One thing at a time and that done well” is a proverb that many people of my generation can remember and recall, though fondly! I was reminded of this often enough in my life and have often parroted it to whomever I came into contact with, despite their apparent lack of interest in this one-liner, which displayed my profound wisdom. My second son led the pack of disbelievers. One day as I found him at the dining table, simultaneously listening to his iPod, reading Calvin and Hobbes and munching his sandwich with peanut butter (what else?) I started again on my favourite subject, trying to impress on him the need to focus a la Jack Trout. My son has several admirable qualities that are not worth speaking about but one supersedes all the others. No one can accuse him of holding back his views; he rarely does. He certainly did not hold back on that day. Without even bothering to look up from his plate he said: “Pa, that is the problem with your generation. That is the reason why you have achieved so little.” He shut me up, for the present at least, and got me thinking (I do this too, once in a while) of people who had done multiple things in their lives and in their time with astounding success.
Dreams are goals with wings
Many of us dream of achieving fantastic things, sometimes in areas that are esoteric and outside the mundane world, that provide us with our very means of livelihood. Some of us dream of being writers, others of being experts on cricket on television, others of becoming famous musicians and others even of making films. Sadly, though, for many of us, these dreams run the risk of becoming mere pipe dreams. The reasons for this are not difficult to find. While we wish to savour the results and enjoy the fruits of success, we are not willing to put in the extra hours that these dreams need. Having another engagement can be heady, but it needs a commitment of time that many of us are loath to give, even as we yearn for the delights that it may bring. Having waxed eloquent about the philosophy of the situation let me get down to the actual example that demonstrates what I am trying to say as I can almost hear you say “It's about time”.
Way back in 1987 I was the Branch Manager of Mudra Communications in Bangalore. It was a small set-up for those days, and we thought and behaved like a start-up. We had a small, energetic and passionate team, hungry for business and visibility. One of the team members, the youngest, if I may add, was an intense copywriter who had the intriguing qualifications of a Master in Computer Applications. To cut a long story short, that writer was R. Balakrishnan, or Balki, as the advertising and the entertainment worlds know him today. He was mad about films, but then who isn't? Yes, I too was from Tamil Nadu and to me too Ilaiyaraja was God. But Balki had a dream. He wanted to direct films He wanted Ilayaraja to compose the music for his films. We were great admirers of P. C. Sreeram who, at that time, was doing the commercial for Padmini Lyrics, one of the emerging agarbatti manufacturers from Bangalore. He spoke about Amitabh Bachchan whom we had all grown up on. In the middle of this we pitched left, right and centre for advertising business, and while I felt that at times we were more concerned with Bollywood and Kollywood than our own business, life went on. We won business, did campaigns, started building brands and grew both professionally and personally even as the dreams continued in a copywriter's heart.
Balki continued to produce outstanding work in a different agency, eventually rising to become its chairman. But the story did not end there. He continued his obsession with films and directed Cheeni Kum which had Amitabh Bachchan as its hero. Not a coincidence. The film's music was composed by Ilayaraja (is there anyone else in the world of music) and the cinematography was by our old friend P. C. Sreeram.
I travelled to Mumbai for the premiere and I wonder who was prouder that day, me or Balki. My mind went back to those early struggles of 1987 and how he had retained his passion and his ability to pursue that dream. In all fairness, he has not been alone in pursuing his dream. Alyque Padamsee's name comes readily to mind. He was and continues to be a doyen of the advertising world while being a celebrated theatre personality for years. In fact, the advertising industry has had its fair share of people who contributed to theatre - people such as Gerson and Sylvester DaCunha, Kersy and Usha Katrak, Homi Daruvalla, Dolly Thakore … and the list goes on. Today we have people such as Prasoon Joshi who writes phenomenal lyrics in addition to leading a large multinational agency and I may have missed several others.
On to Paa
Another film by Balki. Another premiere, this one, last Thursday night at Bangalore. The music director? Need you ask? Ilayaraja, of course. The cinematographer was P. C. Sriram, no prizes for guessing that one. And while the film had Amitabh, it was in many ways introducing Amitabh as Jaya Bachchan coyly announces in the titles. I am no film critic, just a guy who likes films and I loved the film and Amitabh in the film. I am not alone in my views, clearly. But I'll wax eloquent on that at another time, another place. To get to what I am trying to say. What is your own special dream? One that only you and your spouse or a special friend knows about? Do you have one? If not, why not?
A fine balance
Today none of us have the luxury of goofing off in our jobs. Our supervisors, clients, and sometimes even our subordinates, keep appraising us so intensely and observe us so closely that we have very limited scope to give anything but our best. We spend endless and often pointless time in never-ending meetings. We carry our troubles, our laptops and Blackberries home. We send out mails at unearthly hours, not so much because we wish to make a point, but because we will be overwhelmed by mail if we don't and the inbox overpowers us. So where is the time to even think of our interest, even if we had one? What is the point of dreaming of replacing Harsha Bhogle if you cannot even watch the highlights?
Be prepared to work your guts out
I am sure Balki must have been on the verge of a physical and mental breakdown, spending time in recording, re-recording, post production, editing and so many other things that go into making a film, of which I have the haziest idea. Then throw in the agency, its people, its clients and the brands that still needed outstanding advertising and you can get the picture and the pressure that straddling both these disciplines must have meant for Balki. Phenomenal.
But what are the learnings for you and me.? Look within yourself and see if there is a latent desire that you have forgotten, overlooked or are refusing to look at. An interest can certainly keep you away from needless distractions, such as booze. I just need to look around at the advertising industry to see the potency of this particular distraction.
Imagine the end result. Often we see the thorns on the way which prevent us from looking at the accolades and the attention that successful realisation of the destination might yield. Of course, success that is hard earned is far more enjoyable and if it is not too much of a struggle then it's not even worth it in the first place.
Are you setting your sights too low?
Many of us suffer from a common ailment. We defence-mechanise, we rationalise and give ourselves and the rest of the world reasons why we are already stretched and how we don't have a minute of spare time to think, much less do anything else. But is that really true? No one knows the answer to that question as well as us.
Remember too that this is not in any way to suggest that you will have less intensity or less time at work. Today's world demands a total commitment from all those who are involved. So it is not either or as some of us would like to believe. It is all this and more. The operative word is “more”. Are you ready mentally, physically and emotionally to give more? Is your family empathetic to your hidden desire to excel? Is it willing to understand and put up with your long periods of hibernation from an active family life?
All of these are questions that anyone who leads a ‘double life' needs to think about and perhaps answer.
Who knows, you might be the next big person in cricket, entertainment, music or the theatre! Get ready to work for your success.
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf.)
Image Source: Susanhenschen