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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Why finding meaning in life has become urgent for today's professionals

Here are the four professionals that i got involved in last 3 months:

1. Manisha, age 32, is a researcher. PHD.  Doing a Post doctorate in a US university. She always wanted to return to India and do something meaningful in India. Two year back, she came to India to find a job. Could not manage to get it, because her criteria of 'job' were strict and because she could not compromise her work-expectations with the Indian environment. So she returned back to US last year. She has been finding more and more difficult to work in US as she is encountering all the 'work-related' dynamics: difficult bosses, impossible colleagues, and insufficient challenges in work. Now this year, she again faces the same choice. Should she return to India and work in not-so-perfect job?  Or continue to work in US?

2. Digvijay, 31, IT graduate works in Singapore from last 2 years. He has been working in IT, getting good promotions, has secured his life with investment in House. He met me last month. He is unhappy that his colleagues are 'ahead' of him, that he is not getting the best of the possible jobs, and has been dithering on the constant question of 'should he work in x company or y company', or ' should he take up a position or b position'?

3. Ramesh, 27, is working in a company in Pune. After a difficult period of adjustment in an existing job, he has settled in a job. Two months back, he called me, and said he wants to leave the job and join Teach India program. Teach India staff had come to his office and gave a presentation on what Teach India can offer. When i asked him his reasons of joining, he said that 'India has too much of illiteracy. I would like to contribute in some way to help it reduce it'. I told him that that is the ' nice-to-have official reason'. I asked him 'Why do YOU want to join Teach India?" He is trying to find his answer.

4. Abhijit, 27, is a CA. He seriously pursued CA for a long period, got the degree, and is now working with a bank. He got attracted to 'Sahajyoga' movement, because he found it important to understand 'what is the purpose of life?' From last 4 years, he is seriously involved in this movement, volunteering 90% of his discretionary time and effort, advocating it to youngsters and actively searching for the 'meaning of life' (as he likes to say). When i was in Bangalore, i met many youngsters who were part of 'Art of Living' foundation and devote substantial amount of time to explore the question 'How does the job fit in my life?

What is common in the work-life of these four professionals?

All four professionals are struggling to find meaning of job in their life. This is about producing personal outputs in life. The above four examples show the importance of Personal outputs in our life. We get engaged with the question of 'finding purpose of life' only in arm-chair discussion in college or coffee shop, little knowing that it will affect our work-life. Only after entering work-life, we suffer due to under-developed personal output like these four individuals who are struggling to take the simplest decisions of their work-life. They are not just stuck up in their work-life, but their quest of excellence is also blocked. Earlier, we assumed that this personal output impacted us only after the age of 50, but now the second law of Career Success ( inputs) informs that it affects us daily in our work-life. 

Manisha, unable to understand the importance of working in India to her, is indecisive on her most important decision in work-life. She is unable to compromise her work-requirement with Indian environment, because she does not know why working in India is important for her? She is stuck up. Digvijay is constantly comparing his life achievements with his friends, because he does not know why is he doing his job. This is a common 'symptom' observed in many professionals. Instead of asking the abstract question 'why am i doing the job', they substitute it with a more concrete question 'why are others getting more than me'. Most of the professionals suffer from this 'misplaced' priority.

Ramesh and Abhijit are even younger. They face the question of 'meaning of job' paradoxically because of their well-to-do financial status of their families. Their fathers never faced this question because they just spend their entire work-life to find security in their life. Ramesh and Abhijit do not face this challenge of security. Therefore, they seek more from their life. And therefore they face this question of 'what is purpose of life and how should i express it through my job' far more early in life.

I feel that Ramesh and Abhijit are lucky to face this challenge early in life, because without being forced to answer this question, they may encounter a hopeless future like Phatak.

I met Mr Phatak last week. He is 52 years old. He is a petroleum Engineer who worked in India and abroad. He retired at the age of 47, because according to him 'he earned enough and wanted to do something for his own life'. Since last five years, he is working on developing a 'film club'. He has one of the rarest collections of best films in the world, not just Indian films. He has managed to find 350 member for this film club and screens this film every month. He discusses the films, knows the rarest directors, can talk about story sequencing and script for hours. He has learnt a bit of film editing.

When i asked Mr Phatak, what he is trying to do by running a film club, he said that he is not sure. When i asked him, why did he take such a gutsy decision to retire at the age of 47, he said 'He could not help it'. Unable to 'discover' the meaning of films in his life, he is still not able to articulate a 'mission for his life', even though he is 52; even though he has sufficient resources and time. He is unable to answer the question 'Given this meaning of films in my life, i would like to do xyz in my life'. Why is this so difficult even at the age of 50? 


Developing Personal output is like learning swimming. If you develop it at the right age, you develop quickly and even unconsciously. But, unlike swimming, they cannot be developed directly. We have already seen how character traits like self regulation can only be developed indirectly. Development of personal output is even more indirect than character traits, because it depends on developing your right brain. Therefore, if you miss developing them at the right age, you may never be able to develop them; you will get stuck up like Phatak.

I believe a man can do anything in his life, if he knows his constraints and can articulate his destination. But when i meet someone like Phatak, i am so disturbed with the thought that this person may never find 'his path' in life. It is so wrong to conclude that the future is hopeless for someone. But when i meet someone like Phatak, i do not know how something good can happen in his life. It is even more painful for me, because i can see his process, understand his predilection, but still cannot 'reverse' the time-table of his development. I am definitely going to try, but i am not sure if i will be able to undo the 'development' time-table.

If you are however a professional of 30, do not wait for personal outputs to develop on its own. Please use some of the tricks that were mentioned in this blog. See movies. Read interesting literature. There is no need to read serious books in philosophy, ethics or aesthetics. Read biographies. Read the journey of other individuals like Bill Watterson. Engage with people who know more than you on this subject. And most importantly; find a mentor or coach who can show you the path.