Geetanjali Mukherjee

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lessons from 3 Idiots: Beyond the Obvious Takeaways

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot from non-Indian friends and acquaintances about the Bollywood movie 3 Idiots, which I absolutely love by the way. Mystically, it was playing on TV last night, and somehow I couldn’t resist watching it again. In light of conversations I had had about career success earlier that day, I pondered the message of the movie.

At first blush, the takeaway seems obvious – after all, the movie reiterates the line which purports to underscore its message several times – “Don’t run after success, run after excellence and success will run after you”. This pithy message is made even more poignant with the final image, of the ‘3 idiots’ (the protagonists) running, and so-called ‘success’ in the form of a character illustrating the corollary viewpoint running after them.
When I thought about it a bit deeper, what occurred to me were the following points:
1.       The central character, ‘Rancho’ illustrated not only the pursuit of excellence, but even more importantly, the kind of person one should presumably aspire to be – generous, kind, helpful, unswayed by excessive praise or criticism. This is illustrated over several anecdotes, but the feeling generated by him is generally that most people sooner or later love and admire him. Becoming this sort of person could then be seen as a goal in itself.

2.    Excellence stems from sustained hard work, and hard work, even if it doesn’t give you an immediate reward, can only be sustained over the long period required by loving what you do. This returns to the passion hypothesis, derisively disputed by Cal Newport, but includes his premise that only by being “so good they can't ignore you” can you succeed. The movie then is implicitly arguing that the hard work needed to acquire mastery can only happen when you start by choosing a path you love already, or are interested enough to pursue. If you secretly harbouring an infatuation with some other professional calling, then you won't be able to achieve excellence in the path that you’re following only out of a sense of duty – like the wildlife photographer trying to be an engineer in the movie. This point especially appeals to me – as I am afraid to fully commit to the marriage to writing, keeping a toe in other pursuits, in case I'm not good enough or lucky enough to succeed in this endeavour.

3.   The final point, and to me the most important one, centers on creating value. Simply focusing on excellence is a bit pointless if you are excellent at conning people out of their money. It may make you successful by a narrow definition of sheer net worth; however, if by success you mean feeling fulfilled and happy in a larger sense, creating value is the key to success. If you notice, all the inventions Rancho worked on found a problem or gap and filled it. Although the movie doesn’t explicitly mention this, I believe that creating the most value possible through one’s work is really the oft-neglected ingredient in the elusive formula for success; at least the 3 idiot-brand of success.

Multi-tasking: Trying to Read More

I read this suggestion on Jamie Rubin’s blog that he walks with audio books, so he gets reading done, especially classics that we wouldn’t otherwise get around to reading. And I thought that was a fab idea, and one I should try out. I tried it out, while listening to Anna Karenina, which I got on audiobook a while ago, and listened to a few chapters, but never got around to finishing – other stuff got in the way, and I changed my walk route, and started trying to walk more and faster and everything.
So today I tried this, allowing myself to walk slowly so I could get back into the rhythm of the book, especially because I'm not great with listening, I always prefer subtitles in movies for instance. I actually managed to walk my usual amount – about 40 minutes, without breaking a sweat, or getting exhausted, which I usually do. And I made great progress on my book! So I'm now resolved to try walking in the morning, first thing. I like to start my day by reading, but this way I could get my walk and reading done at the same time. Let’s see how the experiment goes…
This comes on the heels of a determination to read more classics, ones that everyone says they want to read, or have read, but haven’t gotten around to yet. The Bronte Sisters, Leo Tolstoy, Dickens, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, obscure Austen novels…the list for me is long. I have been wanting to read these for ages, especially because I believe as a would-be writer I should be well-versed in the greats. If I could combine my walking with reading, then I will be ecstatic.
I have also been trying lately to figure out how to put more into each day, get more done, but in a natural way, not by obsessively making lists, and rushing around like a headless chicken. I have always envied those who get huge amounts done, and also come across as super-relaxed, have great relationships, and generally are very balanced. You know the sort I mean – people you admire and envy in equal measure!
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