Finding Your Calling (From the 110th National Day Address)

Having recently endured a month of rehabilitation from continuous work, I was in dire need for some powerful inspiration to tackle 2018 with a renewed sense of calling. And the 110th National Day address by His Majesty the King of Bhutan was exactly that.

I’m sure that I speak for everyone who witnessed (or in my case, listened on the radio as we ascended towards Talo Monastery to pray for our Monarchs) the historical address yesterday when I say that His Majesty always gives off an aura of serenity and composure. From the moment he began his address, he makes the listener feel as if they were greeting an old friend. Warm and unassuming is his spirit – a man of uncommon grace and compassion, whose every word quivers the very ground we stand upon, and floods our hearts with a certain kind of warmth and magic.

Few people in this world inspire this – this yearning for nationalism and values beyond the mercenary. And I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with a feeling of proud thanksgiving as I joined the nation in celebrating our 110th National Day.

His Majesty spoke about national security – how the threats that can undermine the sovereignty and security of a nation can be both external and internal. He spoke about the interconnectedness in today’s world, and how the effects of any event in any part of the world can and will thunder through the veins of our tiny nation. We are not impervious to the spill over effects of major global economic externalities, or to the dangers of climate change and terrorism.

Much as these negative externalities have caused major ecological and demographic shifts – Bhutanese people need a shift in mind-set to understand that the world in this state of ominous uncertainty is as much a local problem as it is a global one. Gone are the days when we have existed in isolation – we need to stop dubbing ourselves as the nation where time stands still, and move together with the rest of the world. So long as we understand that we are only as strong as we are united – our society as small as it may be cannot be threatened.

His Majesty alluded that our geopolitical circumstances dictates that to keep up with our imperious neighbours, we need to be do better than our best – we need to work harder and not shirk from challenges. For what we lack in the strength of numbers, we can make up for in our collective values and our courage of conviction.

While much of what happens outside our borders is out of our control – how we react to global externalities is what matters in the end. We need to attain a certain level of self-reliance and economic stability – and to do that we need to tap into our most important asset – our people, and more particularly the young people.

I’m afraid that many of us are afraid to move from the comfort zones that were graciously created for us by our great Kings. But as His Majesty mentioned, we have to be bold enough to take the first step.

I’ve been talking to several people since I’ve been back home to understand their dreams and their struggles. You would say that the average Bhutanese has nothing to complain about – at least those who reside in professional bubbles definitely don’t. They are well educated, comfortable, less encumbered by cultural expectations than any previous generation of Bhutanese. They can own or rent. They can save or spend. They have been on familiar terms with their ambitions all their lives — raised by a caring, but often too careful, government to live honest lives, to follow the rules, and give back to their communities.

So why are these young, well-employed, ambitious professionals feeling so adrift, as discontented as someone starving for a mixture of both recognition and revenge? Why do they take the socially-accepted-as-inevitable, and confront the social crisis with petty mind-dulling chit-chat? We complain about the enervating psychic effects of the professional treadmill as white-collar piecework and describe our dread as we contemplate bleak futures — decade after decade, we imagine, unfulfilled – searching for a calling that does not even know our name.

I was always under the impression that you don’t find your calling – you fight for it!

‘Finding your calling’ makes it sound like it is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — you find it, and the story’s over. But it is an on-going process – understanding what your calling is very different from the blood, sweat and tears of actually doing it. We cannot be afraid of hardship and hard work. His Majesty has made it clear that ‘for us to achieve equal standards of living, we have no choice but to work harder and become more capable.’

I cannot imagine living a life without purposeful work. To me it is like navigating through life with the disabling lethargy that seemingly knows no end. I recognise now that the longstanding advice I receive to ‘relax’ or ‘take it easy’ is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. It usually only makes matters worse, as even a fraction of a second of forced relaxation, leads to debilitating unease.

It is now time to rid ourselves of a lifetime of professional hunger – its time to seize the opportunities, to say yes, and to lean in, and to run stuff. We need to stop acting like lost children losing grasp of a helium balloon – grief stricken and helpless.

Growing up I remember these words constantly repeated by the Great Fourth – ‘the future of this nation lies in the hands of its children’. Since we are no longer children, glimpsing foolishly into the sun, it can only mean one thing – that the future is here. It is now. And it is ours for the taking.

‘Our youth must not wait for government initiatives and handouts, and for parents to push them to launch their careers. In a fast moving high tech world, where the only limit is your imagination, you must learn to take charge of the transition and inevitable evolution. You must take the first step forward.’

I cannot emphasise how much this statement resonated with me. From my very short start-up career, I have learned that to succeed, we need to trust ourselves and our abilities no matter what the context. When you believe all that, taking chances to find your own innovative path becomes easy. I think we should take as many calculated risks as we can to propel forward. If we don’t, I predict that we are doomed.

In the mean time lets not forget to keep our vibrant idealism locked in a jar for safety while we strategise ways to make ourselves competitive – because I’m not saying its going to be easy – I’m only saying that its definitely going to be worth it.

I am now ready to take the first step forward. Are you?

Thank you, your Majesty.

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’ – Margaret Mead

Picture credit: His Majesty’s Official Facebook page

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