Three approaches of my life

(Transcript of my talk in Zhemgang Central School)

Well, let me start by saying how humbled I am to be asked to speak to you. I am neither a VIP nor a celebrity and so I must apologize to you for ruining your Sunday. I suppose, now, I must also do some justice after getting this honour.

I had a topic in mind, which I always share with school students wherever I go. It is about finding your passion and purpose in life. But after getting here and looking around, I see myself in you – a poverty-stricken boy that I was – of some 30-40 years ago. So, let me share my own childhood story that somewhat resonates with yours. Hopefully, it will inspire you to make a better world for yourself and for those around you.

Unlike what I am today, I grew up in a very poor family. We lived in a hut and our only priced property was a goat. As a child, I remember complaining about being hungry all the time. And so, when I turned 7, I was packed off to a boarding school in Phuntsholing Kharbandi, where the government provided everything from food to clothing to basic needs. There our life was hard. We slept on bug-ridden beds and ate worm-infested food. We woke up at 5 in the morning to study, pray, clean our campus, have breakfast and go to class. The academic part ended by mid-day and after lunch, we had to go to our respective workshops where we learnt tailoring, carpentry, sheet metalling, welding and so on.

For much of my school life, I also went barefoot – with Bata slippers at the most – or a pair of converse shoes that the school provided, which lasted for few months. We were all poor and so we didn’t mind being that way. Now, when I look back I cherish growing up poor. I thank my parents for the poverty. It hardened me like a steel. It taught me valuable life-lessons – to be empathetic and to identify with the down-trodden. It taught me to be a good human being.

I completed my school in 1982 and I was sent to work in a factory in Gedu. Two or three months into my first job, I realised that, although I was paid well, it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and so I ran away to Thimphu to try for further studies. After waiting patiently at the door of the Department of Manpower (which had just been renamed as RCSC), for a week in freezing winter, I got admission to Dewathang Polytechnic to study electrical engineering. From there I went on to do advanced studies in electronics engineering in Italy in 1988. The generous scholarship to Italy also improved my economic situation. I could not only take care of myself but I also helped my parents bring up my two other siblings and three younger cousins – and build a house in Thimphu.

I returned from Italy in 1995 and I had a comfortable job as an engineer in BBS. For many a government job is the dream and destination. For me it was a platform to do more – do new things – to leave a legacy. I proposed introducing FM radio – which has better signal quality. You guys are too young to remember how badly BBS Radio sounded in those days. But FM was a hard sell because some foreign consultants had concluded that FM radio was unsuitable for Bhutan. I knew that it was not true and I challenged that finding. After successfully testing the FM technology, we introduced in the whole country starting from 1998. After FM, came the TV project, which faced another big challenge, as His Majesty the Fourth King had earlier shown some reservations on introducing television in the country. We all know that the King’s words are sacred, but I always believed that circumstances change and the prevailing context was that we required to bring in TV and Internet, which we ultimately did in 1999. In those years, I worked 16-18 hours a day on average. I worked with the laborers at site. I led the technicians to do installations on high towers. I pitched tents and lived at the construction sites.   

I resigned from the government in 2006 after my career hit a wall. Just two weeks after I won a big international award for one of my documentaries, I was barred from making them. Instead of sinking into despair and lament, or fight a losing battle, I decided it was time to move on – and away. So, I pursued an independent life of filmmaking and journalism. However, in 2009 I was called back into the government again, in the service of His Majesty the King. I was there for four years – until 2013. That was the zenith of my career – an honour and a dream of every Bhutanese. My whole family, friends and I are still very proud that I have been through that.

After I was relieved from the palace, I offered myself to teach in Sherubtse College as a temporary teacher – gloriously known as adjunct professor in university parlance. There I discovered yet another world, in teaching and research.

I know you all dream of being successful in your life. If you define success in terms of being able to do things that you want and thrive too, then I must say I had a successful life. Today as I reflect on my life, there are three things I can draw from there – which I define as my style and approach. For, success and happiness start with one’s approach and attitude. People talk about nepotism and corruption. I had neither a powerful uncle nor did I indulge in corruptive practices. If I have been successful regardless, so can you.

Here are few things that may come handy.

First, learn the fundamentals.

