He is 58 years old, bespectacled with distinguished silver grey hair. He’s spent 25 years working for one of India’s most respected corporate houses. I have learnt a lot from him. But it is unlikely you would have ever heard of him. His name is Karunan. And he worked with me as my driver.
Sometimes, the biggest lessons in life come from very unlikely sources. And as Karunan spoke to me one morning about his life and times, I thought young people would benefit from listening to what he has to say. Since Karunan will probably never be invited to deliver a convocation speech or a commencement.
1. Getting a driving license does not make you a driver.
“I was 18 when I got my license. But it was only after several months of driving a car that I actually learnt to drive, and became a real driver.” A license is only a permit — and not a stamp of authority. An MBA does not make you a manager. It is only after you spend several more years learning on the job that you truly qualify to call yourself a manager.
Many young people confuse getting a degree as signifying the end of their learning. Wrong. It’s just the beginning. A degree or a diploma — the licence — simply marks you out as someone qualified to learn from real life experiences. It doesn’t make you an expert.
2. The real world is very different from a classroom
I learnt to drive a car. But my first job required me to drive a little tempo. The steering wheel was different, and so were the gears. I thought I knew how to drive — but I couldn’t even get the tempo started.”
The world outside the classroom is a very different place. That’s as true for engineers and MBAs and accountants as it is for drivers. Get ready to get surprised.
3. Slog. Get your hands dirty
I spent nights working as a cleaner. That’s when I learnt all about the insides of an automobile. Knowing what’s under the bonnet has made me a better driver today.”
The brightest marketing professionals in the country will tell you that they learnt their biggest lessons in the days they spent slogging in small towns selling soaps or colas. There’s no other way. If you want to be successful, work hard, dirty your hands — and go beyond your specific role.
4. Initially, what you learn is more important than what you earn
In my first job, the pay was bad but the boss was good. He gave me opportunities to learn, make mistakes. I banged his tempo quite a bit. While the dents were quickly repaired, the lessons I learnt remain firmly etched in my mind.”
5. Don’t worry about which car you drive. Focus on being a good driver.
I always wanted to drive the best cars — but rather than complain about having to drive a tempo or a school van or the city transport bus, I focused on driving well. I told myself that if I do that, the good cars will come. And they did.”
Now that’s a great lesson. It’s not about the company. It’s about you. Do the best with what you have, wherever you are. Karunan spent 15 years struggling in odd jobs before landing a driver’s job in one of India’s largest companies. We could all benefit by staying focused on doing a great job — rather than worrying about the next job, or the next promotion. Do a good job. Success and happiness will follow. Inevitably.
Those then are five fabulous life lessons from an unlikely guru. Follow Karunan’s advice and I guarantee they’ll make a difference to your career. And to your life!