Talents and Career Choice: Should They Match?

My best friend is a dance fanatic. He loves to dance so much that he took dance lessons, performed on stage on occasions, and took part in competitions. He read biographies of Nureyev and other ballet dancers, and took to learn ballet on his own. On top of that he is also into drawing and music. Immersed in 80’s music in his childhood, it became part of his identity as an artist.

For his career, he chose to be an accountant.

Nevertheless, he struggles with the question of whether he should keep his day job or pursue a career in performing arts. He longs to spend his days doing what he loves. He already holds a comfortable position in the accounting firm, and leaving that to start anew in a very different career seems to be very risky.

So he decided to audition for a televised talent competition to showcase his dance prowess. He’s hoping that by appearing on TV he could share his talent with a wider audience, and it turn that might open new doors for him to jump careers.

Unfortunately, in the second round, the jury voted against him.

What struck me was the question he keeps asking himself. What is the purpose of his having all this talent if he could not put them to use?

Which is exactly the question I have been asking myself.

A few months ago I watched a biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. As a young prince, His Majesty found love in arts. He enjoys jazz, and in school he used to play in a band. He loves photography, and he has a camera hanging around him almost everywhere he goes. He is also a skilled painter.

On 9 June 1946 tragedy struck the royal family. King Ananda Mahidol, the elder brother of Prince Bhumibol, was murdered under circumstances unclear even to this day. The Prince then ascended to the throne to be King Rama IX.

Being King, now all his attention must be given to the governing of the kingdom. With such a big responsibility, it would be understandable if the King ceased his artistic pursuit.

What I found to be inspiring is that His Majesty still makes time for art. He keeps bringing his camera when he is visiting his subjects, and takes photographs of them. And every now and then he entertains his royal audience playing jazz numbers on brass instruments.

Here is one video of his performance.
“Candlelight Blues”, King Bhumibol

If he had been born a commoner instead a royal prince, he might have chosen a career in the arts. But he became king instead. His devotion to his people is well known and well documented. He opened the palace gardens to be used as laboratories for agricultural experiments, resulting in advanced farming for the benefit of the nation. Thailand is now one of the largest rice exporters in Asia. He decreed for education for all. He left his palace and conversed with his subjects to learn of their difficulties and challengea. And he is also known and respected as an accomplished artist and musician.

Being a musician and artist he would have made a name for himself. But by rising to the occasion and ascending the throne, he made a name for his people.

Our talents are part of who we are. If we are lucky, we can make a career doing the things we love. But as human beings we are capable of achieving more than what we might have with our talents alone.

Looking Out

I often think about what it will feel like not having to spend a big chunk of the day working. Or even going to school. I remember when I was in elementary school, I discovered how funny the education system was. I was sitting in my classroom, wondering aimlessly while my class was immersed in some kind of an exciting activity. I could not recall what it was, but it must be exciting or the teacher would have seen me daydreaming and thrown something at me to wake me.

But I remember how beautiful the sun was that day. How bright the morning was. I remember thinking how inviting the schoolyard was. But somehow the teachers and the headmaster and the majority educators in the world think being stuck in a room while listening to a teacher was a better method of learning compared to playing and having fun outside. I wouldn’t say that the education was bad. I was just thinking what a waste it was for God to create such a beautiful world, which was meant for man to enjoy, but instead they chose to stay indoors and did something they which they believed to be more useful.

How come? How can being stuck in a room with two dozens of other kids be better than playing outside in the sun? How can it be that mornings are better spent indoors than outdoors? Is it true that learning can only take place in a classroom?

Thirty years later. When I had the opportunity to teach a class in our training center, I would roll up all blinds and let the sun shone through the glass windows into the room. As the room grew brighter, so did the hearts and the souls of the people. Some other trainers chose to let the blinds rolled down to keep minds from wandering to irrelevant things outside.

But I’m sure there is not a day goes by without us yearning to be free. Free from our cubicles, free from work hours, free to spend the day doing something else than working. That is why we are often tempted to daydream. That is why the one thing we want to do when standing in front of a window is to look outside. That js why we are so keen to escape the city and go to find beautiful sights in the country side.

To be free.

So why keep people from doing what I myself would want to do?

Last Thursday I just could not help myself. The blinds had been down since Wednesday morning because we were using the projector to show visuals. “Are you planning to use the projector today?” I asked my co-trainer. “I want to roll up the blinds.” He gave me a perplexed look and said, “No, I won’t use visuals. But isn’t opening the blinds detrimental to concentration?”

