When I was in Grade 9, we were introduced to a very beautiful poem, Vocation, written by Rabindranath Tagore, the poet who penned the words for India's national anthem. I didn't think much of the poem back then, but today, in retrospect, every word in that poem is like a bullet in my veins. Such profound words of wisdom, such prowess, such powerful command of the language, such striking precision, such splendid mastery in poetic articulation.
The poem, in a nutshell, outlines a young lad's feelings during his tumultuous childhood. The lad is tired and bored, craves for freedom, and is desperate to put an end to his regimented life. On his way back home from school, he encounters three interesting people: a bangle-seller, a gardener and lastly, a night watchman. He finds their occupations admirable and decides to take their places, one at a time. He envisions a world where he enjoys as much freedom, as much multitude in choice, and as much liberty to act as one pleases as do these three inspirers. The poor boy is so stunned by his discovery that he doesn't know if he wants to be any one of the three, or all of them simultaneously.
Now I don't claim myself to be particularly well-versed with poetry. My general expertise is more in the area of prose and random gibberish. I think I've constantly made three key mistakes, or mis-assumptions rather, when it comes to picking my vocation of choice. It might be worthwhile to go through these.
- Admiring an older person and choosing his or her vocation or occupation.
- "It's not really what I want, but I think I will try it for a while."
- Following the popular trend and choosing the vocation in vogue.
This one I think deserves special attention. Ask any kid below the age of 10 as to what he wants to become when he grows up. If he doesn't mutter something along the lines of an "I don't know", then his answer, I bet, will be something along the lines of "engineer", "doctor", "lawyer" or the ever-popular "scientist". As if these four professions were the only professions out there. Now I'm not saying it's wrong to have long-term ambitions, but if everyone became a doctor, everyone an engineer and everyone an attorney, what would the world become? For one, the world cup would not have been held at all as all the famous players would be busy treating their patients. Second, I would have been very bored at school because all my teachers would be preoccupied with something more "important".
Ah, this is one of my personal favorites. How often do we want do to something just because grandfather the great did the same and succeeded at it? Or maybe an uncle who, keen on discharging his avuncular duties, vehemently recommends us to pursue an aeronautical career? I am constantly observing some of the successful adults I've known, and it becomes immediately apparent that their success has nothing to do with their profession at all.
Which is bad news for me, because I'm always thinking that if I picked the same career choice, I would enjoy the same amount of achievement and accolade as them.
This particular one has had me plagued the most number of times. I always think I'll be in something "for a while" but it turns out that once I get in, I can't come out. So I decide to take the opposite turn and try to excel at it. That too isn't possible because I wasn't really interested in the vocation in the first place. It's terrifying, the feeling, of having both of the only two exits closed on you inside the black box.
The conclusion is simple. Pick what you're good at. Not what you think you're good at.
That seems to be a pretty easy way to honor Tagore and his resplendent poetry.