Ever since I joined my new company, I have been asked “Why did you join us?” several times. I have been creative and worded them nearly differently every time, but it really makes me want to provide just one answer. And there can be only one answer when you understand several of the underlying facets to a job and making a choice. Let me call my new company as T (since along with the first letter of my previous company it would give the industrial sector in which I work).
Before I get into that, I strongly disagree with people wishing to distinguish between their “personal” and “work” life. As if there is nothing personal about their work or they do no work in their personal life. I think there is but one life and there is a good mix of pursuits which are either intellectual or skill based, monetary in nature, aesthetic in nature and relational (relationships with people, other animals and Nature). Just because there exist various buckets of activities, it doesn’t make sense to consider them counter-purpose. I am not talking about the time spent on each but what we bring to each as our character. It is obvious that while doing one task, it might be difficult to do another. But why would I want to be honest to one task and dishonest with another? Why would I want to be sincere to my wife, but insincere to my customer? Why would I want to be frugal at home, but use my office’s resources as if it were infinitely available? Why should I be methodical and professional at work but consider it inappropriate in my relational pursuits?
I think if we stopped thinking of life as “work” and “enjoyment” then we can inculcate in our children the same equanimity towards the various facets of life. With our children empowered to look at life as a whole and not as something “that has to be done whether you like it or not” and “the fun you can have once you have done the chores” there is a great hope of a more conscious society. And this wouldn’t be mere pedagogy but actual demonstration and embodying of values. Children will be discouraged to look at life as a dichotomy of the boring and the entertaining, as the professional and the casual, as the sincere and the it-doesn’t-matter, as a chore and a passion. Even from an individual’s point of view (whether there are children to raise responsibly or not) it is vital for one’s own character to be Right towards every facet of our life. To consider it wrong to lie to your husband but ok to lie to your boss or obvious to move earth and heaven in order to get your child to the doctor but unthinkable of working extra hours to get your project out of danger reveals a complete lack of character in the individual and when continuously observed by a impressionable mind, this is what gets passed on.
We were always passed the message that work and going to office was the price we had to pay in order to have fun and the good things of life. Our theory of “no reward without pain” morphed into an example which we recognise as the work-life dichotomy. Soon, education, work, paying bills etc. all became the chores that we have to do so that we can go on a vacation in summer.
I have believed and felt the same. I used to think in the same way because I didn’t have a better model of representing life around me. But with each progressing day, I realised that I was maintaining the divide more pronounced and sometimes even beyond the natural level of demarcation. It was becoming difficult to manage matters as it amounted to maintaining two personalities – one who enjoyed some portions of life, and one who had to put on this facade in order to go through the chores of living. In this split personality scenario, it is but natural that one views the activities thrust down one’s throat with lesser respect and greater indifference and sometimes disgust. The chores became the villain.
Added to this is the emotional drama that relational pursuits bring in. To be sincere and committed to your work meant that you were a boring husband! To not trick your boss and be honest with him meant that you had no excitement in your life (look at Mr. Sharma! He got a medical certificate and took his missus to Singapoooor). To compare the energy you brought to taking Chintu to the doctor with the energy you bring to meeting deadlines is taboo because you are equating your son to a project which is merely work! How could you be so callous!?
Point is, no one was equating a human being to a piece of software. They are valuable in their individual places. What is being suggested is a single character that one takes to every aspect of life and living. Only knaves would recommend that one be honest to the Gods and lie to the Devil. I know of a person who told me, “E, how can you say thus? Work is work and Life is life. You cannot bring our work rules into your home” (and she wasn’t referring to a dress code but the resolve to be professional and committed).
I think I have deliberated enough on this particular point. An honest man can only be himself in every minute of his life. Given that, he would want to use his time and skill in an activity which allows him to remain true to his self, true to his capabilities, true to his intelligence and true to his aspirations – be this activity a marriage or a job or an evening spent listening to music. Clearly there is no debate in that matter. If a marriage forces him to lie or not give him opportunities to love to the extent he can or respect his intelligence and goodness or clearly cripple his every single plan that he had or wanted to have in the context of a family, then such a marriage is a disease. So be it with his occupation.
Each person brings their unique combination of individuality, capabilities, skill, intelligence, sensibilities and aspirations. Hence, there is no one size fits all. For me, a life was fruitful if I utilised my abilities to create, ideate and learn with a good dose of humour and relevance. I tried to achieve all of this in my non-work aspects of life, resigning to the impossibility of finding these in a job. I think I slowly started moving my idea of a job away from being software engineering and started exploring other arenas where I could achieve this so that that would become my job and I could be myself in nearly all of what constituted my life.
I think a job must provide 3 ingredients – environment, ethics and excellence. Environment includes the people (colleagues and clients) you work with, the wisdom they bring, the location of your work, the tools available, etc. Ethics covers the values that an environment breathes and embodies. This includes the intra- and inter-environmental dynamics. Excellence is essentially recognising that there is the Right way to doing something and going about doing it that way. Excellence mandates a willingness to learn, to perfect and caring enough to only provide what is the Right output.
Depending on the quality of each of these ingredients, a job can be anything between horrible and Heaven. A job which provides an eclectic mix of professionals with a variety of experience and wisdom, sharing the same values, with a genuine sense of Goodness and Rightness which is revealed in their character and conduct, where the focus is on learning and growing and enjoying it all, where one’s skill and intelligence is put to remarkably exciting use and in ways one hadn’t imagined, where honesty, integrity, courage, humility and hard work characterise each individual in the organisation and the brilliance that each person brings to their task is a delight in itself, would be a job that would interest me. Add to this a sense of larger good, consciousness, relevance and a drive to empower the rest of the world in suitable ways to experience the same delight in living a holistic life where there are good relationships, good work and good interests pursued over a field of joy and fun and calm, and you have an excellent job to include in your life.
I think we put very little thought into why we want a job and what we want from a job. So when people ask me the question, I usually answer thus – Why I joined this place was to make a last desperate attempt at removing all divides and creating one holistic life where I work, relate, create, ideate and aggregate with one set of principles and soul.
They usually ignore me after listening to this!