Brave New World?

(In this second part of the talk I gave in Tenzin Higher Secondary School and in Karma Academy, I share some tips to survive in the fast and changing world that they are going to live in. The following is a transcript of my talk)

First of all, let me apologize to the teachers for taking away your classes. You got some make up classes to do now.

I have been asked to give a talk to motivate you (students), to provide you some inspiration. Now this is bit frightening for me because the last thing I know you would want is for someone to tell you what to do, and that too from someone with no official status these days. I had come here just to meet the media studies students but your Principal thought I would have something worthwhile to share with you.

Let’s admit, there is so much of negativity in the air these days – of corruptions, nepotism, abuse of power, dirty politics, miscarriage of justice, and so on. I am sure for you growing up with these stories flying around must be very discouraging. I don’t say that they are not happening. But not everything is true and in any case they do not define our country – or who we are as a nation. Let me tell you that everywhere in the world there are similar challenges and unlike here, where we have a King who will ultimately take on the most difficult of issues we face, in other countries people often have to fend for themselves.

When I was growing up there were also talks of corruptions and nepotisms. Yet, I sort of succeeded to do what I wanted to do, achieve what I wanted to achieve and go wherever I wanted to go. I neither had a powerful uncle nor was I born into any influential family. My father was a truck driver and my mother – an illiterate housewife. In other words, if I can be successful, so can you. Do not be discouraged by the negativity that is engulfing us. Even if they were true, they cannot stop you or bring you down – if you are determined to pursue your goals.

The other widespread perception that we have these days is that no one cares for anything or anyone in this country. Well, I do. Really. And that’s why I am here. And I know lots of people who care for what is going on in our country. And they are  mostly ordinary people like me. It is from them that I derive my sense of optimism. I have lived in countries where leaders only enrich themselves. I have been to other nations where every man is for himself. Our country isn’t one of those countries. There are, of course, people among us who only think of themselves. But we can’t help it. In Buddhism, we say we are, after all, saang magaybi sem (Unenlightened Beings). So, the people who care for you and your future will keep working for you. And as is life, so is our nation. It keeps moving forward.

Having said the above, though, let me tell you that every generation faces its fair share of challenges and I faced mine. I walked for days to get to school. I slept on hard wooden beds without mattresses and blankets. I travelled on open trucks in the rain with potato bags. I went barefoot for much of my childhood. That was okay. But I also went hungry at times and that was not okay. It was terrible to go to bed with an empty stomach. None of you I know go barefoot or hungry. In other words, you are already ahead of me – in relative terms. So, be positive.

What is really difficult for you though is the fact that the country I grew up in will be very different from the one you will live your professional life through. And by that I am referring to the additional skills required to have a so-called successful life. Just studying hard and getting good marks in your exams is not going to be enough. Adding some hard skills may not also suffice to even land a job, let alone do well.  The competition will be fierce. When I completed class X, there were only 126 of us coming from six high schools in Bhutan. Now every year we see over 10,000 of you. However, not only the number is bigger but of late, the world is also changing at a faster pace. The skills and knowledge that you possess gets outdated sooner than you realise.

Hence, let me share the four skills/attributes/characters that I have found handy, which should also be useful for you. For me more than my degrees and “talents”, these softer skills have brought me this far.  I call this VARA.

  1. Values – Cultivating basic principles and moral standards helps you not only to be a respected member of a community but also to stay grounded on your feet. Neither positions of power over-excite you – nor being ‘nobody’ kills you emotionally. Values also keep you away from bribery, materialism, temptations and troubles. The time to sow the seed of good values is now – when you are young.
  2. Attitude – If there is one thing that I hate about us, the Bhutanese, is our over-blown ego and attitude. Instead, developing a sound attitude towards your life and learning and towards other people will ultimately determine whether you will be accepted or whether you will turn off people who want to help you. Nobody achieves anything alone. If you put on an attitude no one will take you in their team.
  3. Reputation – In this age of free-fall social media, where you cannot hide anything, a new form of capital is emerging. It is called reputation. With moral decadence, people’s trust in you will be your greatest asset – far greater than money or social capital. You will face temptations. Endure them. Do not lose your credibility. As you grow older you will be extremely proud that you never sold your soul for anything. It is the greatest of feelings. Believe me.
  4. Adaptability – The world that I lived through my professional career was at times cruel – and very heartless. But if there is one thing that saved me, it was my adaptability – my resilience – my ability to reinvent myself time and again. From an engineer to documentary filmmaker to entrepreneur to palace staff to an educator, I sailed through seamlessly. I must admit that it wasn’t easy. The world that you will inhabit will be in constant and greater flux – changing more rapidly. If you cannot adapt quickly or if you cannot reinvent yourself, you may find yourself in a corner. Start acquiring skills now and newer skills as you move ahead in life.

If you do the above, I can guarantee you that you will not go to bed hungry at night.


(In the Q&A that followed, students asked me on the state of Bhutanese broadcast media, the difference between rights to information and freedom of speech, the news of a vice principal charged with sexual harassment, skills to become a journalist, etc.)

The school is located in Lango gewog in Paro valley.
Ready to go. Laptop, projector, mic and laser beam.
The Assistant Principal, me, Diksha Gurung (my former student now teacher), and Lopen Kesang. Behind me is a photo bomber
Over 560 people gathered to hear the Messiah 🙂
I am in my element when I have smiling faces listening to what I like to talk about.

4 thoughts on “Brave New World?

  1. Thridu Nim Dorji

    I am always inspired by the type of career you have had and the zest and zeal you possess to learn. This is yet another piece of value laddened information/advice that is going to help me sail well in the sea of competition.
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    I can’t afford to miss your blog posts.

    ~ Nim, D


  2. i like your ” can Do” attitude to navigating the trials and tribulations of life.German saying”that which does not kill you will make you strong. The hunger in your early life enabled. you to stay foolish and stay hungry like what Steve jobs said to commencement speech in Stansford.You are very much an ardent advocate for the monarchy as i read between the lines but at the same time dealing with youths disenchanted with lack of well paid jobs in the nation and lack or urban thrills of big cities.What they do not see is the grass may not be greener on the otherside for the country has a strong communal spirit,No awful traffic jam,clean air and water and proud of its own language and cultural traditions like the Japanese and French-they have an artistic streak rooted in the dances and architecture.Some in advanced countries would pay a premium to get back to a simple ,contented well balanced .life.


  3. Hari

    I am once again inspired, even though all those life skills we have within but we forget sometimes and i am really grateful for the reminder and i am going to act upon it la.
    Thank you


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