Keen on wrestling with and besting a world characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (“VUCA”)? Read the ‘terrific’ book, ‘Ten Years to Midnight’ by Blair Sheppard. Worried about living to be a 100 without financial security and tangible and intangible assets? Fret not. We have you sorted. You just need to read “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. Is a warped perspective giving you the jitters? Why fear when Stephen Covey and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” are here! Having issues with your workforce or are you the bane of your employees? This can only mean that you have not even heard of “The Human Side of Enterprise” by Douglas McGregor. As a ‘booster dose’, add Marie Kondo on minimalism, Eckhart Tolle for living in the present, and Adam Grant for knowing what you do not know (wonder what Donald Rumsfeld would have had to say to this). Even after having ploughed through all these books, if insecurity still assails you, enroll immediately for a course in Vipassana meditation conceptualised by S.N. Goenka. All else fails, take refuge in the Stanford University course ‘Designing Your Life’
Former head of Microsoft India, Ravi Venkatesan’s assertively titled book, “What The Heck Do I Do With My Life?” is another lukewarm grist to the mill that is the self-help industry. This whole self-help business, when viewed in a counterfactual context, is a work of absolute genius. The very fact that there is a hamster wheel of this genre catering to an insatiable demand is classic testimony to the possibility that the exhortations contained within these books do not work. The most natural solution for remedying this malfunction – still more books. “What The Heck…” is a sincerely offered stew containing the usual ingredients, cooked in a perfectly anticipated fashion, but served in gleaming new cutlery.
A need to imbue a paradigmatically different perspective on work due to the invention and interference of AI (“The Fourth Industrial Revolution), an imperative to acquire productive (Skills, Knowledge, Reputation), transformational (diverse networks), and vitality (Work-Life Balance, regenerative relationships) assets in addition to financial assets, getting one’s self belief in optimistic (let me refrain from using the dangerous word positive in a pandemic world) order, practicing the art of being grateful, and introspecting on issues of existential import such as “Who Am I”; “Why am I here?” etc are all some of the tried and tested tropes threading through the book.
However, there are some personal vignettes recollecting the personal experiences of the author that make for some interesting reading. For example, the contribution of the author in turning around a loss making joint venture, Tata Cummins after being thrown in the deep end of the pool conveys valuable lessons in leadership and self-confidence. Every Chapter in the book contains a summary of key ideas and a few questions for reflection. However as the author himself acknowledges at the beginning of the book, not all ideas are for every reader. For example one of the suggestions put forth by Venkatesan is the exploration of a “Four Week Work”, a concept based on – you guessed it right – a book written by management guru Tim Ferris. The quintessential facet of the book being, with proper financial planning, one can arrange one’s professional affairs in such a way that only four hours need to be expended every week at work. The rest of the time can be conveniently and productively employed for furthering one’s passion. Unless one is either the former head of a multinational conglomerate, or the beneficiary of a magnanimous inheritance, the four-week work is but a pipe dream.
The most appealing chapter in the book is the one of leadership. Using real life examples of ordinary citizens, who took civic matters into their own hands to tide over official intransigence, Venkatesan crisply elucidates that leaders are more made, than born and every individual has it in her to be a veritable change agent.
Yet another ingenious, but in all probability, improbable suggestion proffered by Venkatesan involves changing your networks to change your life. “So, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, moving to a hot spot like Silicon Valley, Bengaluru or simply hanging out at places and events where venture capitalists and entrepreneurs congregate is bound to bring entrepreneurial ideas and opportunities. Of course, these days online networks are really important as well.”
Venkatesan also urges his readers to lead a ‘portfolio life’. In a nutshell, a portfolio life transcends what you do and instead concentrates on who you actually are. This identity based existence for example involves writing, speaking, blogging, consulting, traveling, and partnering with NGOs. As Influential management guru, Charles Handy once said, “we will all be “portfolio people,” thinking of vocation not as a single career but rather as a total and all encompassing body of work. Still unsure about the exact contours of a portfolio life? Just reach out for David Corbett’s work, “The Portfolio Life” (yes, yet another book. I told you at the very outset that this is a book of, and on books)
However, a few passages in the book surprisingly and needlessly equating the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and the conditions prevailing therein, to the strife torn nation states of Yemen and Haiti strikes the reader as a tad bit obsequious.
“What The Heck Do I Do With My Life” is an ambivalent read. One part curiosity piquing and two parts damp, it is old wine in many new miniature bottles. Oh, and it is also a rolodex to a thousand other books, which the reader would absolutely be hard pressed to finish in double quick time!