Thursday, October 31, 2013

"I am bored at work. What do I do?"

Increasingly I am being told by some of the young people I know that they find work a bore.

Let me rephrase that (because these young people are among the brightest I have met and because they have the potential to shine in their careers): Some of the young people I know are telling me that they are bored at work.

Which is a concern.

Because this means they most likely are performing tasks that have become routine, work has become mechanical, and the job is no longer as challenging as it used to be when they were first hired.

In short, they are bored. That is bad news for both employee and employer.

What to do?

I don't get bored easily. And I don't have a problem with self-motivation. I love what I do, so I get to do what I love. And I am grateful that life as a journalist, as a journalism teacher, has not only been full, but also fulfilling.

But I empathise with today's youngsters who are not able to motivate themselves to jump out of bed at the beginning of the week, thinking, "It's Monday! Woo-hoo!"

So, for their benefit, here are a few tips on how to relieve boredom at work.

1. From
Chrissy Scivicque, an award-winning freelance writer and professional speaker, writes:

Even if you love your job and you know it’s a good fit, there are some businesses/industries/positions that have natural cycles of activity. This means that there will be times when things are crazy busy and you’re totally engaged. And there will also be times when things slow down and you find yourself going kind of stir crazy. Here are some points to consider when those downtimes occur.
  • Take Responsibility
  • Keep a List
  • Seek New Challenges
  • Find a Friend
  • Get Additional Training
  • Examine the Cause
Scivicque elaborates on each of those points here: How to Handle and Relieve Boredom at Work

2. From
Whitson Gordon, editor in chief of Lifehacker, also has a "Top 10" list on the subject of boredom at work. While not all of his tips may be applicable to the Indian environment, he has some sound advice to offer when it comes to the relationship between exhaustion and boredom (No. 8) and on the issue of taking initiative (No. 6) as well as negotiating a change in your job description (No. 5).

Check out Gordon's list here: Top 10 Ways to Cure Your Boredom at Work

3. From
Productivity expert Mike Vardy writes:

Being bored with your work means you’ve got to change your work. It’s not the job you need to change, it’s the calling you need to change. Should you simply leave your workplace and do the same calling somewhere else, boredom is bound to creep back in. Now, if you’re content to stay in this job over the long haul, that’s fine… but you won’t find yourself doing awesome work over that haul.

Find out here how Vardy handled boredom at work: Make a Big Splash

And if one of the reasons for your being bored at work is that you have time to kill, think about signing up for a course at Coursera or Udacity. Both offer Moocs (massive online open courses), which are all the rage in the West as well as, now, in India. Read up about Moocs here: How would you like to take the world's best courses, online, for free?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Running for a dream... and Dream A Dream

Back in July 2010, on the "Dream Mentors" blog that I had begun for Dream A Dream, the NGO that works with and for underprivileged children, I had published a post about my involvement with this wonderful organisation based in Bangalore. Here is that post in its entirety:

A mentor, his mentee, and
the Sunfeast World Run

By Ramesh Prabhu

IN 2009, on May 31, I took part in the Bangalore Sunfeast World Run to help raise funds for Dream A Dream.

Thanks to generous donations from well-wishers, I was able to raise about Rs.50,000.

In 2010, on May 23, I took part again in the Sunfeast World Run with the Dream A Dream team (see "Majja Run 2010" below). And this time I raised about Rs.85,000 for Dream A Dream.

I had begun my association as a volunteer with Dream A Dream in August 2008. I began by teaching basic computer skills to underprivileged children on Sundays. Then, in February 2009, Dream A Dream asked me, and other volunteers, to join the mentoring training programme conducted by the husband-wife team, Dr. Dave Pearson and Dr. Fiona Kennedy. After the eight-week Sundays-only programme, I was "matched" with Kishore, a young boy from a shelter in J.P. Nagar named Vishwas.

Kishore had been enrolled in a home-schooling programme at the time. Subsequently he and other boys from Vishwas were admitted to a boarding school. But that did not work out and Kishore is now in a vocational training institute in Whitefield where he is learning a trade. He wants to be an automobile mechanic and he told me, when I last spoke with him, that he is happier now than when he was in a regular school.

In 2009, Kishore accompanied me twice to Commits, the media college where I am the professor of journalism — he met the dean and other faculty members and the students. It is my hope that these interactions will, in some small way, make him determined to do well in life. And, like other mentors, I used to take Kishore on outings, to the Forum Mall, to buy books, toys, etc. (You can view some photographs here.)

