Pawan Kumar: Art of Quitting at TEDxDSCE (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of film director (@pawanfilms) Pawan Kumar’s TEDx Talk: Art of Quitting at TEDxDSCE conference. This event took place on May 31, 2017 in Bengaluru, Karnataka. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.


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You can also watch this TEDx Talk on YouTube here along with this transcript.



Pawan Kumar – Film director

So, morning, went on Google and I said the quotes on quitting, and you get a lot of these. This is just a screenshot of that. And the most popular one being with – yeah, “Winners never quit and quitters never win”. I’m sure you all have heard about this.

So quitting is considered as a very negative term, right? So everyone’s told you never quit. Especially in gym, they would have put it up: don’t quit, go on and on and on.

So my talk today is about Art of Quitting. I initially thought of calling it “Art of Leaving” but then it might sound like something else. And you might think I’m going to ask you to do some yoga. So I’m going to call it “Art of Quitting”.

So when they asked me to speak here, I said okay, it’s TEDx, it’s extremely prestigious to be up here and speaking, I should really talk about something that I’ve prepared for. And I took about 17 years to prepare this presentation. So I’m going to take you through that.

When I look back at my life, which technically started in 2000, I see that to get here what I’ve done is a lot of quitting. You know, so — and I thought that’s the most important thing I could speak about at TEDx.

So the first thing, in 2000, I got into engineering, like many of you here, was extremely passionate about engineering. And also something else happened in my life. I also got into theater and I started learning about theater, what professional theater is and got excited about both the domains: engineering and theater.

What was good about theater is that they could teach me theater. And what was not so good about engineering is that they didn’t really teach me engineering. So they asked me to do — what  — six internals a year, over four years, that’s 24 internal exams and then eight semester exams. So in 2002, after visiting two psychiatrists, I really did this, which is I quit college in year 2002. So that’s – yeah, I know, but don’t get too inspired, don’t get too inspired.

I quit college not because I wanted to do theater. I quit college because thankfully at the age of 19.5, I had this clarity that this is not the way I want to learn engineering. I didn’t want to just learn for internals and exams and pass, because by the fourth year they were saying that you need to now prepare for campus interviews. So I thought this is all – this is it. My life is just going to be preparing for something that someone already prepared for and just got to follow that.

So in 2002, I quit college. And I was very, very inspired by a person. I won’t name him. I would — let’s call him mentor. So my mentor at 19.5 is very influencing, right? You get influenced by these people who teach you something. So this guy was teaching me theater. And I just loved everything he used to do, the way he used to be disciplined about his work, how passionate he was, and how he taught me theater. So every little thing that I learned about theater when I was 19, till about a year after that — from 2000 to 2002 roughly was from him.

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And it was not just about theater, how he put me in most difficult situations. When I said I’m going to quit college he never said don’t quit. He said do you think you can do the next thing. So I was blind — I was blindly following him. What he said mattered more to me than what my parents said. And it was not just about theater; it was about how he saw life, how he saw every little thing to do with work, passion, you know, so how you take life forward from at being 19 and so influenced.

2003, I had quit college. One year of working with him, he used to send me to — as a group, there were many others like me and he used to send us to do workshops in schools. From JP Nagar, I used to travel till Domlur on my bike. And I used to get 50 bucks — paid 50 bucks for that one session of theater. And it was okay because he was saying it and I wanted to do it. And I had seen my life as I would be following his dreams. You know, he is these huge dreams and I would be with him and support him.

So my parents thought that okay, so he quit college, gone. I mean, he’s this bad apple in the basket but they still have to keep me in the house. But they said okay, he’s following someone.

Something happened in 2003, meeting in the office and one of his very close associates really, really insulted me. It was not — I mean, I was very young. It was okay for a senior guy to speak to me that way. Probably that’s what I thought. I felt terrible that how they were putting down my dreams, what I wanted to do.

I got back home, and my dad saw me extremely disturbed. And he said what happened. I said, so this guy, he spoke to me, you know, things like this. And he kind of felt like he didn’t really value what I wanted to do or what I thought was good.

Now what do you expect the dad to say of such a situation? He would say, look, we told you; go back to engineering. You know, you have taken your year off now; go back to do your engineering.

The second thing they would say is, it’s okay. They’re your teachers; they’re your mentors. They’re supposed to say things like this to you.

My dad was weird. He said, “Do not ever let anyone speak to you that way.” I was hardly 20. I had nothing that I had done on my own. And he said do not ever let anyone talk to you that way. If you feel that they didn’t respect you, do not be with them. And that’s what I did.

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I went next, and I quit my mentor, within a year, in 2003. It was a huge bold step, because I had quit college which was such a important space for us, right? How many of you can just think of waking up in the morning and — I wrote in my exam paper this is my last exam ever — and do that and come out, because you trusted this person and then you quit this person one year into it.

So my life was empty. I had no clue where to go. I just knew that I had to act, I had to do theater. That’s all I knew.

So from 2003 to the next quitting point, I did a lot of theater on my own, because I had nothing else, nobody to follow, I started leading. I started figuring out ways to show what I had with me, right? I had to show people this is what I want to do. It’s a huge challenge that you take up, not just against yourself, with your family, with your friends, who are all watching, you know, because they’re follow — they’re going back to college and they’re looking that hey, this guy got out of college, let’s see what he will do, right? And most of them hope that you fail.

So the next thing that I did till about 2005 was I stayed in Bangalore; that’s about two years, 2003 to 2005. And I did a lot of theater. Started a company called ACTor Productions. We innovated new ways of doing theater. The first time in Bangalore shows happened three times a day for an entire week; that was in 2005 at Rangashankara, a play called Sleuth which was done by us. One week, 18 shows were planned. And so –

And Rangashankara after that has followed up, there are — you must be seeing 11 o clock, 3:30 show, 7:30 show. We did that, and by end of 2005, we were an established theater group. We had an audience following who would come and would want to watch my plays.

And I took the next decision which was to quit Bangalore, to quit my home space, because I felt that at 22, I was now getting stagnant. I was not learning. I needed more to learn and I had created a brand value but it was time to let go of that brand and go learn more.

So 2005, I quit home — homeland Bangalore. And the next quitting was dreamland. So 2005 to 2007, which was another 2 years, I went to Mumbai. Like, Mumbai is known for theater and films, right? And that’s like the hub in the country to do it.

So I went to Mumbai and worked in various domains. Though I always wanted to be an actor, director, writer, I hardly got to do that. What I got to do was lighting, backstage, editing, corporate films, ad films, anything and everything to pay the rent and survive. So you know, so I was just doing all those bits in this dreamland for 2 years.