Coming Up For Air: Ideas of A New Career
So, no mid-life crisis for me. That would be against the principles I grew up with: Never mind the difficulties, keep working and things will happen to you. Sort of thing my grandfather, who built a successful business from the scratch, would have approved. He went by some sort of Asian value - 'the man who rises up before dawn 360 days a year, never fails to make his family rich' - but this may as well pass by the name of 'protestant work ethic'. But, whatever it is, it serves me well. Despite the inescapable ups and downs, recessions and all that, it helps to keep my head down and keep moving.
This is what I am doing right now. I had to write off my last few years of work, relationships and all that, and make a fresh start. But that was okay: I could condition myself to think that my life is starting afresh and I must be humble enough to absorb the difficulties and keep my mind unwavering and focused on a goal. As my grandfather would say, the God never fails to grant an honest wish: So He did, even for an atheist like me. I was granted a fresh start.
But, because this is my second coming, I am cautious in choosing what I do. I chose Education as an obvious thing - this is where I am most passionate and something I understand instinctively. This is also a good time to be in education - as the industry moves out of public sector in almost all countries across the world and thus, creates more possibilities of innovation and employment. Besides, education is becoming from intensely local to increasingly international. This is not just about international campuses, which is yet to catch on: The aspirations and the knowledge are increasingly global and hence, the academia is scrambling to make the adjustments.
In the process, indeed, I am discovering the golden rules for career change in the new economy. Like, one must have a confirmed discipline. Disciplines consist of, as I understand it, a process of enquiry and a language, both of which must be mastered by a practitioner. So, while I have spent many years in education in different forms, and already working in an educational institution, I am making a formal effort to learn the discipline. That's the reason for my ongoing efforts with the UCL, which needs great sacrifice from my side but already proving worth it.
Besides the discipline, there are a few other things a career changer must be open to. Mobility is one: One can even call it flexibility. This is geographical mobility, as well as flexibility in terms of starting low. I am doing almost everything that I can lay my hands on, any work. I have started teaching a Post-graduate class, which, surprisingly, I am thoroughly enjoying. This has of course added a few extra hours to my workday, but this is about my readiness to learn and be able to do anything that is thrown at me. This is something I may or may not do in future: But I consider what I am doing now is an apprenticeship, and the extra work as a privilege to learn different things.
On the same point, however, it is not just doing the extra work that helps. I am trying to engage with every bit of work with a critical and conscious mind, which allows me to reflect and learn, even if it is only about how not to do something. I keep most of my learning deeply private, but as an open person, I also feel pledge-bound to give an honest opinion to people if I am asked. Sometimes, it indeed feels a bit silly, giving opinions when silence would have been a better option. In a way, however, this is also a style experiment - I have been a silent observer for far too long - and it has gone well for me thus far.
I am conscious that whatever I learn I want to apply it globally in the end, may be in three to five years time. So, I am making an extra effort to keep my mind open and global, though my frequent trips abroad has ceased, giving me some time to stay home and get healthy. I realize that this health thing is a bigger deal than I have considered it to be in the past: Being unfit robs years away from me which I must have to make a difference. So, the big thing in my agenda is to stay healthy and fit, and do as much as I can (working from London Bridge station to office isn't enough) to maintain a healthy life. I know sooner or later, those international trips will resume. I want to be fit to take on the extra stress by then.
So, that's where I am: An interesting cross-road in my career, a pause, almost a traffic light. As always, this allows me to learn a few things, make a few decisions and know a few people (fellow motorists). This blog, as my scrapbook of ideas, would always tell the story. I am hoping that when I reach somewhere down the road in this journey, all this will make a pleasurable reading.