For a while, I considered myself a failure. During my early years in school, I was an average student. I was the class topper in my lower primary school but somehow settled in the middle of the pack as I grew up. But towards my high school, I became a popular kid in the school and was happy with where I was with minor academic hiccups. I say minor, but at the time I felt my world had crashed. More on that later.
As I moved to college I started feeling alien to the place, trying to measure my success through things that now feel silly or rubbish. Things like winning an argument, or trying to please people who didn’t matter. Sometimes even trying to be in competition with someone to see who’s better at being a dick. In most of these things, I failed.
While in college, I wasn’t working on a cool tech startup, I didn’t have a girlfriend (which I am extremely glad about) and wasn’t really good academically. In fact, I once had to write two different semester exams on alternate days as I had some papers I had failed. Just before I joined college, I thought programming was my passion, but everyone said that Electronics & Communications Engineering was the thing and I must take that stream as my major in college. This was a bullshit advice, as time revealed.
After school, I went for a year’s worth of coaching classes for engineering entrance exams. Another big mistake. This was one of my most wasted years. I did nothing. Did not even take the entrance coaching seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be an engineer. I considered it to be my passion. But did not have the drive to see it through. At the end of the year, I still managed to get a free seat with a 5k yearly fees compared to a 60k yearly fees that few of my friends paid at the time. But I never got a chance to rejoice thinking about this because of all I got to hear was how in spite of taking a year off for coaching, I still did not manage to get into the “top college”, whatever fuck that means now.
I would’ve felt like I won something had someone encouraged me back then but it didn’t happen. My love for engineering started when my cousin bro decided to be one and fatefully I ended up in the same college. I remember how I entered my classroom with my left foot first, because in India right is considered auspicious. It was a small rebellious act from my side. Just for the heck of it. I hated college initially so concentrated on my studies.
The first year was good. But the second year was complete crap. I cannot convey the level of crap it was during the second year. The saying that you end up being the average of five people you spend your time with, ended up happening with me. I am not saying anyone forced me, but I lost all interest in studying. Now looking back, I also realize that I was going through a mild depression as well. Nothing interested me. Just finish classes, come back, throw the books to a corner, not to be touched till next morning. My dearest Renjith used to get the dinner and we had to share a plate since they get stolen a lot.
This was around the time when we formed a band. Called ourselves “Noises”. Yeah, I saw that cringe, never mind, the name was shit and we knew it. Just that we never bothered to change it. Our hostel-mates used to call us “nuisance” and I don’t blame them. Who but a bunch of fucking retards would blast Metallica songs through a 15W guitar amp in the middle of the night? We did that. I wasn’t okay about it most of the times, but when you are a group, you suppress your brain’s voices and be cool like the others.
I realized something during this time I realized that music is my passion. I learnt to play the guitar (thanks Shyam!) and was the lead vocalist and bass guitarist for my band. I still remember, there was a time that I believed that music is going to be our future and this crappy little band we had formed is going to be a roadshow some day. When I say “crappy” don’t get me wrong, I was very much in love with the idea of the band. Though we never had any major shows except performing during farewell for seniors and other occasions, once we did play in another college for a competition and won second place! Second place guys, can you believe it? Except that there were only three bands that played and one of them was disqualified. Sorry, this is not a bird rising from ashes kind of a story.
I thought this will be my future, my passion was singing and playing the guitar. I did practice a lot during those days. But as days went by, my drive to continue practicing kind of died. I practiced only when there was a show coming up, which was once a year or so. So wasn’t a big deal. I was sure the four of us were bandmates for life. As I write this today, I am in touch with only one of them and was the best man for his wedding and that was special. So that’s what became of our band. In spite of the non-existent success of our so-called “band”, I believed that music was my passion.
Years later when I found my new home in the city of Bangalore (Bengaluru now) I carried this belief with me. But, by then it was almost a year and a half since I had played a show on stage and almost the same time since I played the guitar. Our last show was also a piss off disappointment. We had planned to sing around 8-10 songs but the fucking organizers gave us time only for 4-5 songs and during our slot, they asked the audience to have their dinner. Not that the majority of the kids in the audience who grew up in Kerala had any idea or liking towards the music we played, still it felt bad. In the three final years of my college life, we were the only four guys who picked up instruments and played on stage.
