Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

This is a thought which often catches my imagination. I start reasoning with myself and never seem to reach at any sensible conclusion. What makes people work hard? What do they try to achieve? Do they do it to bring home the accolades? Do they simply want to be in the good books of the management, so that they get noticed for a promotion or get a better raise? Maybe they just want to feel important and yearn the recognition.

Most of these aims are short-term and too obvious. There has to be something deep-rooted to drive an individual to go beyond the call of duty and work up to or sometimes even more than 16 hours a day. It does not have to be the number of hours, It could be the amount of work an individual puts into those hours. The performance alone does not usually enable them to reap rewards. The person working hardest does not always get the highest raise or the promotion he/she think they deserve. Most people find a job because they have to. While some try to get by doing the bare minimum, or are happy being an average performer. Everywhere you will find a few people addicted to work (rightly called workaholics). They may appear glued to their desks, hardly ever getting up.

Very few people work out of a love for their work. The vast majority goes to office to make a living. Solely, for the sake of a paycheck. I can recall at least half a dozen instances where I have asked a friend why they would skip a meal and work, when we work to fill our stomachs. Even though I make it a point to have my meals on time, there have been a few instances where I had to skip a meal or delay it to accommodate work. I have never made a habit of it and made sure it happens rarely. It never fails to fascinate me when I see people over working tirelessly. The vast majority of the workforce do not come under this category. Most people do a decent job of the work given to them and go home happy. I do not have any research showing the figures of people working long hours. As competition rises the office floors should spawn more employees of this profile. So how does the general population react to them? Bosses would want their employees to see the workaholic as a role model. If they do not have a choice or are insecure about their future in the company; normal employees might try to emulate the workaholics even as they hide their resentment.

I came up with the following types of individuals who exhibit the workaholic behaviour:

They become so passionate about their work, that they enjoy what they do and don’t feel like they are over working. We are usually not surprised to hear a person in sports training for upto 12 hours a day. Hence these individuals have equated work and play. These are probably what you could call the aspirational role models. They excel at what they do, but they also go out of their way to take initiatives, improve the processes and help others.

Then there are some who don’t receive any pleasure from work, but need to excel at everything because they are ultra competitive and cannot stand the fact that someone is doing better than them. They may not be very keen to help their colleagues, unless they believe that helping others would put more positive light on them as a valuable employee. They may even resort to taking credit for things someone else has done. They tend to get disappointed or frustrated very easily when things don’t go their way.

There are also those unfortunate souls, who are forced to over-perform in order to keep up with the crowd. in an organization or a team where more than half the people are considered really good performance, you cannot afford to be left behind. When there are five members in a team and four of them work for more than twelve hours a day the fifth one will also be forced to work longer than what they are comfortable. Before they realize it, they become part of the system which made them forget about being laid back. Some either become resentful and crib about it. Some get used to it, especially if it is their first job. Then there are those who seek employment elsewhere.

The top performers in any of the above categories, usually do grow faster than the average performer. They would expect to grow still faster and would normally feel they are not being appreciated as much as they should be. To be a top performer and competing are not bad things. I have always been fascinated by the purpose in life. I have never been close to finding my purpose, but whenever people talk about their dream or ambition or even plan I am all ears. In this article I’m shining the spot light on these top performers profiled above.

It is safe to assume that recognition, growth, money, respect, competition (not necessarily in that order) are all major factors which drive these tireless professionals. They would like to have a better title, a fatter paycheck and of course keep performing the way they have been. This would enable them to live in a better place, buy the things they wanted, but could not afford. The standard of living changes, the car they drive will also change. The long hours they put in, usually does not change. The amount and quality of work they used to deliver would still be expected out of them. The nature of the work might change, but the volume/hours rarely goes down. Once you get into a high and comfortable position, it does not mean you can relax. You need to work even harder to maintain your position and to grow further. There are fewer positions at the top. In a corporate concern you rarely find someone who does not report to another person. Even the person at the very top, calling the shots does not have it easy. They would have to convince the shareholders, investors, clients and even the employees. Even if the person owns the enterprise outright, it is not an easy feat to protect their investment and make sure it runs profitably.

An individual employee usually aims to make their future secure. They invest, insure and work like hell to safeguard their future. What cost do you have to pay for this future? Do people strive today for a better tomorrow? If so what stops them from striving in a similar way in the future as well? You can’t really plan how long you are going to live with any fair degree of accuracy. So when can one decide they have worked enough and time has come to reap the benefits of their hard labour. In most cases this time never comes, or it comes very late. You either end up working harder than before to meet your ever-rising expenses or spend your savings on medicine or on your children.

