When I Grow Up…

 Until we know the essential thing we are intended to do, we must therefore find a temporary occupation which will be the best possible manifestation of our present capacities and our goodwill. … … To the extent we lose the habit of referring everything to ourselves and learn more and more to give ourselves more completely, with greater love, to earth and men, we shall see our horizons widen and our duties become more numerous and clear.

THE MOTHER (Words of Long Ago, p. 51)


“What would you like to do when you grow up?” is one of the commonest questions put to a child. After going through many fantasies and fluctuations, often also failures and frustrations, the person settles down for a routine that may have little to do with the dreams of childhood. Ideally, a person should be doing what he is made for. What a person is made for is a discovery that can take a long time, sometimes more than a lifetime. But some cues are available from the unique talents and gifts the individual has received, and the circumstances in which he is placed. Assuming that the person has succeeded in securing an occupation that uses his strengths well, an occupation in which his weaknesses do not matter, the person could still be doing something that is not his final calling, but what the Mother calls a ‘temporary occupation’. The important thing is to engage with the temporary occupation in the spirit of karma yoga. Instead of worrying about what one would really like to do, one should learn to like what one has to do. As the Mother has said, “Try to take pleasure in all you do, but never do anything for the sake of pleasure”. It is possible to take pleasure in all one does, if one does it in the spirit of karma yoga. Doing it in the spirit of karma yoga means doing it as an instrument of the Divine, with gratitude to the Divine for being given the qualities and qualifications required for the job and for being chosen as the instrument, with one’s heart and soul in the job, and with focus on how it is helping somebody and yet not being attached to the outcome of the work. In short, karma yoga is self-giving; giving what one has to those who need it. Engaging with the ‘temporary occupation’ in the spirit of karma yoga will eventually lead the person to his final calling. To illustrate it with an example from recent history, the final calling of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was that of a teacher. But his ambition as a young man was to become a fighter pilot. After qualifying as an engineer, he failed to clear the entrance test for becoming a fighter pilot by a very narrow margin: he finished ninth while the number of seats was eight. As a frustrated young man, he wandered into Sivananda Ashram at Rishikesh, where Swami Sivananda told him that in his failure lay the key to his destiny. In retrospect, these were prophetic words. Dr. Abdul Kalam went on to work with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for about four decades. While his work there could be used in warfare, without his involvement in such work he might have never realized his true calling. It was this work that brought him close to several successive Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers of the country. Without this proximity, he might have never become the President of India in 2002. However, even becoming the country’s President was not his true calling. He realized his true calling after he finished with his tenure as the President in 2007. He wanted to reach out to children in schools and the youth in colleges across the country as a teacher. In the eight years that he had before he called it an innings, he had one of the world’s biggest classrooms available to him. This classroom had components direct and indirect; real and virtual. He was a visiting professor at a large number of top institutions of the country; besides, he travelled far and wide to schools and colleges where he interacted with the students. In addition to this direct contact, he taught indirectly through his books, and reached millions across the globe through the internet. This huge classroom would not have been available to him unless he had become the President of India, and he could not have become the President if the political leadership was not aware of his existence, and the political leadership was aware of him only because he had been the missile man of India. Thus his failure to become a pilot, and his involvement in scientific work related to the defence of the country were steps by which his destiny as a teacher of the masses was getting worked out. For Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, being a scientist and the President were both temporary occupations. Till the final calling is discovered, however, the temporary occupation is the vehicle that has been given to the person to fulfill the purpose of life, which is spiritual growth. Dr. Kalam eventually realized his final calling because he used his temporary occupations well. He was a hardworking and conscientious worker; he slept for only about five hours a day. He lived an austere life, did not accept any gifts, and remained unmarried; he was wedded to his work. He engaged with his temporary occupations in the spirit of karma yoga.

Life is a journey, and the work that we do is the vehicle that we are given for going towards the goal of the journey. If we know where we have to go, even a bike will take us there; if we do not, even a car cannot. If we seek to grow spiritually through the work that we do, one day we will also discover and realize our final calling.

(February 21 is the birthday of the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram)