly
susceptible to this form of self-deceit.

Thus, whereas in the past, when people in their 20s or 30s spoke
disparagingly about nine-to-five jobs it was invariably because they
were seen as too routine, too unimaginative, or too bourgeois. Now, it
is simply because they don't contain enough hours.

Young professionals have not suddenly developed a distaste for leisure,
but they have solidly bought into the belief that a 45-hour week
necessarily signifies an unfulfilling job. Jane, a 29-year-old corporate
lawyer who works in the City of London, tells a story about working on a
deal with another lawyer, a young man in his early 30s. At about 3am, he
leant over the boardroom desk and said: "Isn't this great? This is when
I really love my job." What most struck her about the remark was that
the work was irrelevant (she says it was actually rather boring); her
colleague simply liked the idea of working late. "It's as though he was
validated, or making his life important by this," she says.

Unfortunately, when people can convince themselves that all they need do
in order to lead fulfilled and happy lives is to work long hours, they
can quickly start to lose reasons for their existence. As they start to
think of their employment as a lifestyle, fulfilling and rewarding of
itself - and in which the reward is proportional to hours worked -
people rapidly begin to substitute work for other aspects of their
lives.

Michael, the management consultant, is a good example of this
phenomenon. He is prepared to trade (his word) not just goods and time
for the experience afforded by his work, but also a substantial measure
of commitment in his personal relationships. In a few months, he is
being transferred to San Francisco, where he will move in with his
girlfriend. But he's not sure that living the same house is actually
going to change the amount of time he spends on his relationship. "Once
I move over, my time involvement on my relationship will not change
significantly. My job takes up most of my time and pretty much dominates
what I do, when, where and how I do it," he says. Moreover, the
reluctance to commit time to a relationship because they are learning so
much, and having such an intense and fulfilling time at work is
compounded, for some young professionals, by a reluctance to have a
long-term relationship at all.

Today, by the time someone reaches 30, they could easily have had three
or four jobs in as many different cities - which is not, as it is often
portrayed, a function of an insecure global job-market, but of choice.
Robert is 30 years old. He has three degrees and has worked on three
continents. He is currently working for the United Nations in Geneva.
For him, the most significant deterrent when deciding whether to enter
into a relationship is the likely transient nature of the rest of his
life. "What is the point in investing all this emotional energy and
exposing myself in a relationship, if I am leaving in two months, or if
I do not know what I am doing next year?" he says.

Such is the character of the modern, international professional, at
least throughout his or her 20s. Spare time, goods and relationships,
these are all willingly traded for the exigencies of work. Nothing is
valued so highly as accumulated experience. Nothing is neglected so much
as commitment. With this work ethic - or perhaps one should call it a
"professional development ethic" - becoming so powerful, the globally
mobile generation now in its late 20s and early 30s has garnered
considerable professional success. At what point, though, does the
experience-seeking end?

Kathryn is a successful American academic, 29, who bucked the trend of
her generation: she recently turned her life round for someone else. She
moved to the UK, specifically, to be with a man, a decision that she
says few of her contemporaries understood. "We're not meant to say: 'I
made this decision for this person. Today, you're meant to do things for
yourself. If you're willing to make sacrifices for others - especially
if you're a woman - that's seen as a kind of weakness. I wonder, though,
is doing things for yourself really empowerment, or is liberty a kind of
trap?" she says.

For many, it is a trap that is difficult to break out of, not least
because they are so caught up in a culture of professional development.
And spoilt for choice, some like the American Rhodes Scholar no doubt
become paralysed by their opportunities, unable to do much else in their
lives, because they are so determined not to let a single one of their
chances slip. If that means minimal personal commitments well into their
30s, so be it. "Loneliness is better than boredom" is Jane's philosophy.

And, although she knows "a lot of professional single women who would
give it all up if they met a rich man to marry", she remains far more
concerned herself about finding fulfillment at work. "I am constantly
questioning whether I am doing the right thing here," she says. "There's
an eternal search for a more challenging and satisfying option, a better
lifestyle. You always feel you're not doing the right thing always feel
as if you should be striving for another goal," she says.

