More often than not, when things are going good, we tend to ensure we remain in the comfortable zone. We hold on to the goodness. It’s a natural thing to do – why mess things up when they are working. What we often forget is, things are temporary in life – whether good or bad. Everything is a phase.
As philosophical as it sounds, deep down we know this is the truth yet, we hardly do anything about it.
When we are in our 20s, we have our age and health to our advantage yet, how many of us make healthy food choices? We take our health for granted thinking we can afford to eat junk food now. When we have a full-time job that pays well, how many of us choose to be generous by doing pro bono/volunteer work? We take our jobs and salaries for granted thinking we don’t have to develop new skills and relationships outside of what our current job demands.
In reality, it’s the choices we make when things are going well that is going to help us when things get worse. It’s the right food habits and workout regime that we cultivate when we are still healthy, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when our health fails. It’s the skills, experience, and relationships that we build when there is absolutely no pressing need, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when we lose our jobs.
It’s this paradox of doing something when we don’t feel like it, that’s going to help us when things go out of our hands.
More often than not, we are obsessed with finding the right line of work and we forget the most important part, which is working right. When we hate our jobs, we try to switch to a different job or even a different career path but, we do not tend to think of the possibility of us working in the right manner irrespective of the job we have.
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes a story about a Rabbi who wakes up early every single day to master Judaism. With rigorous self-discipline over the years, the Rabbi managed to gain a lot of knowledge on Judaism. A layman would ask what is the use of this knowledge. However, it’s not the knowledge per se that’s important it’s the effort that went in order to acquire that much knowledge that matters and the years of persisting a process. Why? Because, how we do anything is how we do everything.
What we do doesn’t matter but, why we do matters. What we do is simply a reflection of the times we live in (for example, if Vincent Van Gogh was born today, he wouldn’t have become an impressionist painter) but, why we do something goes deeper into our own values and belief systems. It’s a direct reflection of who we are. We just happen to do the ‘whats’ because our ‘whys’ need an expression.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck emphasizes the very same idea by bringing in the theory of growth mindset where effort is given more importance than talent and ability. Practice and hard work are the key components of a growth mindset.
The magic happens when we obsess about the process and not the outcome (a trait of the craftsman mindset). That’s when the transferable skills are formed. Once we form the transferable skills we can apply them in any domain we want to excel. Success would then be a byproduct. We keep track of all the wrong, superficial things. We mistake the byproduct for the actual effect and that’s why there are only a few successful people in this world.
Similarly, Tim Ferris in one of his keynote talks about the DSS strategy for learning anything. This strategy is universal and it validates the point of how we do anything is how we do everything.
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce
Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.
But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.
This is foolishness.
Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.
An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
helping others as best we can
We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.
Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.
How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
P.S: I did a syntopical reading/listening of the following people’s body of work (books, interviews, talks). The idea of why working right always triumphs finding the right work is a common theme.
Anything that’s worth doing takes a long time. The outcomes that we are proud of are results of processes we followed over time. They are not events.
Therefore, success is a process and not an event. The process over the years gives birth to an outcome, which we mistakenly see it as an event. The truth is the efforts or the process we have been following over the years eventually catches up.
This theory applies to everything in life. The relationships we bothered to care about when things were rough pays off over time in the form of real friendships. The music lessons and practice sessions we attended when we didn’t feel like going and wanted to play video games instead, pays off over time making us good musicians. All the early morning runs we went for when the whole world was sleeping and when we didn’t feel like going, pays off in the long-term in the form of an athletic body. All the healthy food habits we cultivated by saying ’no’ to processed food and beverages over time pays off in the shape of a great body, great skin, and excellent health.
Processes eventually catch up. If we are unhappy with the outcome, chances are it’s a result of bad habits and behaviors over a long time.
What this means is that, if we want to become the kind of person we could be proud of five years from now, we need to start today and persist until we see the intended results. We often overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five.
An average American suburban household keeps redoing their home decor and ‘looks’ every year. Life hacks is a great way to entertain oneself. It makes us feel that we are productive while it is a just a means to entertain and keep us busy. Standing desks, fancy bookshelves, Fitbit, etc are all life hacks. There’s always one more thing to buy before we get to do our actual work. I call this the shopping mindset.
The question is when we have all the life hacks in place, that is when we have a fancy office table, an ergonomically designed chair from IKEA, and a great 4K monitor as our desktop computer, what are we going to do with it? Are we using the standing desk to create work that matters or simply whiling away our time doing social media grooming? Based on how we spend our time we can easily tell if we are doing something productive or merely keeping ourselves busy. And, life hacks/tips/tactics is a great way to hide from doing work that matters. It’s nothing but, resistance, as mentioned by Steven Pressfield in the War of Art.
The actual work happens when we stop shopping and star shipping things. Until we adopt the shipping mindset of constantly putting our work out in the world, the life hacks are pointless. Obsessing about life hacks is seeking for a guarantee. In reality, there is no guarantee because “the person who invented the ship also, invented the shipwreck.”
So, how do we know when to stop shopping and get to shipping? One way to do that would be to constantly ask ourselves, what our work is for. If what we do aligns with what it is for, we can avoid the resistance (in this case, it’s shopping) and get back to shipping.
We’re surrounded by people who are busy getting their ducks in a row, waiting for just the right moment…Getting your ducks in a row is a fine thing to do. But deciding what you are you going to do with that duck is a far more important issue.
In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run.
Same thing is true for shipping, I think. Everyone is afraid. Where do you put the fear?”
The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era.
Seth Godin, in his book, Linchpin, talks about the safety zone and comfort zone. More often than not we tend to mistake the comfort zone for the safety zone. It used to true, however, that doesn’t mean it will always be true.
This makes a great case for why emotional labor is what we are being paid for in today’s workplace. Even though emotional labor makes us feel uncomfortable, it’s the safest way to still have a paid job and make a difference.
All creatures need a shortcut because we don’t have time to reevaluate the safety of everything. So, in order to succeed, particularly for human beings, we need to build a comfort zone that matches the safety zone.
Now, things that we feel comfortable aren’t safe anymore as they are going to make us unemployed. Whereas the things that are going to make us feel uncomfortable are actually safe. So, the safest thing we can do is to take a risk or whatever that feels like a risk and the riskiest thing we can do is to play it safe.
Now, we get paid for emotional labor. If what you did today wasn’t hard then you probably didn’t create enough value because you probably didn’t expose yourself to enough risk and fear. If you have a job where someone is telling you exactly what to do they can find someone cheaper than you to do it.
If you are standing still and the world is moving, you are actually losing ground.
I am sure none of us are ready to embrace this huge shift in work culture but, we can be prepared for it. In today’s world of work, since competence is overrated, do not expect for a map that gives you step-by-step instructions, instead embrace the compass to find the passion for creating something that connects and engages in new ways.