I was talking to a friend a few days ago. He was going through a tough time at work and was thinking of a change of job. To help him work through his thoughts, I asked him a simple question — “Why are you thinking of changing your job, do you not enjoy the work you do any more?”. His answer was very simple — “That’s not my worry”, he said, “a lot of people don’t enjoy their job.” My first response was nonacceptance — “that’s not right, one must have a job they enjoy going to!” The thought remained in my mind though, until I realized how privileged it was of me to say that!
Yes, people deserve to be in a job they love and enjoy. Your workplace is where you spend 70% of your day, so it only makes sense to do something you love. But not everyone is blessed to choose accordingly. Think of the classic IT technician in India, who is working in a large corporation like Infosys or IBM. He didn’t know what he was getting into, when he chose this profession. For him, the sole reason to choose IT as a career, was the large number of job opportunities available. His goal when graduating was to find a job that would pay the bills and relieve his parents of financial burden in their old age. At my previous company, I interviewed hundreds of candidates for operations managers roles. They had undergraduate degrees and had started working at the age of 19 or 20. Many of them had left their families behind in their native towns and villages, because they couldn’t support a family of 4 with the income of a low-to-mid-level manager in a city like Bangalore. What drove them to work every day was not some life-altering purpose or desire for impact, but a simple need to support their family, and move up the income chain! You might think it is pretty naive of me to realize this just now, and I agree with you there! At times, we allow ourselves to get so clouded by our situations that we forget perspective. Anyway, I have been trying to demystify the meaning of the word “purpose”, and here are some of my realizations along the way!
1. Purpose, Impact, Meaning…… is a luxury! So have gratitude!
(I use these words together, because I do feel they are loosely connected in concept at least) There’s a famous Simon Sinek talk about millennials and their need to want impact in their jobs. While I love what Simon says about leadership and people management at the workplace, I do strongly feel that his talk about millennials was largely focused on upbringing in Western countries. Growing up in India, I was never raised with the idea that I am special and therefore I am entitled to greatness in the workplace. Quite the contrary, actually. I grew up in a country of 1.2 billion people. I was taught to be educated and independent. Talk about purpose and impact came much later when I was in my 20’s (which is also when I moved to the US). It is now that I realize how lucky I am to even be able to utter those words, let alone use them as guiding principles to chart my life and career. Not only does this fill me with gratitude, but it makes me realize the greater responsibility I have to value this opportunity and channel it in the right direction. Because there are others around me who don’t have that option.
2. Being Useful is so much better than having a Purpose
How many of us have allowed heavy concepts like “purpose” to burden the decisions we make? If you break this word down — what does it really mean? Doing something you love, that plays to your strengths and is valued by the organization you work for. I read somewhere that we all have figured out our purpose when we were around 14–18 years old, and all our life choices are just physical manifestations of this overarching theme. The struggle for us is seeing the patterns and putting them down into words. Having thought about it long and hard, I can see how that is true. So, instead of focusing on composing a mission statement, focus on being of use to your team or company. Instead of limiting yourself to the 5 tasks you’ve been assigned by your boss, try to get involved in projects which catch your interest and where you think you have something valuable to contribute. My personal experience has been that my happiness and satisfaction at work is greatly linked to feeling like I helped my team or company in some way.
3. Listen to your Body — When are you in the Bubble ?
Being self-aware is probably the hardest thing for most people. It is extremely easy to confuse who you really are, with who you wish you were. If you research self-awareness, you will come across phrases like “taking risks” and “listening to your gut”, which again are scary to most people. I like to break it down to simply paying attention to your body. Have you ever felt extremely nervous before an important project or presentation? Of course, you have! But once you begin, you just feel like you’re in the bubble and nothing else around you matters? That’s your body telling you that this thing you’re doing perfectly aligns with your gut and brain and heart. I remember the first article I wrote — it was the 2003 Cricket World Cup final and India had just lost to Australia after a brilliantly close match. That disappointment affected me so much that I instinctively took pen and paper, and the words came pouring out. I’m not even an avid cricket follower! In that moment, I didn’t think about sounding smart, or framing the right sentences — I just had to write. There are very few times I’ve felt this way. Now I am a realist — so I’m not saying this makes me a writer, and I need a book deal tomorrow! But it does tell me that writing gives me the kind of joy that connects me to my inner self. We all have experienced such moments. The important thing is to keep experimenting with different things, and listening to your body — listen to how it makes you feel and follow those signs.
4. Your Job is not a Magic Fix-It All
You know those cheesy relationship articles that tell you that your happiness is in your hands, and not dependent on a life-partner? I say we extend that philosophy to our jobs as well. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could make a living doing something we love. But let’s get real — very few people are lucky enough to get that opportunity. That does not mean we cannot feel fulfilled otherwise. Your life is a beautiful concoction of your friends, family, interests, careers, and it is how well you layer and mix them, that determines the kick you get! I may not loooovveee going to work every day, but here’s what I can do — do one thing that makes me feel useful at work every day. And ensure that the rest of my day or week is filled with activities that make me feel fulfilled — in my case, it is (trying to) write. It could be a sport, or painting, or social events, or hiking or rescuing animals. (P.S.- And if you can’t find one way to be useful at work every day, then you’re either doing something wrong, or you’re in the wrong job!)