“A man who works with his hands is a laborer;
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman;
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”
― Louis Nizer
I think I have WAS, you know...Work Aversion Syndrome. Either that or I am in the wrong line of work...and have been, for a long time. Actually, forever. There are two schools of thought regarding work - you find your passion, something you have the aptitude for, pursue it and find a way to monetize it. The other view is that finding a passion is a pipe dream for most of us, so we have to just suck it up and do our best in whatever work we end up doing. My opinion on this issue depends on which blog I am reading at the moment. I aspire for the former but I am struggling with the latter. Hence the dilemma. A moral one. One that defines your character and your attitude towards life. Or is it your character and your attitude that defines your work?
I have googled both phrases ‘How to love your job’ and ‘How to find the job you love’. I have attended a webinar or two and read countless blog posts on this contentious subject. All this in my quest to understand why it is that I am inept at my job. For lack of trying is the obvious answer. But what keeps me from trying? What is the reason for the mental block? I am not buying the ADD/ADHD argument either. When a blogger swears by finding your passion and making it your livelihood, despite my lingering doubts about whether or not I have any, I am inspired. And then I come across another blog post, with an opposite stance.That we should choose a career not based on what we love doing but on who we are. So then, of course, I do an about face and feel guilty for encouraging reckless, irresponsible thoughts. Most of us do what we have to do. We step up to our circumstances and learn to be mature, responsible and practical. In other words, we learn to get on with it and somehow get better at it. Unless of course when we don’t...get better at it.
Where I come from, your career choice is decided for you sometime around middle school by your parents. More often than not, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have the aptitude for the chosen field. It doesn’t matter that you are not even remotely interested in it, let alone have the IQ for it. A misplaced and prevalent philosophy is that as long as you work hard and put in the right effort, anyone can be successful in their job or career (there is a difference as I have learnt, will come to that shortly). It reminds me of the herd mentality. If it is good for so-and-so’s child, it will be good for my child too.
Success is a very subjective term. What defines success for me might be laughable lazy logic for someone else. But if it fits the individual’s definition and motivates them, then that’s all that matters. Right? Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The majority of us survive on validation, from people we love and respect. We would shrivel without it. So we have umpteen reasons to not follow our dreams and our aspirations. Instead we are slowly inched on by the sea of expectations and eventually lapse into mediocrity. Our hopes are waylaid by our duties, responsibilities, fear and complacency.
So, where was I? Right....there has been an enormous amount of time and money invested in this career choice even before the kid knows his or her own mind. But coming from a culture where one-upmanship and competitiveness is pervasive (maybe it is not the culture, rather a human condition), there is no time to dilly-dally, to figure out what inspires you. It is considered a luxury by some and frivolous by the rest. We are bound to conform to society’s expectations and most of us are hard pressed for time and affordability to be able to delve into whatever our mind takes a fancy for. Our curiosity is stifled and the learning process becomes mechanical. Why go reinventing the wheel when there is already a functional method in place and a successful one at that? We have neither the inclination nor the means. Everything is decided early on so we can be prepared and available when opportunity knocks. Even if it doesn’t, then at least we are equipped with enough credentials to go knocking ourselves.
But if some of you refute my claims of lack of choice, then the argument is that even if given the choice, most of us pick a career out of fear. Fear of being left behind. Fear of underachieving. Fear of coming up short in the eyes of peers, friends and family. Very few of us realize and nurture our dreams and follow through. There are a few who wake up and realize that it is now or never. That would explain why we see people switching from one line of work to a totally different, unrelated line of work and excel at it. They decide to give in to their restlessness and either hesitantly dip their feet to test the unknown waters or enthusiastically and uninhibitedly dive in. They take risks, they make mistakes, they learn, they thrive. They are in their element. They emanate such confidence and happiness that it inspires people around them. That is what being in the right field does to you. It puts a sparkle in your eyes.
As you may have guessed by now, I don’t have a sparkle in my eyes. My very first yoga teacher actually told me so during my first class. I wondered why, maybe it was my glasses, I should have gotten rid of it sooner :-). Seriously though, for some of us, it takes longer to realize that we are in the wrong place. But by then we are mired in it deep enough that extricating ourselves from the situation seems like a herculean task and it is easy to give up after a few token tries or .... easier still to ramble on about it like I am doing now :-)
Why do we work?
To provide for ourselves and our family.
To survive, to thrive.
To be responsible.
To justify our education.
To find fulfillment, either through work or what we gain from work
To earn money, benefits and perks that come with it
To feel pride in our abilities
To stay in the job pool in case we run out of choices in the future
To not feel guilty about throwing away opportunities
To realize our potential, our purpose.
These are all the intentions I myself or people I know have towards work. But to take it one step further and ask the bigger question - what transforms a job into a career or vice versa? I think the answer to that would be passion for what you do. It makes all the difference. There are those who love what they do and have the drive for it. And then there are those, in spite of doing work they are not passionate about, still find it in themselves to do their best. They are a mystery to me. I see many of them at my work and often wondered how to tap into their motivation. Then there is the third kind, people who cannot come to terms with doing work that is incongruous with their natural ability, aptitude and values. I belong to the third kind.
I have survived in the job market by sheer kindness of people. The people who hired me and the people who worked with me. What pains me is that I feel helpless to reciprocate. I am not naive enough to think that they are being charitable (actually an ex-boss in India would often remind us that they are not running a charity:-)), it is just that I could do more and be happy and creative doing my job instead of daydreaming and distracting myself to pieces. If only I could find a way to make this my career instead of a job and in turn transform myself from mediocrity into an inspired IT professional.
So what made me continually try for a job that I know I am not good at? Why is it nearly impossible for some of us to take the road less traveled? I don’t see an easy answer to this dilemma (hence the long drawn-out post). The individual’s priorities and beliefs might help define the answer. I can expound on this ‘job-career’ dichotomy till I am blue in the face. But unless I am willing to believe, to try, to fail, I will be going around in circles with a question mark written all over my face.
What follows in the next sentence is not advice (I am a fine one to give advice, anyway), it is a plea. Go find your sparkle, if you haven’t already. If you have, please tell me about it.