But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
~ Origin disputed
It would seem that human beings can never be satisfied. Either we can’t have enough of something or we can’t live with the same thing everyday. There is always something missing in our lives. I have yet to meet a person who believes that their life’s purpose has been fulfilled. He desires nothing else and would gladly stay in his situation for the remainder of his life. Maybe, it has something to do with how we are wired. More likely though, we have been brought up believing it. In fact, many of our society’s subsystems function on this principle that human beings can never be satisfied, including the the whole ‘earning a living’ setup.
First of all, why the hell is it even called ‘earning a living’? I am no language expert but that phrase clearly implies that ‘earning’ has a higher priority than ‘living’. The way it looks to me is that earning is the purpose of living. If you don’t earn, you don’t live. This pisses me off so much that I will repeat it, just to make my point – if you don’t earn, you don’t have a right to live. There are fundamental flaws in that phrase. It devalues human life by equating its worth to ‘earning’ capability. And nowhere is this phrase more glorified and hallowed than the shiny air conditioned corridors of the corporate world. Even if one were to accept that I have to earn my right to live, what in the hell empowers these corporations to hand out that right to me? Is this what human life is worth? Valued by number of digits in a bank account?
Enough ranting. (Most likely prompted by the minuscule salary hike that is outstripped by the increasing prices of all commodities) Time to get serious. There is a reason why about 80% of people are not satisfied doing the work that they currently do – it is a game designed so that you can’t win. There are a few rules of this game that are actually made to keep you trapped and disabled. I will attempt to break them down, one by one.
You are the only one responsible for your success.
The ex-military guy who fought off an entire battalion; the brave rebel who stood up to an entire regime; the hard working poor fellow who made millions – our culture is replete with examples of people who ‘made it’ single-handedly. The image of the glorified hero is rooted so deeply in our culture that hardly anyone goes through their lives without fantasizing to be a Steve Jobs or J K Rowling. The long life of struggle becomes the hallowed path to walk to reach the pinnacle of success. And, you are told you are the one who has to walk the long, hard road, with all the ridicule and failures along the way, and all the inhibiting situations that seem like insurmountable odds. All of that is portrayed as an obstacle in the path. In truth, they are the reasons people make it to the top. On the flip side is the fact that mistakes are often considered to be the fault of a single person. Ergo, the blame game. If you failed, you made a mistake and you have to set it right. The fact of the matter is, there is no linear relation between an individual’s abilities and success (or failure). Sometimes life is bed of roses and sometimes it is a bed of thorns. Once you accept the fact that results are greatly influenced by chance; that success often has a hundred small contributing factors that don’t make the cut to the book or the movie that glorifies it, you will understand that the only thing left for you to do is work for the sake of love for the work, not the expectation of a result. This is one of the reasons why people are not satisfied with their work – you want to control the results, the very thing that is not in your control.
Results speak for themselves
Marks, grades, salary, promotion – No one can have enough of these. After all, these are some of the global parameters of measuring success. And who wants to be a failure? There is an unhealthy amount of stress placed on results, particularly positive outcomes. Like I said above, sometimes success or failure happens by chance. But, it is one of those things that has become so deeply rooted in society that the flaws of worshiping success are downright denied by all. What flaws you ask. Let’s see. Who gets to play the lead role in a school play? The same kid who did last year. Who gets the chance of attending special skill enhancing classes in school? The top 10% of the class. Who gets the best job offers out of college? The guys who scored highest. Who gets the plum assignments and challenging projects at work? The star employee. Had enough? That’s is what I want to point out – often opportunity is given to the same people who have been successful in the past. If they fail, it was a glitch. If they succeed, it is what was expected. If you have not given other people the same opportunity that was given to the guy at the top, then of course, the guy at the top is going to walk away with the rewards. What can you do about it? Nothing. Not that it is your fault, but, you start blaming yourself for your lack of success. You do not appreciate and acknowledge the hard work you did because you don’t have anything to show for it. Is it any surprise that you would feel frustrated with the work you are doing?
