Do not make that you are most passionate about, your source of livelihood
I will begin with an anecdote.
This because, we cannot make the right molecule reach the right part of the brain to act on it. Molecules of any drug will reach even those parts of brain where nothing is wrong, and cause undesired effects. This in turn is because, brain actually uses a very limited number of molecules (called neurotransmitters [click]) to carry out the countless functions it performs. What brings specificity are not as much the particular type of neurtotransmitter released or the specific receptor for it, but more so the way the neurons are ‘wired’ to each other. E.g. a nerotransmitter ‘M’ when released by neroun ‘1’ when acting on receptor ‘R1’ present on neuron ‘2’ can activate it. In turn the neuron ‘2’ activates neuron ‘3’ by releasing molecule ‘N’ acting on receptor ‘R2’ present on the latter. Thus, final effect of release of M by neuron 1 would be the activation of neruon 3. But what if, instead of ‘R1’ present on neuron 2, we have receptor ‘R3’, which inhibits its function instead of activating it? Obviously, release of M by neuron 1 would cause inhibition of release of N, and neuron 3 would tend to remain inactivated. So now, think of a disorder wherein neurons in one region of the brain produce less of M. To counter this deficiency, if we deliver an oral dose of a drug that would enhance availability of M to neuron 2 it can compensate for the deficiency, right? The drug molecules upon crossing the blood brain barrier (click) will reach the fluid bathing the glial cells (click) that surround the individual neurons. The glial cells in turn would modulate the amount of drug reaching neuron 2. Now, the problem is that not all regions of brain are deficient in M! So the regions with normally functioning type 1 neurons will also receive additional amounts of M (because the administered drug would be supposed to do that). So, obviously depending upon whether neuron 2 in other regions inhibits or activates the ‘downstream’ neuron 3, this situation would result in derangement of many functions. Plus, not to mention the difficulty in making most drugs cross the blood brain barrier.
Of course, I did not have to explain what I wrote in the preceding paragraph to my teacher. It was only for the benefit of the reader. So our means to target specific disorders of brain (prominently, psychiatric disorders) are very limited. And that would remain so for the foreseeable future. This limitation would lead to imminent feeling of helplessness and frustration. The bottomline is: I had decided against being a psychiatrist. Some days before that, to look up something he had shown me one of his texts on psychiatry. It was a two (or three, I don’t remember for sure)-volume set (easily over 3,000 pages in all), and it must be said that he had read each and every page more than once. I was surprised and impressed with his dedication. I mentioned that to him, so he smiled and showed me yet another textbook a with one volume more than the previous one, and which he had similarly ‘ill-treated’! 😉 Also, as a clinician, he was gentle and empathetic with patients. I realized, it takes a lot for a psychiatrist to not get emotionally involved with the patients. They cannot afford to do so. So, they take refuge in humor. But despite that he had never been contemptuous of patients and used to take great care in maintaining confidentiality despite the fact that most patients coming to that hospital were poor and quite uneducated, so there would be little chance of litigation; I was left with little doubt that this person just loved psychiatry. A lot. And that he was also a very suitable to be a psychiatrist.
He was to quit the college job to start his own practice in one of the bigger towns in Maharashtra. He had this fascination to have his own practice. He made his intentions clear that he would like to lead a comfortable life and earn sufficiently for that. His wife is a dermatologist. So, I could not make out how much would he have liked to earn! Anyway, for many people, private medical practice is enticing not merely because it would offer them chance to earn more (which by the way, does not happen in many cases), but also because it satisfies their entrepreneurial urges. At that time (in 2004-05) his and his wife’s monthly salary had been Rs. 18,000 each. And he was 30. Obviously, it was a very low pay. But he explained that the situation was much the same in any college (now pay scales are better owing to implementation of the sixth pay commission).
So off he went to the town he had chosen. A few weeks later, he had returned to the college for some work. And as we were having a chat, he mentioned in passing that he had joined the local laughter club in his town. I was amused. I asked him if he indeed believed in the purported health benefits of such laughing. He told me, he had joined the club not for any health benefits, but for networking – to come into contact with more people, which in turn would bring him more patients (and more money)!