Jane, Michael, Robert and Kathryn grew up as part of a generation with
fewer social constraints determining their futures than has been true
for probably any other generation in history. They were taught at school
that when they grew up they could "do anything", "be anything". It was
an idea that was reinforced by popular culture, in films, books and
television.

The notion that one can do anything is clearly liberating. But life
without constraints has also proved a recipe for endless searching,
endless questioning of aspirations. It has made this generation obsessed
with self-development and determined, for as long as possible, to
minimise personal commitments in order to maximise the options open to
them. One might see this as a sign of extended adolescence.

Eventually, they will be forced to realise that living is as much about
closing possibilities as it is about creating them.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Indulgence of all kinds

T’s exams usually bring a relative lull to the ‘socially-attuned’ weekends. The words appear in single inverted commas because of the long standing joke between us that I am now positively asocial compared to my earlier days. It’s rather brilliant this way though. Who would have known?

The last week was an indulgence of all kinds.

Our seminar launched our partnership with the IHC (if you’re on facebook, go ahead and join the Urban Habitats Forum, it is positioned to become the next all-encompassing network dealing with the opportunity of building the next generation of cities in India) and I was pretty much sold on the organizing, fine-tuning of the same till Wednesday. An interesting turnout with varying opinions. The focus on urbanization has raised its’ fair share of clich├ęs but we’re hopeful that the direction we give it ends up creating new paths to the effort of ‘creating places for people’. I embrace that theme, warmly. It just makes so much sense.

The last week was an indulgence of nostalgia, reconnecting, self-congratulatory pats on the back and gratitude. The third year of the International Congress Scholarship kicked off and as always- van chitgo forgot that he had zealously volunteered to manage the process this year. I’m so glad I did. Pani from Singapore/Bangalore, Dandy from China, Sneha from Paris; all writing and calling in. Jaj and Adrienne were missing in action but I know they’re keeping abreast with the dialogue. With the likes of the 2 of them it’s almost like being reminded of the great sages of the past. They believed that any word spoken, any breath taken without absolute necessity, was a wasted opportunity to take the name of the lord in prayer and meditation. Fortunate were we that the ‘Lord’ in this case was common sense and vision. Anyways, I digress. Back to the scholarship. Every year, one chosen congress committee member from AIESEC India gets a significant monetary scholarship institutionalized by the CC team of IC 05, i.e, my team . We’ve had 2 excellent recipients already creating waves post their experience with the mother of all conferences. Now, in '08, it’s time for number 3. Talking to Dandy and Sneha, I was filled with such a sense of happiness and consequent understanding of how legacies really work. It could very well be termed the cornerstone of sustainable action. Whatever it may be, year after year, the process brings together a small but very diverse group of people that worked their butts off for a goal much larger then themselves. Can there be a better learning?

The last week was an indulgence in what I love. Music and path-breaking literature.

I picked up the great outdoor fight- arguably the most brilliant graphic novel in the short history of graphic novels on this planet. Unarguably, GOF is the pinnacle of ground-shattering alterno-humour we’ve ever been witness to. I got it at a pretty decent price since it’s still not out in official print. 11$ - not bad for a piece of work as phenomenal as it is. I even showed off to Gara who responded with his usual magnanimity. I’m sure he booked his own copy soon after. I owe the discovery of achewood to him. It is righteous that the first strip of achewood I ever read was that of TGOF.

Indulgence number 2 was the final purchase of Barbara Keith’s self title album. Frankly, I picked this up for one track and one track only. Heard numerous times in the awesome snugness of Mr. Seth’s beautiful home, the rendition of ‘all along the watchtower’ that I have spoken of before is a piece of sheer beauty. The muted guitar, her salutations to the lord chief himself, whatever it may be- it was worth the amazon.com visit.