Work is work and is not meant to be fun
Whoever made this rule was either extremely sadistic and cruel or must have been the most downtrodden, mistreated person on earth. I do not know anyone who likes to be miserable and avoids enjoyment and pleasure. Whatever a person chooses to do, it is because that activity is enjoyable to him/her. But, fun goes out the door when it comes to work. And not just work, this sad mentality worms its way into our lives even in school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “you come to school to learn, not to have fun”, and I’m sure you have your own stories to tell. Even though some forms of alternative education are combining the concepts of learning and fun, but it is still too slow and totally disconnected from adult lives. You know that you can do fun things over and over again, like watching movies, going out with friends etc., without getting bored. But when it comes to the thing that you do over and over again, everyday of your life, you avoid making it fun? Just because you are being paid for it, you are supposed to put up with boredom and dreariness? Where’s the sense in that? There is no other way around this problem. If your work isn’t enjoyable, it is going to be boring, mind-numbing, soul crushing, and shitty. It is your choice what you want to do – to decide if living a boring and comfortable life is worth more than a rich and enjoyable life.
Maintain work life balance
Like one of my friends says, “Why should there even be a balance between work and life? They are both integral parts of you.” I totally agree. It is really sad to see that our society praises the fact that people can wear different masks at different times of the day. Professional behavior is treated as sort of an alternate personality we are supposed to switch to as soon as we walk in through the doors of our office. I don’t know if the corporate honchos missed the Human Beings 101 class, but we just aren’t designed that way. If a family member is ill, we will worry about it at work; and conversely, if we are facing a difficult problem at work we will ponder it over at home. Oh wait, taking work issues home is OK, isn’t it? Just because they write you a paycheck gives them the right to invade the privacy of your family & private life? And that’s the way everyone behaves, so it is quite natural that you follow suit. No wonder you are frustrated in life and you blame it all on your work or your boss. In a way, balance is quite important – you have to know when to put more energy into work and when your life has to take priority over work. If you let one part outweigh the other you will run into problems. However, the way this issue is treated in the corporate culture is the major culprit here, not that this is their fault. They are writing your paychecks and have every right to wring out every drop of value from it. Your life is your responsibility, if you don’t balance it out yourself, no one will.
Work hard, and without expectation of results
This is a very clever rule because the statement is true. Well, actually it is a half truth. I am sure that almost every language has a couple of quotes extolling the virtue of working hard without expecting anything in return. They all hold a grain truth only if an assumption is made about the work you are doing – that you are passionate about it and/or enjoy doing it. As I wrote above, people seem to think that the only valid results are the ones that can be measured, like grades and bonuses. If you work hard every day and still the bonus checks and stellar appraisal results do not come, you are bound to become frustrated and lose interest in your work. Then when your senior or boss tells you to keep working hard and not expect results, how would you feel? What if the appraisal results and bonus check didn’t bother you? I mean, it would be nice to have them, but not having them wouldn’t hold any meaning for you. That is a result you SHOULD expect from your hard work and dedication. The ever elusive feelings of happiness and satisfaction, just from having done your best at work. You have every right to be fulfilled by the work that you are doing; to see the impact that you are having; to know that you have contributed to something. You can expect all these only if you really love what you are doing. Passion for your work will give you an inner strength to hunker down and face the storm when times are tough, to work your ass off everyday because you enjoy it so much that it doesn’t feel like work, to keep slogging even when your boss marks you down or you don’t get to take home a big fat check.
All these rules that you have been conditioned to obey play a big role in not being able to attain fulfillment from the work you do. Just like your life, you can’t pick and choose which rule to break (or bend), it is all or nothing. The choice is yours; what is it that you value more in life – conforming to the rules and gelling in with all others at the cost of your sanity and soul, or breaking free of the shackles that hold you down at the cost of a well paying, cushy job and not a few frowns.