Often, when I ride a train, I look at my co-passengers and wonder where have they come from and where are they headed. The train is my metaphor of travelling – not distances but careers and lives; and how the decisions that we make may turn into the best or worst journeys ever!

The Subway

Recently I had the privilege to interview someone who had changed his jobs 13 times in 4 years. When I told him that in 48 months, changing 13 jobs meant that he had not even spent an average of 4 months in a job, he chuckled and said, "Yes Sir, I am in big demand." Honestly, I felt like charging him for the coffee that my office had served him. How I wish I had read his resume before getting into the room  (he was one of those frivolous introductions one has to meet as an obligation).

This call center guy-turned-analyst-turned-telemarketer-turned-support service guy is the quintessential ‘subway rat’. Folks like him ride short distances; work nights more than days, nibble away loose food (quick moneys) and live in the world of dark underground, in the sewers of negative progress. I have to yet meet a subway rat that came out of the subway alive.

Despite my revulsion, I still resolved to be helpful and asked him, "So, think of yourself 5 years from now. What do you think you will be good at? How long do you think you can keep doing this?" Mr. Rat had already switched off by then. Possibly the bright lights of my office and my fatherly questioning was not his poison. He quietly slipped away.

A lot of folks are entrapping themselves by riding very short career plans. Sure it’s  quick money, but what they don’t realize is that they ARE losing something very important – experience in a domain and a normal lifestyle!

The Inter City Trains

I so loved this train that I rode from a Central station (got there via a Subway :-) ) that took me to a beautiful hillside resort for a day and then got me back.

The kinda train I love

The Inter City - The kinda train I love!

The journey lasted for a couple of hours both ways. It went via the city, across the country and into the hills. It made me think of young folks I know who have taken similar career journeys. Dedicated to a job for at least 4-5 years, learning the business and the domain, weathering the seasons of change, understanding the ups and downs – just like this train would have encountered everyday when it made its journey, and across the year.

It’s fun to ride this train once and surely not everyday. There is a difference between a fast rushing subway ride that makes you meet exciting new people versus this longish boring ride that always goes through the same hills and trees.

But it’s the penance of the journey that takes you a long way head. The Inter City takes you out of the Subway and into a real City.

Our best folks of 2win, after having spent 5-7 years in our group Companies have taken up senior positions in companies like Yahoo, Disney, Turner etc. These are the folks who have ridden the Inter Cities, bore the brunt of long journeys and have come out shining like Gold. Similar stories abound with focused individuals who took on a tough and grueling job for a few years, only to come out on top of their race and then join the biggest companies of their Choice.

The Long-Haul Train.

Almost 20 years ago, I rode a train that took me from Mumbai to Bhubaneswar (in the State of Orissa in India). I remember it being almost a 3 nights and 4-day journey. After the excitement of the 1st night, the 2nd and part of the 3rd day were dreadful. The journey never seemed to end. Then interestingly, post lunch on the 3rd day, a certain calm and patience came over me. I knew that the train was moving and headed towards its destination. I had to wait. During that period, I read, played cards and even studied a bit (shucks – there was no iPad then).

When I compare my two entrepreneurial journeys so far (a decade with my father making socks for him in his factory) and another decade as a digital entrepreneur, that train journey constantly flashes before me.

I see so many similarities between that physical train and the career train that I have ridden:

  • An immediate excitement when the journey starts that quickly turns into boredom.
  • Sometimes just getting frustrated that this journey is never ending.
  • The highs and lows – the small breaks at small stations which seem to give you freedom from entrapment of the train and yet the whistle that makes you duck into the train again reminds me of the mini successes I had enjoyed in my business ventures, yet knowing that it’s not the end and I have to go back and do much more.
  • A routine inside the train that becomes a habit. So working day to day, doing the mundane and unexciting jobs while remembering that it’s all part of a long journey.
  • Fellow passengers who get on and get off between stops and cities remind me of fellow colleagues who joined us, stayed in the companies and then hopped off when they felt they had done their distance.

Even the longest train journeys finally end in happiness. The rush of completing a long journey is incomparable. In longer planned careers, this is exactly the feeling. Folks become masters of an industry, revered for their experience and are recognized as thought leaders who have demonstrated the fortitude of surviving long and arduous journeys.

The Cross Country Trains.

I hear of train journeys that take months and sometimes years to complete – trains like the Trans Siberian Railway (takes weeks).

I have never attempted such a journey and doubt I ever will.

Career-wise, it seems that you are committing to a journey that you can't get out of, hop off mid way and quickly go back to where you started. Imagine riding the Trans Siberian and getting of mid way in Siberia!

A lot of ‘government job' employed folks remind me of this type of train travelers. People who take up a job in a PSU assuming that it will last forever. Not really caring where the train is even going, as long as they get they monthly stipend and yearly increment. Folks who increasingly become ‘isolated’ from the real world remaining cocooned in this train that chugs along without care.

An uncle of mine had proudly got his young son married a few years on the boast that he was employed by Air India and hence a job and salary was guaranteed. I was always intrigued how any Company in the world could generate a perpetual cash flow for itself and I felt worried for the girl and her family. A month ago my uncle complained that Air India was delaying salaries. And the tragedy is that his son will never be able to work for anyone else. If you sit in a train for 7 years and get fed and housed, you will never know what to do if you land up on a stationary platform.

Finally, what kind of train travelers are serial entrepreneurs?

Believe it or not – they ride the Subways, Inter City and Long Haul.

Not as passengers but as the train drivers. Never getting down.



Originally posted on April 5, 2011 on rodinhood.com

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Super.. :)

Awesome :)

A perfect train journey, I remembered a poem which I learnt in school showing us about having both bad and good times. 

Thank you for this journey.

Alok - Its always a pleasure reading your posts. Pure brilliance :)

I can relate so much to this post. It's like the decisions of my life are flashing by, showing me the path i want to pursue in the future. Very well written.


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