What if everyone did it?

This question is called Kant’s categorical imperative. We use this theory for things that are convenient for us and not for everything. When it comes to saving money for the future, we usually do not ask this question – what if everyone saved their earnings and not spend at all? We usually take it as a given that everyone spends their money to live in the present and be a consumer.

Since careerism and consumerism go hand in hand, one of the questions I am interested in knowing is what if everyone stopped having careers.

Perceived cost vs. actual cost

Seth Godin, in his interviews, always talks about his 40 billion dollar worth of t-shirt that reminds him of not being able to see the potential of the internet to build a company like Yahoo. If only he had seen what the founders of Yahoo had seen years ago, he would have been a billionaire by now. The t-shirt simply reminds him of the cost of not seeing the world as it is.

While we are good at calculating benefits, not many of us are good at calculating the (hidden) costs/price of things we enroll in our life. More often than not, we consider costs as simply the compromises we think we are making and not the compromises we are actually making.

There’s no work-life balance, there’s only life

As I am about to have a child in my life, I have been hearing a lot of unsolicited “advice” on how to manage my life at this phase from people who haven’t yet figured out how to manage theirs. I am also, keeping away from reading many parenting books out there as many of them lack context and only have content.

All these recent events triggered in me this thought of work-life balance, one of the most discussed yet unresolved topics in today’s world. The more I thought about this topic, the more I develop this hunch that there’s no work-life balance, there’s only life. The balance must be within us.

We often tend to think more is better and hence, end up enrolling in several aspects of life only to realize later that we haven’t equipped ourselves with the necessary skills to perform all these activities. Unfortunately, parenting is one of these activities. Instead of enhancing the activities we do, a better strategy would be to enhance ourselves as human beings in terms of cultivating the required mindset, skills, and joyfulness. A consequence of this would be our life energies will be conserved for only those aspects of life necessary for us at that moment. And this is what brings balance to our lives.


On doing less but better

Sometimes, we need to do less for doing more. We should stop being everything to everyone and instead focus on our core strengths in both business and life to improve our work life and sanity.
By focussing on a few things, we could do productive things instead of merely keep ourselves busy.
Most organizations, from tiny to huge, operate from the same perspective. As you add employees, there’s pressure to keep everyone occupied, to be busy. Of course, once you’re busy, there’s a tremendous need to hire even more people, which continues the cycle.
When your overhead plummets, the pressure to take on the wrong jobs with the wrong staff disappears. Youʼre free to pick the projects that make you happy.
During the placement season in my undergrad, I hardly gave any thought as to what kind of work and what kind of firm I wanted to work in. Instead, I just gave in to the very first job offer I received. It did pay me well and kept me busy but, I hardly did any productive work. It was partly because my firm was a large-sized one and also, because of my lack of clarity of goals.
How many newly-minted college grads take the first job thatʼs “good enough?” A good enough job gets you busy right away, but it also puts you on a path to a lifetime of good enough jobs. Investing (not spending, investing) a month or a year in high-profile internships could change your career forever.
Consider the architect who designs just a few major buildings a year. Obviously, he has to dig deep to do work of a high enough quality to earn these commissions. But by not cluttering his life and his reputation with a string of low-budget boring projects, he actually increases his chances of getting great projects in the future.
We canʼt have everything. Weʼve tried and it doesnʼt work. What weʼve discovered, though, is that leaving off that last business project not only makes our profits go up, it also can dramatically improve the rest of our life.
The opposite of “more” is not “less.” If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.

The law of averages

Things catch up eventually. That’s why habits are so powerful. It applies to almost everything in life including weight loss, weight gain, relationships, trust, and our body of work.

Therefore, it certainly matters how we spend our time and energy on a daily basis.

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.”

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.