It was in light of this indulgence that the unmatched awesomeness of web-retail therapy dawned on me. It’s not like the usual retail therapy you know. The conventional methodology has multiple cracks in the model. Had a shitty day? Feeling old and disregarded? An overwhelming desire to hug some bling, feel something new and shiny in your pocket? Embrace a new tune? Jump in a car, go to the mall, window shop , feel guilt pangs, , interact with annoying customers/lines/salespersons alike...blah blah blah.

Why ?

Web retail totally kicks regular retail’s posterior. The easy browsing, the multiple links to reviews of the product, the samples, the choice, the easy access- a list that is long and sweet. The best however is the delivery. With no exact day of arrival you forget that you had ever ordered that brilliant work of art. You forget the sense of power with that click of the mouse and you move on. Suddenly, one Saturday morning in the distant future, there’s a ring at your front door. You wander unknowingly to greet the visitor and there it is, waiting for you patiently, like a ticking time bomb of fantabulousness. What a feeling.
Ok, so I exaggerate a bit. I still love buying stuff online though. The pleasures of a bank account are indescribable muwahahaha.

What else? Pet piece of the fortnight is undoubtedly the idiots that leave facebook messages on event forums/communities saying “Hey, would love to come but am out of the country!” We got it ass@#$%, you’re travelling. For what reason you’d decide to share your absence for an event that you’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to and why anyone would care is beyond my understanding. The downside of web 2.0 is the voice we’ve somehow managed to give attention-starved delinquents. Meh. Some people are damn fortunate we have such stringent gun-ownership laws in this country.

The heat is on., Like full on. And it’s not even May yet. Lots of new developments in the horizon with some confusion existing with where and how the new ‘abode’ shall be situated. Updates on that soo enough. As of now, it’s a lazy Sunday evening, the delhi daredevils are 4 down for 60 runs there's need to go shoot some hoops before the start of another hectic week for the entrepreneur.

Over and out ladies and gents. You guys have a good one.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

creating places for people

Things have gotten busy. Not busy like the way they used to be, its different somehow. Working in a pure start-up environment is really all it’s made out to be. Challenges, changes, excitement, risk, concern- truly a medley of situations within a concoction of experiences. All this in the last 40 days. Positive point number 1 is that there aren’t any signs of grey hair just yet, the initial assimilation of the environment has been smooth and finally- there’s a heightened sense of belief in what opportunities lie ahead. Needless to say, the time period accompanying a major change always goes by so damn fast. I can safely say that the months of Feb, March and April from 2002 to 2008 have been a blur. They’ve always been decision making time, inexplicably hosting transitional phases and adding years to the wisdom of how one ‘pushes the limits’

I’ve found time in between to do the things I love though. The guitar rocking continues on in anticipation of Lord Seth’s return. Badminton at Gita’s place is an occasional must, my game isn’t nearly as good as it used to be but the sporadic presence on the doubles court reminds the crowds of what it means to behold pure skill. Hell yeah, the cross court behind the head drop shot is still a work of beauty.

The most interesting of engagements recently was one put together by a fellow boss dawg – Udit. An alumni from Don Bosco, he’s created an annual half-day seminar for students between the age of 15-16 (in Indian education systems, this is the time when most kids choose their ‘specializations’ from between the arts, commerce and sciences) that allows them to hear from and interact with young professionals with diverse backgrounds. These last few years have got me feeling pretty passionate about these subjects and a recent trip back to my alma mater (DPS RKP) with the Asia Society folks led me to accepting. I put together a short presentation in my distinct style; threw in a few inspirational videos, a couple of anecdotes and basically set out to challenge the mindset of the current generation around how they thought they’d like to see their individual growth charts shape up. The discussions stayed lively but the real impact point came when I threw this idea to the group:

The slide heading read “ What makes you happy?”

The bullet points below it read:
- Money?
- Friends?
- Travelling?
- Respect?
- Authority?
- Being your own boss?
- Leadership?
- Challenges?
- Uniqueness of experience?

