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When Power comes from Passion

If you have woken up feeling dull or dispirited, or just powerless, or just need a caffeine boost of inspiration, then you should read on.

Oprah Winfrey once said “Passion is energy.  Feel  the power that comes from focusing on what excites you!”  This is not an article about Oprah, but about one person who has felt that power.

Karthik Ponappa, an alumnus of IIM-B and St Joseph’s College, Bangalore always had an interest in issues that had an impact at a societal and community level.  He spent a decade volunteering and working with non profits in areas as diverse as environment conservation, livelihood, gender equity, education and child rights. All this alongside a full time job managing marketing for a global company.  But somewhere along the line, Karthik had an epiphany of sorts.  He realized that passion for a cause or a vision need not be something one does on the sidelines. And it need not be done by leaving behind all that one has loved or enjoyed while working in a previous job.  Here’s the thing – Karthik had a passion for marketing. He realized that change is possible. He had a vision to work on systemic changes.

So, here is a snapshot of his work life today.

Principal at Smarter Dharma

3 years.  Works on environmental sustainability and helping enterprises reduce their consumption and become more process efficient.

Marketing at Tour of Nilgiris (cycling tours)

3 years. Works as a co-ordinator and in marketing.

Freelance marketing consultant

4 years. Works on assignments ranging from marketing strategy, research and execution.

When you look at this you know that Karthik has felt that power – the power to pursue what you love and to live a life that is limitless in its possibilities. So, how did he do it? Is this kind of clarity something we can all aspire for? When do work and passion become synonymous with each other?  Karthik says that what he did is “normal” because “we are first alive, then human, then salaried”! Now that is definitely quoteworthy! Move over Oprah!

Here is more of what  we found out from Karthik!

What were you doing before branching off as an independent consultant?

I was managing marketing for Manthan Systems. I have spent about 7 years in marketing and working with enterprise application SME’s.

When did you decide to transition from a corporate career to environment conservation and freelance marketing consultancy?

I’ve been volunteering and working with NGOs across segments (conservation/ afforestation / children/ livelihoods/ education/ challenged/ gender equity/ emergency support) for more than a decade and even while I was in a full time corporate work environment. What I learnt was that volunteering and working with NGOs creates great impact, gives oneself a sense of satisfaction especially when you see the change in front of you. However, it is limited in terms of how far this reaches or the number of people I can influence or those who influence me. This lead to research of more impact and if policy inclusion was the way forward. Once on this road, it became a simpler task – the IIMB course allowed for participants with more than 7 years of work experience to join. When I started looking to join this course, i had only 6… so I wrote CAT as soon as I got the number 7 and was lucky to be selected. There was no turning back from there!

While saying all this, people tend to mistake me when i say transition or that I left a corporate career. I might have left it but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy marketing, I thrived in it and didn’t want to let that go – thus consulting.

Was the move from a traditional career to what is seen as an “unconventional” or “offbeat” career easy or did it take some adjustment?

When I think of it – my move took a decade. That decade of volunteering gave me a good insight and allowed me to work and observe. However, I don’t think its unconventional nor is it offbeat. I think its normal, we are first alive, then human, then salaried – not the other way around. I am still learning this. However to answer your question in the spirit of the question – it was easy, it wasnt too much of a problem – that’s probably because of my attitude to it. If I thought it was going to be difficult, then it would have been. I have a very strong support structure – my parents, my brothers and my wife – I’ve always been encouraged by them to go out and do.

Have you had to do things differently in your current roles as compared to what you were doing earlier?

I had made a conscious effort to work with startups and SMEs even when I was in corporate life. It allowed me to dive deep into concepts not only vertically but horizontally as well. While bigger organisations have silo roles to make people experts, startups demand the same level of expertise in execution and knowledge but across roles and with a fraction of the funds to provide enhanced results. The same philosophy applies to my roles now too.

Has there been a marked change in the way you view careers or professional life in general after you decided to pursue a career in something you were passionate about?

I don’t see too much of a difference – this is my professional career now! In the area of environmental sustainability I learn more and more each day and notice that it has direct reflections to business and business processes. I also continue to consult on marketing roles and additionally work on alternate transport through the Tour of Nilgiris.

To anyone who wants to switch from their corporate jobs to pursuing a job in an area that interests them, what words of advice can you give them?

Plan, learn, immerse, jump – there is no more a gap between what we call corporate and alternate or maybe there is but the distances are definitely reducing. These structures overlap very quickly. It might be a nice daring nonchalant notion filled with attitude to advice to just ‘jump at it’. I’m not such a person, I prefer to plan. But there are friends who have jumped and those who have planned – and there have been successful and not so successful stories on both sides. So to each his/ her own – work to your strengths and move towards your goal. If you are the instinctive type – you would have already jumped; if you are the planner – I’m sure you are already planning 🙂

If you had a choice to start over in your career today, would you directly plunge into the career you are currently in, or do it the way that you have?

My experiences have taught me and I value those learnings, that much I am certain about. It has shaped me, it has given me so much. I also know that in the future, I will learn much much more. But I doubt I’ve ever thought of things like ‘if i had a choice’, its impractical. 

Is your current job something you see yourself doing for the rest of your life?

My job – No. My way of life – Yes!

Is there anyone whose life you have found inspiring or would like to emulate?

When I was small – I wanted to be like my dad and my grandfather; I wanted to grow up with the qualities my mother has (all of which i still want to)

Then like all others you hear of gentlemen like Gandhi &  Nelson Mandela and say “Wow!”Then of some other names. School and books fill our head with Rama, Ravana, Arjuna, Karna, Jack London, Aristotle, Hawking, Edison, Einstein, Marco,Feyman and so many more. And you look up to all of them. And then you meet a boy who doesn’t have parents and wants to earn his tuition fees to pay through school or another young girl who is working alongside her mother making beedi’s to bring food to the house or the father who works 3 shifts so his children can go to an English school or a mother who takes a loan to buy a sewing machine to start a business. You do not need to search for inspiration, you do not need to put a name to inspiration… the common man is… sometimes I think we just need to sit down and give ourselves a little time to see the inspiration.

In your opinion is there a difference between a career and a vocation? Or would you say that you have found the perfect marriage between the two?

I don’t know and I won’t act like I have figured it out. I’m just happy that I’m exploring and learning. These terms like career, vocation etc are used more negatively now days. Like one limits and the other doesn’t. I enjoyed my ‘career’ and do so even now; and i also enjoyed my ‘vocation’ & enjoy that too even now.

To find out more about the ventures Karthik is associated with, here is some info:

Building a sustainable future 

Small Loans, Big Impacts. Invest in today!

Empowering children with lifeskills  

Citizen journalism – social development – 

For a greener Bangalore – 

Want to volunteer but don’t know where – join

This article has published by Maslowed.Me – a career portal

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