The choices we make when things are going well

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.

How we do anything is how we do everything: On working right

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 processWhy? 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:
  • hard work
  • honesty
  • 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. 
1. Cal Newport
2. Ryan Holiday
3. Carol S. Dweck
4. Simon Sinek
5. Tim Ferris
6. Seth Godin
7. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Scale and care

It’s hard to hand wash and take care of every piece of cloth we own if our wardrobe is cluttered with too many outfits.
It’s hard to enjoy a toy when we have too many toys to play with.
It’s hard to enjoy one particular dish when we are at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It’s hard to pay attention to a friend when we have too many acquaintances.
It’s hard to care about a particular work when we pursue multiple interests.
It’s hard to take care of every members’ need if we live in a joint family or have a big family.
It’s hard to take care of every employees’ need if we own a large organization with so many employees.
Scaling up feels like a right choice since we can go broader, but, we can only care when we go deeper. We feel fulfilled only when we care.
When in doubt, go small.

What’s in a name

In one of the episodes of the Indian web series, Girl in the City, when the character, Areem gets the credit for Meera’s work, Meera gets frustrated. At that point, the HR guy played by the character, Yash tells Meera, “Your work should get the credit and that’s more important than using your name.”
 
When we do something and it works, we love to get the credit and if it doesn’t work we do not like taking the blame. This is one point that Ryan Holiday mentions in his work, Ego is the Enemy. 
 
I want to hold up the quieter virtues of humility and self-awareness and hard work and passing on credit. It’s easy to get credit for stuff; it’s harder to actually earn it. 
 
Ultimately, not taking the credit actually gives you the freedom to actually get things done
 
By not insisting on taking the credit you can avoid being lumped in with those insecure people who demand or struggle for attention. You can gain respect because if doing something mildly important seems so casual to you maybe you spend time doing much more important things.
Push for an idea. If it fails, take the blame. If it succeeds, give the credit to the boss. “What people in the traditional economy have been trained to do is not go out on limbs, not give other people credit and make sure someone else always gets the blame,” says Godin. “What I’m arguing is all three are wrong.”
It may seem like a poor career choice to always accept blame and take no credit, but Godin says it actually leads to further opportunities. “When people are busy giving away credit, the people who receive the credit know where it came from, so they come back for more,” he says. “That’s how you become known as the person who does interesting projects. And the alternative is to be the person that no one notices—and that’s the first person who gets laid off.”
Real leaders don’t care [about receiving credit]. If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit…There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. – Seth Godin

Designing your dream career and life

I am a big fan of Debbie Millman’s podcasts. They are not only thought-provoking but are also, therapeutic.

In this article, Debbie Millman emphasizes an important point on careers and vocations. She says that,

Any time you are doing work that fulfills your soul, it has the opportunity to become much more universal—because chances are there are other people out in the world who it will fulfill, as well.

This paradox is also, validated by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings (as she has been writing for an audience of one) and several other writers of literature.

I think that word “should” in our internal narratives is very toxic—this notion of, “what should I be doing?” and it’s always pegged to some sort of expectation, whether it’s self-imposed or external or a combination of the two. It’s hard to balance those expectations of what you should be doing with what you want to be doing. I feel very fortunate in that to a large extent what I do is exactly what I want to be doing for myself, and I still write for an audience of one. I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.

Debbie also recommends visualizing an ideal day for creating an ideal life.

“Write an essay about the life you’d like to have five or 10 years from now,” she says. “Write it with as much detail as you can muster. What does your day look like? Where do you go? How do you get there? What does one perfect day in that life look like? Write it down, savor it, save it, reread it every year, and I will guarantee that the life you envision is one that you’ll get closer to.”

Value of information in an era of echo chamber

Just like how misery loves company, our prejudiced minds can also, find a company in an echo chamber of filtered information. With the way the internet filter bubbles are configured, we can always find arguments to support our existing beliefs, and premises about the world. There is no standard internet anymore, it’s personalized.

This can stunt our personal growth by inflating our ego and pride giving us what we want instead of what we need to magnify our spirits. As the effects of echo chamber are on the rise, what is steadily declining is allowing ourselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing our minds. This rare luxury is going to be another valuable skill that we might need to thrive going forward.

We must be humble enough to understand the fact that we might be drawing conclusions about topics, ideas, and people based on the minuscule of information we have accumulated. What we need is the ability to perceive things as they are.

The time has come for us to be more humble, generous, forgiving, brave, and empathetic to others since they are also, caught in the echo chamber trap.

Psychological traits of work

Our work life goes way beyond mere livelihood. It can impact our identities for good and for worse. I wish I had known this earlier when I was in college but, it’s better late than never.

When we meet new people, we’re tempted to ask: ‘what do you do?’ We’re picking up on the idea that our identity is very linked to our daily tasks. But the way the question is answered tends to lock on to the practical externals of our jobs.

However, what’s more revealing, but more elusive, are the psychological requirements and consequences of jobs – what mindsets a job breeds, what doing the job requires of your inner life, how it expands us and (crucially) limits us.

Once we are aware of this fact, we can acknowledge it and process it properly to decide the actions we need to take to become a person we are proud of becoming.

Being in a particular psychological environment every day for years has a pretty significant impact on our habits of mind. It influences what we assume other people are like, it forms our view of life and gradually shapes who we are. The psychology inculcated by the work we do doesn’t stay at work. We carry it with us into the rest of our lives.

We find it much harder to notice what has happened in our case, because – of course – our outlook feels natural to us, though it is anything but. It may take an encounter with an alien (in the shape of someone from a very different field) to get us to notice.

Identifying the psychological traits of your work and personal life will guide you to take necessary actions to make yourself a more rounded individual.

We’re broadly aware that the way people learn to think at work can be traced in their domestic and social character.

Work can be very useful for people. The mentality fostered at work might be making up for aspects of the self that didn’t get properly developed before.

But work can narrow our characters too. When a particular range of issues and ways of thinking become entrenched, it means that others start to feel awkward and even threatening.

There’s a fundamental question we might ask ourselves: in what ways might my character has been shaped (for better or worse) by my work (just as it is important to grasp how one has been shaped by childhood)? There’s a poignant autobiographical question: if I’d done a different job, would I have been a different person? And the answer must be yes. Contained within other career paths are other plausible versions of oneself – which, if contemplated, reveal significant, but currently undeveloped, elements of one’s character. It gives rise to the most tricky of questions: where are those other bits of me?

Personally, I can say that I have become a much better person after I have taken up a pro bono project in a nonprofit organization. It has made me more generous and helped me focus on work for work’s sake and not for any extrinsic benefits such as pay, or popularity.
Being aware of the psychological traits of our jobs will make us more empathetic to people for who they are.

Keeping in mind how work shapes a person means we should be slower to blame other people for the way they are. Perhaps it is their job, not ‘them’ that has made them as they are – that has made them so nervous, angry, or boring. It’s the employment environment we should blame, not them. They might have been other people. Our identities are vulnerable to our jobs.