I was shattered.
I concluded that what we are most passionate about is like a romantic relationship. We hold highly idealistic views of our objects of love. We hold them in high regard. We reserve the best we could be for them, otherwise we would be afraid of defiling them. Imagine, having to lie on some very vital matter to someone you love and respect, how difficult is it? A lot, at least for me. But making that passion a means of sustenance is like marrying it! The attraction gradually dies. The small things we dislike about it amplify and start grating on our nerves. The compulsion to earn using what we are passionate about makes us hate what we had loved to begin with. This compulsion also compels us into making ‘adjustments’ in how we do what we do with our passion. It starts seeming like we are prostituting our skills and abilities and the passion that would have gone in acquiring them only to earn damn money!
To say the same thing in somewhat different words, when you earn, you are the supply, your client is the demand. More often than not owing to market forces, it is the demand that shapes the nature of supply. The supply cannot be arrogant to say, “hey dude, here’s what I got. You want it? No? Sorry, look elsewhere”, because our dude would indeed look elsewhere! As an obvious corollary, the supply has to mold according to what the demand is.
Of course, ‘reasonable’ compromises can be made with our passion. Really? Remember, wasn’t your passion your Divine? If it was not, it was never passion in the first place. Wasn’t it something that you had held dearest to you, always maintaining its sanctity, never defiling it? Wasn’t that passion, the manner in which you let it unfold, an embodiment of what you were, what your deepest values and aspirations were? Now you have come to this, that you want to make reasonable compromises with it, eh? So, now your Divine is no longer Divine, but an agreeable neighbor who you could approach in times of need, or much worse, your ‘host’ who you parasite upon like a leech?
To give my example, I love to: observe; make sense of what I get to observe; think; organize my thoughts and articulate them in the most precise fashion possible through words. It is one of the greatest passions of mine. What would happen if I make a career out of it? E.g., if I have a mechanism for receiving donations on my blog, and each time I write something humorous I get Rs. 200, but each time I write on religion and god – criticizing the two, I get nothing. What would happen if my survival were to depend on how much money I make through blogging? Each time I feel like blogging on atheism, would I be able to do it with same passion and honesty as without any concern for how my write up is received?
Think of a school science teacher. What if she enjoys teaching concepts by giving analogies, and also likes to enlist the applications of such concepts? What if she enjoys making students think, and see their eyes fill with wonder on understanding something novel about something ubiquitous? But as you know, that is not what our education and exams are about! They are about mundane facts, or how to underline the most important “points” while answering; how to best convince the evaluator that you know the answers (irrespective of whether you actually know)! What if students do not want to learn what she teaches? Then our teacher might come down to the level of merely dictating notes. Or, if the students are to appear for entrance exams, and if the said teacher would be teaching in some ‘coaching institute’ then she would share ‘tricks’, ‘shortcuts’ and mnemonics with them. What would happen to science and her love for it; that would get buried somewhere? Can you imagine how miserable would she feel?
This clash between demand and supply has been very well exemplified by Howard Roark (click), the architect from Ayn Rand’s (click) novel – ‘The Fountainhead’. Though a great fan of Ayn Rand and her vision, I am stating here something almost contradictory to the ‘moral’ of her story. In her story, Roark triumphs against his adversaries. His complete antithesis – Peter Keating (mentioned in the same Wikipedia article on Roark) – initially succeeds a lot as an architect. Keating’s only drives are approval by others and money. In the process, he loses everything – including the only one thing he had truly loved in all his life – his friend of childhood – Catherine. While, what happened to Keating is very likely to happen in real life, Howard Roark was plain lucky! Also, he had this incredible amount of tolerance. Tolerance of contempt, tolerance of physical hardships, tolerance of deceptions, tolerance of slow rate at which time passed (in other words, patience he showed in waiting for Dominique Francon to understand that he could not allow ‘others’ to dictate to him what he did with his life, and that what others thought of his work was not a determinant of whether he should do it), tolerance for failures. The only thing he did not have was tolerance for derision of his Divine, i.e., his vision of what buildings should be like. His Divine was intensely personal to him – he could not tolerate others’ touching his building-designs, more specifically, the functionality behind them (Rand had sought to use functionality of building designs as the counterpart of ‘truthfulness’ in one’s way of living). His vision of his Divine was sacrosanct to him. Others’ visions, if not backed by the same passion, were mere contaminants for him. All this might make him seem arrogant, to be so unaccommodating, but what endeared him to me was his frank admission of the same! He had one true love – architecture – and he stayed loyal to it. On many occasions, by trading off his comfort and prospects of fulfillment of other desires. Thus, Howard Roark for me became the perfect human being that could be envisioned! He was my Divine (click), and still is. But I am not trying to emulate him. I know I do not have it in me to live the way he had. In fact, Ayn Rand had herself alluded to the fact that her (exemplary) characters are not to be found in the real life, but were extreme idealizations of traits that could be found in some extraordinary humans.To paraphrase her (and in turn, Aristotle), she had wanted to present characters, not as humans are, but could be and ought to be. And she had juxtaposed those perfect characters with the contemporary imperfect world, which was quite adversarial to perfection (as envisioned by Rand). She wanted to highlight the conflicts that perfection had to engage in to be able to survive in its purest form.
So, what is the solution? Should one abandon what one is most passionate about, and totally forget it, only for the fear of the difficulties that the world would pose?
In a way, yes. But of course, not totally. It is not as bad as it might sound. I think it is best to pursue what one generally likes but also has a few misgivings about as one’s vocation (for income). This will ensure two things. First, you would be sensitized to the possibilities of disappointment and frustration. If your fears indeed turn out true, you would be emotionally prepared for that. Also, as you would not have invested all your emotions in the ‘also-liked’ activity, you would still have lot many things to look forward to in your life if your career does not shape up exactly the way you had wanted. The second thing that this would ensure is that you will still have fascination for your passion. Your romance with it can continue on the side. You can pursue it as your amateur interest, doing exactly what you want, exactly on your own terms, without any care of who says what or how much you get to earn from pursuing it. Additionally, one can use that amateur hobby as a source of supplementary income (e.g., photography, painting, writing, etc.). Another related idea is to try to save sufficiently in the early parts of your career, and when you have requisite financial security, you could try making a career out of your passion.
Of course, not all career-options are open to amateur pursuit. E.g., joining the army or being a civil engineer or a doctor. But if one looks at such choices carefully, it must be asked, how can one develop passion for them without any exposure to the actual work involved in those fields? I have seen many adolescents/children get fascinated by the white coat, the stethoscope and the respect that doctors command. But that is not what medical practice is about! Fascination for such things hardly amounts to passion! And I’m afraid, quite a few teenagers harbor wrong impressions about what a particular field of work entails.
Also, despite my never having been to any western country, I feel people there do not need to be as much apprehensive while selecting their career for many reasons. First, there seems to be lesser competition for college ‘seats’. Second, work ethics are better, so it is easier to like one’s work there (whereas, the situations seems to be quite the opposite in India!). Third, the society is more accepting of various kinds of career choices. There would not be neighbors or relatives gossipping about an unconventional career choice one makes. Also, they are more accommodating in general of choices people make. E.g., someone aged thirty-five making a career switch would not be ridiculed by his 15 years younger class mates, but in all likelihood would still be respected for exploring new things. Fourth, owing to greater availability of college seats it is easier to make a career switch. Fifth, on the whole less effort is required to be able to afford the basic amenities for living. Meaning, even if one makes a bad career choice, and income would be less, their existence would not be ‘hand-to-mouth’ so to say. Whereas in India, vast majority of employed people have to struggle real hard for even basic survival.
So basically through the preceding paragraph, I just wanted to point out that the extreme paranoia that forms the backdrop of my entire argument, would apply only to India or few other countries with comparable social milieu and economic condition.
I am aware that given the extremely loud message conveyed by the media (in form of career advise in ‘educational’ supplements) and movies like 3 idiots (click) of to go for career involving one’s passion, my arguments to some might seem extremely wacky or deliberate attempt to be stand in opposition to common sense. However, that of course is not the case. 🙂
Your thoughts are welcome!