In May 2009, Kishore and I participated together in the Sunfeast World Run (see "Majja Run 2009" below). The two of us were able to bond memorably not only with each other but also with other mentors and mentees.

I am very grateful to Dream A Dream for having made it possible for me and many other volunteers to play a role in the lives of youngsters who have had a bleak past and who face an uncertain future. Here's a toast, then, to all the Dreamers!


POSTSCRIPT (October 26, 2013): I took part in the annual charity run twice more, in 2011 and again last year. Thanks to the generosity of my friends, colleagues, and relatives, I was able to raise almost Rs.4 lakh for Dream A Dream over four years.

  • DREAM A DREAM, founded in 1999 and based in Bangalore, is a non-profit which seeks to empower young people from vulnerable backgrounds by developing life-skills and at the same time sensitising the community through active volunteering. On January 30, 2010, Dream A Dream and Vishal Talreja, co-founder and executive director, were featured in CNBC-TV18's weekly programme, "Young Turks". To watch the video, click here: Dream A Dream on CNBC-TV18.
  • Want to volunteer with Dream A Dream? Click here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking-5

This was published in the October-November 2013 issue of Books & More magazine:


Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking/RESEARCHED AND COMPILED BY RAMESH PRABHU

"People tell me, Don't you care what they've done to your book? I tell them, they haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it."
— James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and other hard-boiled novels, on why he didn't bother to watch the films based on his books, in an interview with The Paris Review (from The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1)

"Dear Marjane! Never invest in your looks! Invest in your brain."
— Graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis, recalling her mother's advice to her, in the introduction to The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009

"Why is it that people now spend less time preparing food from scratch and more time reading about cooking or watching cookery programmes on television?"
— The "cooking paradox", as outlined by Michael Pollan in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, quoted in The Economist

"A family's photograph album is generally about the extended family — and, often, is all that remains of it."
— Susan Sontag in On Photography, which was first published in 1977

"I am fully aware that there are those who say the term 'empowerment' is outdated and overdone. I strongly disagree. The people who think it's overdone are those who possess the most power. Easy for them to say."
— Lois P. Frankel, in Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers

"Lots of animals, particularly apes, use objects; but what sets us apart from them is that we make tools before we need them, and once we have used them we keep them to use again."
— Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, in his modern classic, A History of the World in 100 Objects

Once people start reading books on devices, they find that all the things that they worried about don't turn out to be true, and that they're actually perfectly comfortable with them."
— Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin, in Vanity Fair's How A Book Is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding, by Keith Gessen, which is available only as an e-book

"The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."
— "Faber" to "Guy Montag", the fireman who burns books, in Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

“Any life devoted to reading is extraordinarily rich and rewarding, but it can certainly become an unbalanced life. Because of all the time I spend devoted to reading, here are some things that I've, perforce, given up: gardening, cooking, Rollerblading, and cleaning house. But in return I've gotten so much gratification from the life that reading has allowed me to live.”

— Nancy Pearl in the introduction to More Book Lust, the sequel to her massively popular Book Lust, which was first published in 2003

"People do awful things to each other. But it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark."
— "Veteran war photographer George Guthrie", in Night and Day, Tom Stoppard's 1978 play about foreign correspondents

Friday, October 11, 2013

"NOBEL CALLING": Brilliant idea for a feature, brilliantly executed

In the week the Nobel Prizes are being announced, what kind of magazine article can you think of writing? After all, the awards are more than a hundred years old and everything that is there to say about the founder, Alfred Nobel, or his legacy in terms of the prize has been said already, probably many times over.


So trust The Economist's cerebral quarterly, Intelligent Life, to come up with something exceptional. In the most recent issue, Tom Whipple finds out... wait for it... how the Nobel winners hear the good news.

There are three ways people receive the call. The most satisfying, for [Staffan] Normark [permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences], is when it is a total surprise. "Sometimes the person is completely silent. So totally that I don’t even know if they are still there. You can just hear him breathing." He notices his own use of the male pronoun. “It is still,” he says with a twinge of apology, "mainly men."

Sometimes the subjects of his research have an inkling that it could be their time; but when their phone rings, they try not to let themselves believe it. Serge Haroche (physics, 2012) was out walking with his wife when he saw a Swedish code appear on his mobile. "I realised it was real and it’s, you know, really overwhelming," he says. "I was lucky — I was in the street and passing near a bench, so I was able to sit down immediately."