So the discussions started. Couple of kids in the front got up and said “why is uniqueness of experience so important?, I’d rather do something my parents/society respects so that I can hold my stature in society”. I helped them debate their own thoughts, gave them examples of various vocations/occupations that delivered tremendous learning opportunities as well as financial security. We went back and forth, the topic obviously resonated with them at some level. Yes, as young people we’re told to find a purposeful role in society, but no one’s really making an effort to help us answer 2 simple questions- ‘How do I know what I enjoy doing?” & “Why would I enjoy doing it?”
The discussion evolved till Moses got up. Yup, his name was Moses. Shirt loosely tucked into his trousers, tie hanging from his neck, hair slightly rumpled- the kid was a 100% me back in the 11th grade. Just how alike we would turn out to be, I was to find out in a few moments.

“Sir honestly, I don’t think I need anything on your list to make me happy except one- Money. If I have money, I can buy friends, I can buy respect, I can buy authority and I can choose to do what I want. Who needs leadership, challenges and uniqueness when I can have money?”

I forced myself not to smile. These are serious questions and define pretty serious elements of our society today. We’re bringing up a generation (I was exactly like this) that’s losing sight of themselves in pursuit of a lifestyle. The media attention that focuses on the glitz & glamour of high-flying lifestyles is failing to talk of more real elements like attaining a personality. In fact, its 2 extremes. Either we’ve got life-gurus urging us to leave it all behind for a 10-year hiatus off the coast of Madagascar amidst some shrubbery, or we’ve got wall street profiling the next big investment banker/ million dollar package of the IIMA/IIT student. Someone’s got to tell these kids that there’s a life in between. There is a grey. From a marketing perspective, everyone wants to be a Microsoft but noone's realizing there's a joy in being brand Linux or Brand Apple- with all the perks thrown in! There is a balance- and it is this balance which offers the most of all. I’m not saying one doesn’t have to push frantically in a certain direction from time to time or make sacrifices for an ambitious pursuit, all I’m saying is that it pans out. It has to. A lack of balance is the biggest cause of unhappiness on the long run.

Me and Moses debated for about 10 minutes. I asked him if the friends he ‘bought’ were the kind of friends he wanted. There were jokes and there was some banter from the crowd. In the end, I told him to call me in 10 years to let me know how the plan had panned out. I look forward to that call.

I left the kids with this list – entitled “Dhruv’s basic list towards planning a career”

• Never, EVER be afraid to ask questions
• Things ‘sound’ a lot fancier then what they actually are.
• Building expertise in an area is vital!
• It’s not all about the money! Your quality of life index is as important as your ‘well-being index’
• Experiences are what matter at your age. Try everything and anything.
• Knowing what you don’t want to do is as good as knowing what you do want to do.

What would you guys add to this?

Musically, van chitgo has been treated to some brilliance recently. I saw clips of the Guardian with the creators recently and was once again hauntingly attracted to this voice and muted guitar expertise in the background of the scene when Kevin costner’s swimming alone in the pool timing himself after every lap. I downloaded the soundtrack (thank you mininova and torrent files- mininova.org) and heard the first 60 odd seconds of each track. Straining hard. Suddenly, with the conclusion of a short but captivating piano solo, was her voice. The myspace profile speaks volumes of Abby’s experience and her growth as a musician. Tri-me is especially brilliant, one of those songs that I’d want to hear whilst sitting on a thick armchair in a large patio amidst the smell of old Cubans and mahogany furniture. A song of strength, experience and wisdom. Sung by someone so young. How music transcends conventionality amazes me. Check out the other tracks as well- they are all worth a listen. The plan now- is to try and figure out how to see her play live : )

All else has been great. Working on a seminar for the 23rd of April that should boast of an interesting format. “Creating Places for People” is the theme and urbanization is the context. If you happen to be in Delhi and are driven by the idea of ‘liveable cities’ that join social, physical and cultural infrastructure in a manner that spurs growth of communities, then let me know, I’d be happy to send you an invite.

Take care yawwlll.....