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Kung fu style career advice
Rashmi Bansal
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July 29, 2008

If a giant panda can become a mighty kung fu warrior -- so could you. Not kung fu warrior, but whatever -- ballet dancer, arctic explorer or investment banker.

I can already hear you say, "Hey, that happens only in the movies."

Well, yes and no.

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Here are some definite takeaways from Kung Fu Panda for all those of you struggling with questions of what, where and how to steer your career.

Lesson # 1: If you want something badly enough, you get it somehow.

Po the panda wanted to be a kung fu warrior really really badly. He followed every kung fu teacher, every battle, every hero there ever was. The chap was a walking Kung Fu Encyclopedia!

And of course, he dreamt about kung fu too.

Ask yourself -- do you care about something in your life that strongly? If you do, it will be yours one day.

Lesson # 2: It could take a while but you'll get there.

If you believe Lesson # 1, the next question is 'how'? Now sometimes you may get there the straight and easy way. The way to be a kung fu warrior is to train under a great Master, right?

Well, Po got the job another way. He bumbled and tumbled up the mountain and finally literally 'dropped in from the sky'. Master Oogway then pronounced: "He is the one, the great Dragon Warrior". To everybody's surprise!

In real life there aren't enough Oogways who can see a diamond in the coal; a kung fu champion in a blubbering mass of fat. But how many of you have struggled like the panda to even get to that mountain top where there may be a Master waiting for you?

Lesson # 3: 'A peach tree will blossom into a peach tree. It can't become an apple tree...' -- Master Oogway

Why many of us come to grief is we don't know 'who we are'. Are we a peach tree, or a jasmine tree or a cactus? Every one of those is beautiful and useful in its own way. No one is 'superior' to the other.

Yet, in life, many of us believe that we must all be peach trees, ie MBAs and engineers. The aroma of the jasmine is lost to the world and all we have is peach, peach and more peach (fruity burp!).

Lesson # 4: 'There are no accidents in life...' -- Master Shifu

Yup, the fact that you did not make it to the IIT or IIM or had luck dating that cute chick on the second floor -- this is the way it was meant to be.

Think about Steve Jobs being forced to exit his own company in 1985. He went through hell but was forced to think of new ideas, new directions. It led to the creation of Pixar and a whole new kind of animation. And ultimately, he went back to Apple with iTunes and iPod.

Could he have done all this had he never left Apple? I don't know. But I think greatness is born more out of adversity than in nice hot bathtubs.

Woh Archimedes wala funda bhi theek hai (that Archimedes funda is also valid) but you can't run naked in the streets anymore. By the time you dress up and get out into the world, you find josh chala gaya.

Lesson # 5: There is no secret ingredient in the secret ingredient soup.

And this is especially relevant at a time when we are all on the quest for the Holy Grail. We believe that joining the right college, the right course or the right company is the secret ingredient that will spice up our soup -- our careers, our lives.

The truth is, it's all about what you believe. The moment you join an IIT or an IIM you start believing,"Hey, I am really, really good". You get the confidence to take on the world, the chutzpah to say,"The world is my oyster".

Clearing those super tough exams is like running a lawnmower through your own mental garden. It crushes the weeds of self doubt and self pity which we've allowed to grow. Exam or no exam, you can choose to yank out those weeds. Then look the guys who think they know better in the eye and declare,"My soup is as kick-ass as yours."

Putting it in practice
Okay, so that 'kung fu style career advice' was warm, fuzzy and vaguely inspiring. But deep down you doubt the content. So let me now give you a couple of practical examples.

Query 1: I am Amit (name changed) and have just completed my engineering from a Mumbai university. What kind of finance part-time courses are available in Mumbai that will enhance my profile before doing a MBA?

My response: First of all, I don't see too much of passion in this quest. (I may be wrong... after all it's a two-line e-mail he has written to a stranger). But my gut feeling is that queries like this are driven by this logic:

Finance pays well, hence I should join finance.
The way to do this is an MBA.
And before that I may as well try to get a head-start by doing a course or two.

Well and good, but here's the deal: I don't know of any part time courses which would really 'add value'. The Bombay Stock Exchange does run several but they aren't for novices.