In my career I have recruited, groomed, mentored and taught hundreds of Bhutanese. One shortcoming that we all seem to have, irrespective of our profession, is that we don’t learn the fundamentals – the basics. We let shortcuts and ego take over our learning. When I watch BBS today, I find that some shots are not even framed well. If you look into our private sector, we see lots of businesses failing because owners can’t keep proper accounts or read balance sheets – and salespersons lack basic courtesies. Whether you are, or you want to be, an engineer, a teacher, an architect, a footballer or a medical doctor, you must learn and master the fundamentals. If you don’t, you will find no success or meaning in any profession you choose.

I have done many things in life. I was trained to be an engineer all my life. But when I moved to documentary filmmaking I picked up the fundamentals of camera works, scripting, editing and directing. Since I am now in teaching and research, I decided to go back to classroom to learn the basics of research and methodologies. In all the things I did, I can say that I have achieved some level of “success” – whatever this word means.

As for you, at this stage, if you want to be an engineer in future, you need to be good in maths and physics. If you want to be a doctor or a vet, you need good foundations in biology. If you want to be a writer, you must perfect Dzongkha or English. In short, learning the fundamentals means learning the basics. If you don’t get your basics right, you will be an average – or below average.

Being average… is the second thing I want to talk to you today. If you look around and observe what most people do, they do what is just expected of them. Many people don’t even do that. They are below the average. You are more than 300 here today and if your Principal has to pick some of you for some rewards, he wouldn’t know whom to choose. But let’s say, among you there are students, who do a little more. These students will be noticed. As life gets more competitive, you need to be noticed from a sea of average candidates. The same advice goes to teachers who have joined us here today.

If you choose to be an average, if you don’t do anything more, if you don’t take initiatives, if you are just conforming to the norms and conventions, if you don’t take some risks, you won’t get very far. You will have to struggle for a job, for a promotion, for a scholarship or for recognitions. You need to stick your neck out. Now this also comes at a cost. Our society demands conformity and does not tolerate initiatives or criticisms. So, the choice is yours. As for me, I have chosen, and choose, to stick out. I know everything wasn’t always easy or rosy for me. The ride has been bumpy at times, to put it mildly. But if I could rewind my life, there is nothing I would do differently.

Yes, always do a little more. Plant a tree, clean a classroom, water the garden, pick up a garbage without your teachers asking you. Form this habit at your age.

Last, is about moving forward

I am sure many people must have showered you with all the promises of paradise. As a country, yes, there is no reason to be pessimistic. We live in a blessed land. However, as you live your life individually – like as you grow older, get a job, start a family and move forward in your profession, you will be faced with challenges and obstacles. Since your teachers and your elders have taught you how to succeed, let me tell you how to navigate your way out of disappointments, envies and enemies that will come your way – together with achievements, accolades and guardian angels. What I want you to always remember is to look forward and say to yourself, “OK! What next? Where next?”.

We, Bhutanese, have the habit of nagging on something that has gone wrong. Move on!

You know, in my life I have made mistakes too – a lots of mistakes – some were very big. But they only served to remind me that I am a human after all. The most important thing is to learn from them, never to make the same mistake twice and to move on. So do not kill yourself, if you fail in something.

On the other hand, do not celebrate too much or put on added arrogance if success comes your way. Do not behave like you descended from heaven – like some of my own friends do. You will actually learn that success and achievements are not necessarily good. They attract envies and jealousies. You must also know that despairs and disappointments are not necessarily bad either. They reveal who your true friends are.

Therefore, whatever happens in your life, promise me one thing – that you will always move on.

Let me conclude by also reminding you not to forget to have fun. This is a golden age. As you study and prepare for your life, have as much fun, make memories and as many friends as possible. After this, you will have to get down to how best to serve our King and Country. 

Much of what I remember when I was your age was that I used to be my Principal’s worst nightmare because I was mischievous and fun-loving – always up to something. But unlike some youth of today, we never touched drugs or alcohol or attempted suicides. Please stay away from these things. You can have fun without indulging in drugs or drinks. They don’t bring any lasting joy. But they put an end to your parent’s happiness.

So, to wrap up, again, three things – learn your fundamentals, stop being an average and whatever happens with your life, just keep going forward.

I wish you all the best that our country, your life and the world, have to offer.

~~~~~~~

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On the hot seat. It is always challenging to inspire others.
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With the principal and teachers of Zhengang Central School
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Some teachers came to receive me at Wangdigang with tea, momos and biscuits. Thank you again. That was so sweet of you all.

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