This was the view from my window (Well, minus that mall, straight ahead) when I started working, back in 2000.
Looking at the same view from a different vantage point – that of time lapsed, I am looking back, so I can look ahead with more clarity.
What’s changed in the last 18 years of working –
The value of work in my life: I’ve learnt that what I do to make a living isn’t critical to my identity. I also don’t remember coveting the corner office: Preferring being master of my fate and captain of my soul to a company-defined idea of growth. So, after years of looking for “What was I meant to do?”, I’ve comfortably settled for “What can I do well, and serve others some value?” I’ve always seen money as a means to an end. There are far too many ends that I use the scraps of paper for, than there are those scraps of paper in my possession. I love beautiful things, and don’t apologise for it. Work has therefore come to mean a nice mix of meaning and money. I’m likely to not get enough of either for absolute comfort, and I am okay with it.
How we communicate: I say this with gritted teeth – we use Whatsapp as accepted form of work communication. I personally find that tiresome. We use presentations to send in our points of view and data, ahead of a critical conversation – and therefore have little more to say when we meet face-to-face. There is a lot of Hindi in work communication – not doing so is considered classist. To be clear, I enjoy speaking, reading and listening to Hindi. Hell, I even got published in Hindi before I did in English. But business communication should not be in any one language that intends to exclude (as opposed to excludes owing to lack of opportunity and training, as happens with English). Willy-nilly, we seem to have eschewed the egalitarian model of our modern work structures and instead of uniformly truly having no hierarchy, we have picked up our own status-conscious mashup: it is okay to call “leadership” sir (or even, sirji) or ma’am. Note how I can’t think of one thing that might have changed for the better 😀
The nature of my work: I no more have one company, one boss, one team to develop, one set of company goals to gun for. I have 4 companies whose people function I help with, multiple customers with whom I coordinate for facilitation, and entirely another set of people, whose content I create, and whose people & development functions aren’t my concern. It’s fun to balance the various asks, and leave each interaction with a little extra richness gained from learnings from the other experiences.
Working hours and commute: I have gone from 9 to whenever to 9-6 to a 9 to maybe 3 or 4. There is often some scheduled work on weekends and pockets of time during the workweek, in which to meditate, catch up on reading or meet a friend for a long and languorous lunch. Commute used to be an hour to Whitefield or Dairy Circle everyday. That changed to a nice home-like, non-AC office for a while, and has further changed to birdsong in my home office on ideal days, and bearable traffic on others. Next stop: the mountains (Here’s hoping!)
What’s not changed-
The need to work: To fill my time with meaning associated with service. Of course, the larger need is to pay bills, and that will be a reason to work – possibly for many in my generation, there will be no retirement. Independent of that, there is a need, more often seen in my generation, for filling available time with work. Not just chores, but work. For me, personally, service is a need. And work helps me funnel that need meaningfully.
An attitude of sincerity: Now, I am a middle-class south-Indian. I was brought up on the belief that sincerity and intent are the cornerstones of all things good and human. In my first job interview, I was asked what my strengths were. I listed a lot of them with sunny confidence and ended with the compulsory “I am very sincere” I was told that everyone is, so what is so special about it? 18 years after that question was asked, here’s my considered opinion: Not everyone is sincere – and that’s okay, because it’s just not important to them. There is, however, something special about sincerity. It is a value. It can be cultivated. It might be its own reward, but it benefits others in that they get the sunshine of my attention and intention.
The need for autonomy: I’ve worked best with bosses who have managed me from afar, throwing work my way ever so often 🙂 That has, to use a cliche, organically morphed into loose-knit work groups, whom I meet over frequent periods of time, and get work done for. What’s nice about this arrangement: I am thinking of and working towards helping them make more connections even when I am not working with them in a common workspace. My ability and need to self-govern only gets me into trouble when my other need to woolgather and daydream collides with it. But that’s one of those ongoing battles of the mind. More on that, some other time. My space-time needs, so to speak, are best met now, than ever before. Wowie!
The need to be a better human: I have consciously worked on being a better person that I was the day before. It goes beyond being a better writer or a better friend, to, “What have I done today, to be a more tolerant, understanding and accepting person, a more open person, than I was yesterday?” I have been intensely fortunate to have a small army of amazing role models, within arm’s distance. Then, things get more intense when I get stuff like this from people I share values with. It gets me to answer questions around intersecting circles of personal growth, good health of my communit(ies), value as a citizen, and more.
It’s been relentless hard work to not lose my sense of self and centre in this barrage of experiences, with forces – only naturally – pulling in one direction or the other. My anchors are and have always been my family, my inner circle of friends (who are but family of my own making), and my own need to keep aligning to my true north. I continue to be amazed at the navigation skills those trusted few have to help us find our feet – and am eternally grateful for their presence in my life.