And what is the third way? Find out for yourself by clicking on this link: "Nobel Calling" (that is such a brilliant headline too).
  • By the way, since we're celebrating all things cerebral this week, read (also in Intelligent Life) this brief write-up on P.G. Wodehouse, that master of the English language, and his writing style: "P.G. WODEHOUSE'S ART OF THE COMMA".
  • Illustration courtesy: Intelligent Life/Noma Bar
What happened when "A Beautiful Mind"
got the call from the Nobel committee

Senior media professional PRATIBHA UMASHANKAR commented via e-mail:

Thanks, Ramesh, for sharing this with me.

For me, the most wonderful way a Nobel winner got the news was when John Forbes Nash, Jr (Economics, 1994) got the news. The distinguished mathematician had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for years and he would wander around the Princeton University campus like a lost soul. Little did he know that a paper he had written about Game Theory for an economics course he had taken when he was 18 or 20 years old would bring him worldwide renown.

His theory had had far-reaching impact in many fields, such as psychology, politics, marketing, and, of course, behavioural economics. In fact, many people had adapted his Game Theory in several disciplines, and most had thought the originator was dead.

John Nash, too, was dead to the world.

Then, one day, an old colleague accosted Nash, who was walking around in bedraggled clothes around the campus, sat him down on a bench, and told him, "John, you will receive a call from the Nobel committee, telling you that you have won the Nobel Prize for Economics."

And the call came, but the great mathematician, sadly, had no idea why he had won a prize for Economics.

Later, he had a miraculous recovery, after more than three decades of suffering, and he was able to go and receive the Nobel himself, and give an acceptance speech. Such is the stuff modern-day myths are made of!

Nash sold the rights of his story, and the film based on his life, A Beautiful Mind, was made, with Russell Crowe (pictured) playing Nash. The reason he sold the rights was so that his son, who too is schizophrenic, would be provided for.

And to end this on a "Nobel calling" note, this year's Literature winner, Alice Munro, received the news about her much-deserved prize through voice mail.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The most widely read newspaper humorist of his time who died as he lived

Poking fun at people who took themselves too seriously, raising a laugh, and cocking a snook at death towards the end of his life (more about that later) was Art Buchwald's speciality.

Buchwald (pictured at an auction in August 2006) died in January 2007 at the age of 81, but something he said years ago resonates with me even today: "If you can make people laugh, you get all the love you want." I came across this quote again recently and my thoughts then turned to the man whose business and he took it seriously was to get people to laugh.

His obituary in The New York Times, by Richard Severo, described best what Buchwald did for a living:

Mr. Buchwald’s syndicated column was a staple for a generation or more of newspaper readers, not least the politicians and government grandees he lampooned so regularly. His life was a rich tale of gumption, heartbreak and humour, with chapters in Paris, Washington and points around the globe.

Severo also explained why no year of Buchwald's life was as remarkable as the last, and when you read the details you get the true measure of a strong-minded individual who lived life to the fullest:

Last February [2006], doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. “I decided to move into a hospice and go quietly into the night,” he wrote three months later. “For reasons that even the doctors can’t explain, my kidneys kept working.”

Refusing dialysis, he continued to write his column, reflecting on his mortality while keeping his humour even as he lost a leg. He spent the summer on Martha’s Vineyard, published a book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye, in the fall and attended a memorial for an old friend, the reporter R. W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times. He gave interviews and looked on as his life was celebrated.

“The French ambassador gave me the literary equivalent of the Legion of Honour,” he wrote. “The National Hospice Association made me man of the year. I never realised dying was so much fun.”

Now you know why I think of Art Buchwald often. And why I consider him one of my role models.
  • Behram "Busybee" Contractor, the editor I loved and respected more than any other journalist I have worked with, was also an admirer of Art Buchwald. Behram's universally popular daily column, "Round and About", he told us once, was modelled on Buchwald's columns. You can feast on the "Round and About" archives here: "Busybee Forever".

Woman on top. About Time, I say

Nancy Gibbs, at age 53, has become the first woman to become the top editor at Time magazine in its 90-year history.

Gibbs, according to a profile in The New York Times, started as a fact-checker at the newsweekly 28 years ago. She has since written more cover stories for Time than any other writer in the magazine’s history and she is also a prolific author whose most recent book, The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, was published last year.

In a phone interview, Gibbs told The New York Times that she had been surprised at how many young women at Time said they were excited about her promotion, even at a time when breaking “this glass ceiling has become so commonplace”. (In January, Time Inc. named Martha Nelson editor in chief of its magazine division, the first woman to hold that job.)

Gibbs added that these moves seemed to have resonated with employees. “This is a historic institution and there is something that excites people about seeing a woman run it for the first time,” she said.