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Serendipity and Careers

I HAVE in the past, suggested to all the readers of my column to carefully map out what they can do and put it in a list with the things they could do and choose a career from amongst the matches. And the advice is good because such planning does pay dividends and one can be reasonably certain that one will end up doing something that one likes doing and is therefore likely to do it well. But, actually I have met so many people, successful people, who did no planning and seem willy-nilly to have virtually been dropped from heaven into jobs, that they do exceptionally well, and are, happy doing it. Shruti A., a biochemistry major at college, works for one of the top placement agencies of the country as a HR executive and handles people and their problems as if to the manner born. Her experience? Most of her friends at college, and several total strangers would come up to her to seek guidance for their problems. Having discovered her unusual `people' skills, she decided to take up HR as a full-time career. In the same company that happens to be the best recruitment advertising company in the country, the chief copywriter began her career as a life scientist, winning a valuable scholarship to the US, completed her post-graduation with full honours, and settled down to writing advertising copy. Deepak Talwar, a high-performing postgraduate in Chemistry from JNU, Delhi, is today a high profile Vice President with one of the country's leading hotel chains - and doing brilliantly at it too.

This kind of career behaviour is not as unusual as we would think. T. Muralidharan, a high performing student at IIT Madras, graduated with Chemical Engineering and went on to IIM Ahmedabad, and ended up doing something he wouldn't have dreamt of: He began a seeds business that didn't take root and then started a recruitment business that ran away with him. Today he heads six offices across the country, has several hundred people working for him and has forgotten all his engineering, and has trouble spooning the detergent into the washing machine, though he can run any business with the panache of a natural entrepreneur.I asked them all what happened and in one case, I discovered I was to blame! Apparently, it was something I had said at her college that started Shruti A., thinking about Human Resource Development. She related what I had said about mentality and penchant with her own ability to be the confidant of the others in her college and decided on her career path immediately thereafter much to the surprise of friends and relatives.

It seems as if such `chance' meetings trigger a kind of reaction that opens up a whole new avenue of things one would like to do. So many young people come to me for career/course advice and I try to see what they would like to do. Often, some of them have absolutely no clue of what it is they want to do. Most of them are high-performing young people with little or no exposure. When I tell them about the options available, they perk up and begin to process what I've told them and then `create' a career for themselves. It's called `serendipity'. But, is it really? Actually come to think of it, no, it isn't. It's just we become receptive to what is being said and process the information in tandem with our own thoughts, and what seems `flukey' is actually a well-thought out plan from information received. Remember, I am not the only person to look down my nose at such kind of `chance'. Who was it that said, "Chance favours the prepared mind"? Whoever it was, he hit the proverbial nail squarely on its head. Only a mind that is receptive can receive. It's not enough to hear; one must consciously listen. And process. And then, having done so, act upon the collected knowledge. Often we tend to actually `block' out information. As B.Ramakrishnan, Director TMI Networks, says to his staff, "I've made up my mind; don't confuse me with facts." Now, while he says this as a joke, many of us across the world do this for real. We come in with closed minds and leave with nothing substantial. On the other hand, the example of Shruti A and others shows that those that listen - act. Those that don't - never will.

It's all about being mentally flexible and being ready to adapt one's mind to what others are saying, and then meshing it with what you already know. One can, after all be knowledgeable without being wise, but it's much better to be wise with the knowledge of the options that open to us - every day!


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