Most often people dream of earning a substantial amount of money and retire at an early age to do the things they really want to do. There are people who succeed at this as well. So if that is your dream, there is no reason to be disheartened. It might still happen. How can you not succeed in anything if you are putting in this kind of effort? You may get to drive around in that big car, live in a fancy place and send your kids to a decent school. Then you can retire in peace once you are satisfied that your retirement account has swollen to a sufficient level. Make a few extra investments to hedge against uncertainty. How hard can it be? Does it make the long hours you spend at the office fruitful? It is a question open to interpretation.

Whatever I have mentioned above does not have to be your goals just because that is what your friend dreams about, or how your neighbour lives or is what your elders tell you how you should live. People who have lived their life this way would always encourage you to follow in their footsteps. This reinforces their belief in their success and the path they chose. People who have tried and were not all that successful may also tell you to make an attempt at what they thought was ideal. What we need to realise is as long as we breathe, things could always go wrong despite investments and insurance policies. Success is always relative, you would always find people more successful than you, and there will be people who wish they were in your shoes.

The least you could do for yourself is to take care of your health. Realize the fact that food and sleep are any day more important than your work. Whatever your dreams are, do make sure you have time for yourself and your quality of life does not get compromised. Doing something which you don’t like for most part of your life to relax in your final few years does not make much sense to me. It disturbs me that not many people are seeing this. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a world like the one in matrix where people all around me are living a pre-programmed life.

Anybody who deviates from this typical life is seen as an outcast or a loser. Only the ones who succeed in a substantial way are recognized (artists, sports persons, entrepreneurs etc). People who choose a different path often do so because they are left with no other choice or due to an irrepressible calling towards their craft. I cannot figure out how anyone could have a passion for banking (my least favored profession). If you would take the time out and do a bit of soul-searching. You will have no trouble finding your true calling if you can be honest with yourself. My moment of epiphany came when I saw the below quote:

What would you do, if you knew you could not fail?
-Robert H. Schuller-

I asked myself that question and I got an answer instantly. Maybe you would get an answer if you ask that question as well. If you answer with what you are currently doing, I am really happy for you. Most of us deny our true calling out of a fear of failure (I am not mentioning my dream here for the same reason). We tuck away our dreams safely, where nobody could see them or ridicule us for harboring such ‘ridiculous’ fantasies. We hope someday conditions may become conducive for us to breathe life into this vague calling. Sadly this happens very rarely and to a very few individuals. Once you find your true calling, chances are you have previously thought of it as a profession. Take a second look, try to acquire skills which would enable you to get closer to your real goal. The more time you think pondering about the options you are denying your true purpose and making it harder for yourself to achieve something in that particular field of interest. There are limitations and that is the challenge. Once you find your true calling does not mean you quit what you were doing all these years and be adamant that you will only do things which help you with your dream.

Once you are sure of where you want to reach, setting the course becomes easier. Life so far, becomes a detour when you realise you wanted something else out of life. Getting back on track may need a lot of planning, effort, time and money. This time you could be sure of yourself that once you gain even a moderate amount of success; you would know your time was well spent. Finding your true purpose is the only way you could maximize your potential. For life to be fruitful the destination and the journey must be enjoyable. When you think of it life is a journey. We are time travellers going forward into the future every moment. Wouldn’t you want your journey to be comfortable if it is going to be long? The destination may not even matter if the journey is a fun ride.

The below link is an article I found which resonates with my thoughts.

Ambition is a pretty big word, not to be thrown around casually. Kids at school, are perhaps the ones bombarded with this question most often. I remember being asked in class, what I wanted to become. I was 9 then. My Classroom quickly transformed into a group of future Doctors and Engineers. I was least interested in engineering or medicine. In an attempt to break the pattern, I declared, I wanted to become a contractor (My Dad, worked for a big-shot contractor, who employed several engineers. That gave me the idea that a contractor would be an important person). I ended up being the laughing-stock of the entire class, even though half of them had no clue who a contractor was. That was not really my ambition but was merely a place holder which would make way for other dreams. As I grew older my classmates changed a bit. Some wanted to go into business, a few were interested in law or even civil services, but medicine and engineering remained the overwhelming favorites. I had become clueless as I had too many interests. I wanted to be an astronaut, a sky diver and a mountaineer among many other things. I never got to work at a higher altitude than at an office in the eighth floor of a building. My dreams did not come true, at least not yet. I can find solace in the fact that I am not the only one with unrealised dreams.