I just chuckled and began pulling on the plastic chain. The blind slowly rolled up and the morning view materialized from behind the thick glass of the ninth floor window.

It was a glorious morning.

Who Am I?

The past four years have been the years of soul searching for me to find the answer to one, single question. That is, “Who am I, exactly?”

I used to harbor envy at people with deep passions in their lives. There are those who are so passionate about cooking, or filmmaking, or fashion, or photography, or wedding planning, or tennis, or golf, or dancing, or music making. And they found that passion at such an early age, they already made a name for themselves in their thirties, or even twenties.

I once read a short bio on Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef. Age-wise, he is only 12 days older than I am. Yet he had achieved so much in his 20’s, while in the same period of time the only achievement I made was living to the adage of ‘work hard, play hard’.

Here’s the rough comparison

Age 23
Jamie: hosted his first television show
Me: hmmm … what did I do back then?

Age 28
Jamie: Appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by Elizabeth II, Queen of England.
Me: still no clue

As with many people, the realization of the fleeting time dawned on me as I was getting nearer to my 30th birthday. I began to look around, and I could not help feeling dissatisfied with my life. I could not help having the nagging thought of, “Had I known what I am passionate about in my teens, I would have been in a better position, as of now.”

Somehow I had the difficulties of making up my mind on what I want to pursue on a professional level. Something that I enjoy doing, and at the same time it puts bread on the table.

I do know that my job now is not so bad. I learn a lot from it, and I do get satisfaction every now and then. One time, as I filled out my LinkedIn profile, I realized I have done many things, and I have made a difference for my company and for many people.

But have I made a difference in my life? Or am I just working to make a living?

The acid test is this: Would I do what I do now if I don’t get paid for it?

No.

Then what is the one thing that I don’t mind not getting paid for doing?

If I can answer that, then I will find the definition of me.

I pondered about this question for several years. I knew I had several interests in life, and I am pretty good at them, but which one of them really defines me? The one thing that people will put after my name when they describe me in a biographical entry.

Here’s some examples from wikipedia:

Christian Bale (born Jan 30, 1974) is an English actor.
Leonardo DiCaprio (born Nov 11, 1974) is an American actor and film producer.
David Beckham (born May 2, 1975) is an English footballer.
Jamie Oliver, MBE (born May 27, 1975) is an English chef and media personality.
Stephen Siregar (born Jun 9, 1975) is … ???

During the 4 years of soul-searching, I took inventory of all the things that were of interest to me. Of all that I could come up with, I came to the conclusion that I was a writer. Yeah, a writer! I wrote occasionally, and sometimes I got good reviews from the readers. And the most important thing was that it was something I enjoyed doing although I didn’t get paid for it. I could make a career in writing. Blogs, books, articles, whatever. I just need to write, write and write to get myself even better and better at it.

But then, I realized one important aspect in writing that might critically impair its economic potential. Writing took ideas, and ideas need inspiration. And in my case, inspiration is most of the time as rare as a four-leaf clover (well, alright, a four-leaflet clover, for crying out loud). I was not so diligent in writing as I had hoped to be.

So, if writing is not it, then what is?

I do enjoy picture taking, but I’m not much of a camera buff. I’m not the kind of photography enthusiast who spend a lot of money on cameras and their accessories. And instead of going hunting for the most beautiful sights on earth, I would rather hang out in cafes. I don’t mind not getting paid for my photos, but I also don’t like making money from taking pictures, either. So that can’t be it.

Everything suddenly became clear in the past 4 months. I had projects at the office that require the use of my designing skills. I worked on several designs, offering them to the users, and picked one that I believe would work best. I planned the project from scratch, hired furniture designer and technicians, and I delightly watched as my ideas took form into being.

And there it is now: the new lay-out of my office.

I got satisfaction from seeing the ideas that I combined in a design became a reality. I would do it for free, but since it’s part of my job description, then I was actually got paid for it!

I wished it had been a larger project with more funds and more risk to it. I wish it had been an entire building job. I wish it had been an extreme makeover project.

Then the enlightment suddenly hit me. This is it! This is the one thing that defines me! This is actually what I have been wanting to do ever since I was in elementary school. This is me! This should be how I look at and how I approach my job. No matter where I am, no matter what I do.

Stephen Siregar (born Jun 9, 1975) is an Indonesian designer.