I’m just back from a trip to my dentist, as I sit down to write this post. Like all doctors, my doc too is well informed and opinionated about the world – it is always a pleasure to converse with him. On this occasion, I brought up the topic of his son, who was last in Bangalore working in a firm that he didn’t like, living in a location he did not prefer, and sharing an apartment with guys he did not want be with. Doc was happy to let me know that his son had quit his job a few months ago, is back in Mumbai and works with a Debt Research and Trading company. I too was happy to know this. However, doc’s next question caught me off-guard: he asked me what are the ‘hot’ sectors these days and if his son is in the right sector. I countered the question with another: is your son happy with what he’s doing? Because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters, period. The sectors will morph themselves to support the awesome potential the kid has and let him flourish! Herein we make the mistake of mixing up the means with the ends.
For far too long, we have viewed our work and our ‘lives’ as two separate, distinct entities. A senior colleague I worked for once told me that he would try to be happy at work, but ended up being miserable at home - all the frustrations at work would come tumbling out of his proverbial closet as soon as he got back home. He would ask his family to bear with him on this, and they were understanding enough to do so. He was probably not coping very well. Long story short, he spent the better part of his life working a job which added to his bank account, but took away precious time with family and greyed his hair earlier than he would have liked. Only now has he found the time to pursue his true passion – setting up a firm with a bunch of like-minded friends. (Caveat – this probably is an extreme case; there are a lot among us who continuously strive to find meaning at work).
Organizations are quick to understand this. Liz Ryan labels our current recruitment processes as the black-hole. It’s not for nothing that we are moving from talking about work-life balance, to work-life integration. Work-life balance is when we view our personal and professional lives as separate entities. This forced duality of being one person at work, and a completely different person outside will eventually come to an end. Let’s face it, with the amount of time an average urbane spends at work in his/her lifetime, work IS life. Firms that realize this sooner will obviously benefit faster than others. Gone are the days of using the carrot/stick approach to motivation. Humans are much more complicated than that, and we need richer theories that support the various facets of our personalities, that allow us to express them at work. One such concept that supports this view is the self-determination theory to motivation – creating a culture of autonomy, competence and relatedness (purpose).
For individuals, the key is to begin with why. Simon Sinek does a wonderful job in explaining that ‘what’ and ‘how’ are important, yet secondary questions to ask. The key is to start with why. Our chaachus and chaachis have always asked us the secondary set of questions: What do you want to do beta? How will you get to doing it beta? I’m sure you know of at least one engineer who gave up his dream of becoming a musician to make the more ‘realistic’ choice. Which is probably why we respect the dreamers more than the conformists – they dream of becoming gripping writers, powerful lawyers, the smartest investment bankers, the most innovative engineers – and don’t do it just because they have to. The all-important ‘why’ has always belonged to the realm of philosophers and scientists. We have allowed it to languish in the background until one fine day it finally blows up in our face, or gets suppressed for other, more ‘realistic’ choices.
Let’s come to you. Why do you work at a debt-trading company? Is it because it’s the new, hot sector? Or because it genuinely fuels your passion?