In general, I think we put too much faith in courses. Parents will be okay with just about any form of study, and shell out pretty large sums of money for it. Because after all "Beta course kar raha hai" (My son is doing a course).

A course can at best teach you concepts but there's also the option of being self taught (reference: the panda and kung fu!). There are books, there are websites, and even entire television channels devoted to financial news and analysis. And of course the pink papers.

The important thing is that you must aim to MASTER whatever it is you have chosen. When that is your aim, a teacher or mentor will appear somewhere along the way.

My second piece of advice is simple: "My dear, it is time you went and got yourself a job!" (Wish more parents kicked butt and told their kids to do it!). Courses can give you knowledge, but a job gives you wisdom. You learn by seeing, by doing and just by 'being around' in that environment.

The question Amit the engineer will now ask is: "How do I get a job in finance"?

Well, again, when you really want something you figure out a way! My advice would be to list 100 companies (more of mid-sized and small firms and brokerages) and send a one-page resume. State that your main aim is to gain experience before you go for your MBA, and that you are willing to do whatever it takes -- to learn and to contribute to your employer.

One or two out of a hundred may call you for an interview.

The rest you cold-call and speak to, or visit personally. One by one by one. It may mean cooling your heels in reception areas but I guarantee you will get a job in one month's time. Maximum two. Especially if you are willing to work for a low or even no salary in the beginning.

You could even try to meet the CEO or owner and make a 30-second sales pitch about yourself. I am not recommending you do this with Bill Gates [Images], but at a start-up or small company it often works.

And it could be your 'Oogway' moment. The break you are looking for.

Even if you don't get your job this way, the search itself would have been a personality-enhancing experience. And that's more important than 'profile', anyday.

The second query is about college admissions. It comes from Mrs K.

Question: My daughter is interested in doing her bachelors in mass media. She has secured admission in XXXX (Ahmedabad [Images]). We really have no idea about this institute. Is it worth joining?

My response: I get a lot of e-mails like this. With insanely high cut-offs and reservations of a million kinds, it is getting really hard to get into a 'good college'.

I mean the kind which we think contains the secret ingredient.

When Mrs K asks is XXXX 'worth joining' her concerns are two-fold:

a) Does XXXX (and I will not name the college here but it could be any newly-set up one) have the necessary facilities and faculty to conduct the course

b) Will studying at XXXX have any value in the job market?

The answer to part a) can easily be discovered by visiting the school and interacting with the students. If they've had a poor experience, they will tell you so.

Part b) is a tougher cookie.

In this particular case I would say BMM is a relatively new degree and employers look more for the candidate's talent as an individual than a brand name. What Ms K's daughter will need to do is go beyond the syllabus and build up a portfolio. This she can do by freelancing, doing live projects and summer jobs (whether or not the college requires it or arranges for it).

She can always go for a post graduate qualification from a more reputed institute, although ultimately I do believe that media is one profession where 'the secret is there is no secret ingredient' principle well and truly applies!

The really important thing is to be able to celebrate success as well as 'failure'. Mrs K's daughter will be joining XXXX because she could not make it to any good college in Mumbai. So it is more a compulsion than choice. But look at the spirit with which they are taking it:

"...My daughter and I are not really disappointed. The journey to Mumbai and back, the travelling by local trains, crossing roads, trying to collect information, hunting for places to eat, hunting for colleges was a real experience.

"We would not have it any other way. It did teach us many of life's lessons like being positive, being patient and never say die. We even thought of taking a year off and exploring different options.

"When we returned to Gandhinagar, where we stay, we couldn't help feeling that we have come back to heaven. Mumbai has taught us to value Gandhinagar. You are right when you say there are no accidents in life!"

Let us end this kung fu class with the following immortal words from our lovable panda:

Tai Lung: "You... you're just a big... fat... panda!"
Po: I'm not a big fat panda. I'm *the* big fat panda.

Be THE big fat panda, in whatever you choose to be.

Rashmi Bansal is an author, entrepeneur and youth expert. She can be reached at and at Youthcurry.

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