Back to Bangalore life, I had my guitar with me and occasionally dusted it off and gradually lost my playing ability. My brother, on the other hand, was progressing well and got into a band in Christ college where he was doing his degree. I used to encourage him and go to his shows because it felt good to see him do all that which I never could experience even though I thought music was my passion. It is a different story that he doesn’t play anymore as well. I can still play the guitar, but very simple chords and limited songs.
My passion for programming came back and I was actually coding for a livelihood around this time. So now I believed in my mind that my passion was for programming and music. I learned new languages in programming and downloaded guitar lessons. I practiced both rigorously. Every day. For two weeks. Then I lost interest in going through the pain of actually learning to play the guitar. It felt like too much effort and my passion wasn’t enough to drive through the wall of inertia built by my laziness. Programming stayed with me and still stays with me, but not to the extent that I would’ve wanted it to be.
The truth is, I was never able to be consistent in either of these. Can I play the guitar? Yes. Can I play it like a semi-professional or at least play some complicated chords or riffs? No. Same way, can I code? Yes. Can I build something which might be complicated and would be useful? Not sure. What does that say? I thought I had a passion for these and would build my career around these. But I failed in doing so. I say I failed because I did not become a musician and even though I am in tech, I don’t code the way I wanted to be. Being a program manager, I am not coding for work.
But here is the interesting part. One might think that this would make me feel miserable and sad. But strangely it does not. I have accepted that I am not going to make it big in either of these fields. I might have to find out something else. One thing I am proud of myself is that I am optimistic as hell and positive as well. I am not one of that crib-a-baby who has problems with all your solutions and is mind-blowingly pessimistic about life. Whatever shit I go through every day in my life, I am sure that I will be where I want to be. Maybe slowly, but steadily.
It is okay to change your goals. By the way, a goal is different from a dream. A dream is something that you wish you had or could do. A goal is similar to a dream but with a time limit. I had a goal of being an awesome programmer and making the next big thing on the internet. I have coded many hundreds of lines of code in this pursuit, but I did not have the drive to keep doing it till I came up with a mind-blowing app of some sort. Coding was my passion is what I thought, but now I realize that it was not. I did not have the perseverance to see it through.
If I am in a group and have a guitar handy, I can play enough to make people applaud and feel excited. But I know how much I can play. My guitar skills are mediocre at the best. This is due to years of not practicing. I do not remember the last time I sat down and practiced the guitar. I used to do it on a regular basis while I was in college. I had a reason to do so. Now I am not that excited. I love the idea of playing the guitar and when any song plays on iTunes, I imagine myself playing it on the stage with people applauding. A few years back I believed it would happen. But now I know it won’t happen again because I have no passion required for being that skilled anymore. It died somewhere, around 7-8 years back. But I still do imagine myself playing and in between writing this post I play my “air guitar” more than once
I was disappointed at a point in my life feeling that I gave up on my goals and my destiny. I felt that I was meant to be a programmer and a musician. Giving up on them made me a useless prick. I had no idea what would my passion be or if ever I’d find one. I thought I was good enough to do a day job and nothing else. Just keep dreaming about new passions and execute nothing. I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to see if I have a chance at making it in life. Though on the outside it may seem that being in 30s means that it’s too late for anything, I was surprised to find it was far from the truth.
I believed that if I do not find my passion by the time I was 25, 26 or 27, life’s gonna be a mess. I am turning 32 next week and have never felt more accomplished, busy and fulfilled in life. Let me explain.
I was listening to this audiobook called So good they cannot ignore you. Go ahead, use that link and you’ll get it for free if you start a trial with Audible. I love it. It talks about how follow your passion isn’t a good advice and how to go up in your career you need to earn career credits. This is exactly what happened with me. I was trying to “follow my passion”. I had no idea what passion was. I thought being a guitarist and programmer was my passion. I still love doing both and occasionally I do both. For example, I coded this entire site from scratch and then integrated it with Jekyll. Same with my podcast website. I coded it. So I do love doing it. But to be making a career out of both these skills, you need to be better than average.
Update: I wrote this post before I completed the book and there is a reference to a guitar story similar to mine in the book as well. Awesome!
