Published on:10 May, 2019

For millions of professionals, the tussle between what they feel they should do (because of financial or societal reasons) and what they must do (in order to fulfill deeply felt urges) is the defining tussle of their lives. Life does not have to be like that.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”Antoine Fuqua in the epitaph to his 2014 film, The Equalizer “You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” – The Upanishads

The tussle between “Should” and “Must”
Last week on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai I saw the young lady in the seat next to mine settle down into her seat and then spend the next hour doing some high quality sketching on her tablet (with what looked like a high tech stylus). Then after the in-flight meal was out of the way, she opened up her laptop and started working on a conventional Powerpoint presentation for a large Indian corporate.

I recognised the pattern in her behaviour. A decade ago, when I was her age, I used to write columns for magazines using the time allocation she was following – the first part of the flight was spent doing what I loved to do, what my creative instincts said I “must do”. Then once the meal was out of the way, I would switch to doing what I “should do” to earn a living and/or to meet societal expectations e.g. prepare research reports for institutional investors with deep pockets. In an echo of my formative years in consulting, the lady sitting next to me on the flight from Delhi too was a management consultant.

For millions of professionals like my neighbour on the flight, the tussle between “Should” and “Must”, between what they feel they should do (because of financial or societal reasons) and what they must do (in order to fulfill deeply felt urges) is the defining tussle of their lives. The American artist, Elle Luna, immortalised this internal battle in a celebrated blog published in 2014: https://medium.com/@elleluna/the-crossroads-of-should-and-must-90c75eb7c5b0

However, it doesn’t have to be like that. It has taken me the best part of 20 years to understand that there is no tradeoff between what we should do and what we must do.

It is harder to excel if you are not doing what you “must” do
What is original thinking? One way of understanding this is to ask yourself how do you gain knowledge these days? Generating new thoughts on your own isn’t easy. Our knowledge today is based on the expertise of others. Thanks to technology, new ideas are now disseminated rapidly and a large part of our waking hours is spent absorbing the latest ideas produced by others either for professional use (say, by attending professional courses or by subscribing to a trade website) or for personal use (say, by staying glued to Facebook or Whatsapp).

In a market like Mumbai, say, where there will be at least a hundred professional coders who can write algorithms which can spot money making opportunities in the stock market, if your algorithm can make even 3% more money than the typical cash-futures arbitrage algorithm used by other fund houses, you will become the hottest property in town. Every fund house will bend over backwards to hire you – they will use financial leverage to amplify the gains from your algorithm. The same would be true if you were an interior designer, a cricketer, a journalist or an civil engineer – in a highly competitive free market economy, even if your ideas are only marginally better than those of your peers, you will become hot property.

Original thinking is therefore at the heart of professional success in the highly competitive economies in which we find ourselves in. And, regardless of your profession, if you want to be an original thinker you have to do what you “must do”, not what your parents or your social circles think you “should do”.

There is no tradeoff between “should” and “must”
“Work is often seen as a means for making money so we can enjoy that second life we lead. Even if we derive some satisfaction from our careers, we still tend to compartmentalize our lives in this way. This is a depressing attitude, because in the end we spend a substantial part of our waking life at work. If we experience this time as something to get through on the way to real pleasure, then our hours at work represent a tragic waste of the short time we have to live. Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation…Your work then is something deeply connected to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of vocation.” – Robert Green in ‘Mastery’ (2012)

Ironically, it is not so much a question of following your heart over your heard. Once you realise that the tradeoff people talk about (eg. “you have to chose between a steady job and the financial security which comes with it versus the fluctuating fortunes of an entrepreneur”) is a false notion – you will neither have financial nor emotional security if you are in a job which you don’t enjoy – you are on your way to a happier and more successful career.

For most of us in Marcellus who have left the comfort of well-paid jobs in large firms, Marcellus is the coming together of what we “should do” to earn a living and what we “must do” to give vent to our desire to build the firm that we have dreamt of since we entered the world of work. Just because we are doing what we must do doesn’t mean we will succeed in our endeavor to create world class investment management firm but it does make the heavy workload more enjoyable and it injects into our lives just the right dose of desperation.

It was George Bernard Shaw who said who said that “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” With your support, the unreasonable women & men at Marcellus hope to make lots of progress.

[Portions of this piece were first published on The Ken in a column written by my friend, Anupam Gupta, and myself.]

If you want to read our other published material, please visit https://marcellus.in/pms-investment-blog/

Saurabh Mukherjea is the author of “The Unusual Billionaires” and “Coffee Can Investing: the Low Risk Route to Stupendous Wealth”.

Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor investment advice. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services and as an Investment Advisor.

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