At school I shared my classroom with roughly 100 students. Around 30 of them are now engineers. Some of them held on to their ‘dream’ right from kindergarten. Medicine turned out to be a much harder dream to attain as only two or three succeeded. When I look back now, I had no clue that any of the jobs I have done even existed at that time. We had heard about computerization happening, but i could never have imagined carrying one of those things in my backpack. When I was queried about my ambition in an exam, I could express myself fully. I explained my interests in journalism, photography, film making etc. When somebody(mostly a teacher or relative) expected a one word answer, I was stumped. Now I know that I am not the only one who had such experiences. In a recent conversation a friend recollected how she was branded as a failure at school by her teacher when she was not able to answer this question.

Taking into account the number of seats available, I guess it is easier to be an engineer. If I had to choose between the ‘big two’, I guess medicine would have been better for me since I am a disaster with maths. I never wanted to choose any single profession. I still have not. Why choose one, when you can have fun with different things? I definitely don’t want to live in a world where people are either doctors or engineers. From a grown up perspective engineering or medicine is only a career. I would not say every engineer is ambitious, or even everyone with an engineering degree really wanted to be an engineer. I almost became one myself. It is not a terrible thing to become an engineer. It is just that, I get the feeling that there is a surplus of engineers today. I know many people who did engineering in diverse streams doing jobs more suitable for a commerce graduate. My concern is, as an intelligent species, are we not behaving like a more primal being living in a herd, or a colony. We get settled into the existing systems and procedures either too scared to change anything or oblivious to the fact that there are countless ways to go about with your life. You don’t have to mould yourself into a role acceptable for people around you. People make the society and society would be a lot more vibrant if we stop behaving like a brick in the wall.

It is not only about medicine or engineering. Once those options are filtered out people tend to look for the next best thing. The safest and financially lucrative options. A few ambitious ones see the role of a chartered accountant as something just as good as the ‘big two’, they could not get. Most baffling for me is to see people getting charmed by a bank job(What could be more ‘bankable’?). The lure of a bank job has become so attractive that even those who nurtured dreams of becoming engineers are now becoming bankers despite having that coveted engineering degree. Banks are also one of the few privileged institutions that get paid to conduct recruitment drives in the form of exam fees. Personally I find a bank to be a grim and gloomy place. I feel a strange sadness when I am inside one and feel relieved when I walk out. I cannot imagine how people can survive a lifetime in that sort of atmosphere and why many of my peers are dying to get into one.

Your profession need not define the person you are. If it does, make sure it aligns with your personal lifestyle and interests. You don’t want to end up living your entire life waiting for weekends, vacations and paychecks. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to have a safe and secure job that pays well. That is typically why most people spend the most of their time in office rooms and cubicles. Very few people I know have a job which they sincerely like. Even fewer have a job which they would do out of choice and not for the salary. Your ideal job should be one which you look forward to do. Not the one which you must do. We will always find ways to justify ourselves saying we are barely making enough money, or we need the job to pay our bills/loans. It really comes down to what you consider as your ‘need’. Something you do to entertain or amuse yourself is not a need. Once you find a truly interesting way of life, you will never feel the ‘need’ to go on a vacation or to even see a movie. A closer look at expenses will reveal what things you really need. Lower expenses does not mean just savings but it means you can ‘afford’ a job which pays lower (provided you like it better than your old job)and also a different lifestyle.

Most kids get possessed with the idea to be the best and school provides this competitive atmosphere and also nurtures it. Parents reinforce these beliefs. The idea grows stronger as your peers start competing with you. The true believers fight it out, vying for pole position. Then there are the slackers, who are more laid back and try to get by. Some become disinterested (or overwhelmed) and drop out or are pushed to the fringes. The last category is often humiliated and denied promotion. You will find all these categories and more in your office as well (If you work in one). The simple truth is money drives the system. Getting rich means you get to lead a better lifestyle. Does that alone explain all the trends? The richest people are often into business and not doctors or engineers. The rich may get rich in different ways. Business, for example does not guarantee success. Therefore the master plan is to find something which is lucrative and safe. The professions which come on top are hence most coveted. Not everyone can however qualify for these professions, hence the competition. The ones who are left behind look for an alternate plan to earn more money or as much. There are plenty who go abroad in search of better opportunities.

A few stray from this plan consciously. Some search other avenues after achieving the childhood ambition and realizing that there are better things. Others are forced to look for other options. Most people in business are forged in this manner. Many writers and bloggers have put up their own ideas about what your profession can be like. I have listed my personal favorites below. They are all people making a living doing things they like and are passionate about. Even if you don’t agree with me, the following links do provide a good read.