I was average at best in both of these. I loved the idea of being the expert but wasn’t ready to go through the pain to be one. That’s what it takes. Perseverance to go through the ugly part of putting in the hours to hone your skill. It is a painful process, in a literal sense if you are trying to learn to play the guitar. All those riffs and chords don’t just become familiar with your fingers. You need to practice, day in and day out. Do you want to be an awesome coder? You need to code, a lot. Almost daily. If your work doesn’t permit, you do it on your own, on side projects.
I was clearly not doing any of those. Both these “passions” were just dreams. At a point, I thought I’ll never find my passion and this bothered me a lot. I was good at my day job. No issues there. But I had this notion that it was not what I needed to do. I learned about the “Overlap Technique” from Sean McCabe. I realized that I can be really good at my job while pursuing my interests. I say “interests”, not passion because that’s what I call something that I feel like doing. If I care enough to continue doing it for a longer time, only then it gets promoted to passion. Until recently, I had none.
Writer & Geek Show changed everything for me. For the first time, I realized that I am ready to go through the pain of commitment. The commitment of putting an episode every week (except on sabbatical week once every 7 weeks). I have said this to many before, it seems simple to have a recording of a topic out there every week, but every single episode takes an immense amount of mental and physical effort. And you know what? Yeah guessed it right! I love it. I love researching a topic, I love recording (feels like a radio broadcaster), I love editing (it’s geeky) and I love publishing it and watching the analytics tell me that we are being listened in six out of seven continents (Antartica, we’re coming for you!). I love all these.
In fact, I have made it as comfortable as it can be to do all these different stages in an episode production. For researching, which can sometimes be tiring, I head out to a good café. Amazing coffee and jazz help me get through the research part. An important part of the podcast is the show note. Normally it takes a lot of effort to write these notes, but because of the nature of our show, I use the research notes and modify them into show notes and use them as the guide while recording. In the process, I am achieving a three-fold benefit. I also have basic podcasting gear that makes my recording process a breeze.
If you feel the inertia while doing something and it feels like a big deal, make it as easy as possible to get started. If you are planning to go for a run every morning, get all your accessories ready the night below so that you can just get up, fresh up and leave. The more effort it takes to start, more you feel the inertia and more chances you might end up not doing what you need to do.
So, make it easy to do what you want to do and do it every day. Repeat - do it every damn day. I am not saying do all of it every single day, but do something that contributes to your interest every single day. In my case, I do something that contributes to my podcast every single day. It might be just fixing the design, writing some notes, or even reading and watching some podcast related stuff. Someone once said you need 10,000 hours to master something. I consider thinking and reading about that thing also to be a part of those 10k hours. Contribute to your interest every single day, slowly you’ll see it transform into your passion or you’ll see it die away for good.
I say die away for good because that lets you start from scratch, a fresh start. Don’t be afraid to start fresh in something you aren’t familiar with. I knew nothing of podcasting and never knew that I’d be investing in making a show of my own. But I was brave enough (if I could brag on my own blog!) to try. I never thought about how many downloads I might get in a week. I thought about how much I enjoy doing this and it was such a learning experience. In the process of research, I must say I know a thing or two about a thing or two.
If you are in the process of finding your passion, you must prepare yourself to try many different things, sometimes you might strike gold on the first try and sometimes it might be painfully long time before you feel like you have found your “thing”. Another important thing is to be prepared for the pain and effort. One might think passion wouldn’t need any effort since you’d enjoy the process, but in reality, it becomes your passion when you enjoy the pain and effort behind doing whatever you consider your passion to be.
Finally, in my early thirties, I found my passion, yes it has been promoted from interest to passion - podcasting. I absolutely love my day job, but podcasting defines me. It is something I do being myself. It is something I am willing to walk over fire (being overly dramatic). Yes, there are days where I feel de-motivated to record or research, but with a little help from my brother and my willpower, we soldier through the situation.
There are days when I feel grumpy before a recording, but the moment we finish recording, I feel accomplished and I love it! This is exactly what passion is. I might find another passion down the line like I like coffee. I learned to brew my own coffee, but at this stage, it is just an interest and it might just go away. I’ll give it time and see if it stays. Now that is how I decide what my passion is. Passion didn’t work for me before, but now I understand the science behind it - not everything you love is your passion.