In my last blog post, I mentioned that I plan to write about my learnings over the past few years. Previously, I wrote about being authentic. In this one, I want to write about virtues for work.
My first stint in the professional world was an internship in an investment bank. As anybody familiar with investment banking can imagine, it involved endless hours on excel sheets doing seemingly mundane, repetitive tasks. As a fresh graduate, I was quite put off by that. I think it is a very millennial thing that we expect ground-breaking work right from day one. As we are groomed for job interviews, we’re told about the importance of personal branding and storytelling. During the recruitment process, employers sell their brand by highlighting how you will change the world by joining their organization or how fun/cool/fulfilling their workplace is. Then there are peers with larger than life milestones, glorified work and lofty job titles on social media. Amid all of this, it doesn’t feel okay not having a “superpower” or “passion”. You need to have a profile that stands out. You put yourself through all the introspection and profile building while applying for jobs. Finally you get the job but soon enough feel dissatisfied. Then, you get caught up in the “I quit my job and found a life” or “Follow your heart” type of motivational stories on the internet. I do not mean to generalize and understand that it is not all black and white. But I certainly feel there are more escapist tendencies in the workplace today and decreased values of loyalty, commitment or patience. Job hopping is much easier now, especially in the tech industry. Generally, I think free movement of talent is a good thing in the labor market as it leads to balance of power between employer and employee. However, not really as beneficial if it comes from a place of entitlement. Also, you’d think that employees would be more satisfied with this freedom and choice, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
I wish that more alumni/employers would share reality bites with the bright-eyed, hopeful early-career students. It is better to sell realistic expectations but more often than not, they over-pivot on the glamour. Some of my thoughts below –
- For most of the folks just out of college (even with a graduate degree for that matter), no matter what your pedigree or job title may be, chances are that you’re going to start somewhere relatively at the bottom of the ladder. In the bigger picture, your job is not really all that important even though the employer might have given the impression otherwise in the campus talks/job description. You need to work hard to build credibility. It takes time and patience.
- Hard work is inescapable. Work smart, not hard is a very misleading advice. It should actually be work smart and hard. Related to this is – be careful of where you take advice from. With the infinite sources of self-help/coaching/mentoring available nowadays, it is easy to take wrong advice.
- Starting off, repetitive work is unavoidable and is actually quite important for your learning and development. Repetition is equivalent to practice in professional life. Only with repetition of a task do we start seeing patterns and develop a better line of sight.
- Discipline and focus are underrated. There are too many distractions in life and you need to prioritize. It means giving up some options and making choices. The satisfaction from focused attention on something is unparalleled. It is often referred to as being in the flow. Flipping across too many activities, people or projects drains the mind and hardly adds value to learning and growth.
- No job is perfect. In any job, there will be some work that you don’t like. Instead of seeking the perfect job, it is more realistic to think about the trade-offs you’re willing to consider. Something useful I once heard – think about your good and bad days; as long as you remember more good days, you’re doing fine.
- Those who don’t have clear career plans or interests, worry not. Initially, this was something that bugged me a lot. Actually, several people sail in the same boat but don’t acknowledge it openly. You often see a fake it till you make it attitude in this. Once you enter the professional life, there is no syllabus. You have to set your own path and it can be unnerving. It also takes time to realize your true motivation. I feel adopting an action-oriented approach helps a lot. By that, I mean trying different things. Break down your work into chunks and think about what parts of it you like. Once you get better understanding of what type of skills you like to exercise, you can follow work that involves the use of those skills. You don’t have to plan too ahead. Keep pursuing work that you like. In this context, I loved the article: http://casnocha.com/happy-ambition-status-cocaine . It says “Set fewer goals. Love the craft itself: be process-driven, not goal-driven.” This line reflects my evolving perspective on work.
- Finding purpose/meaning have become the buzzwords in corporate world. First of all, I realized it is a concept for the privileged. For example, someone struggling for basic living conditions is not even in a situation to think about finding purpose in work. Second, in all honesty, it is a daunting concept for most humans. Philosophers have long pondered on the subject of purpose of life. I was quite curious about this concept and I read several articles and books that could help me find answers. What I drew from those was that humans find their ultimate purpose in service of others. It could be as simple as mentoring someone. Another interesting perspective was whether work should be viewed as passion or duty. I loved this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/02/opinion/should-work-be-passion-or-duty.html?fbclid=IwAR0A3oL1WUUuPgdsw9EquJiXUa2HuSfF7TLWx97wdJGuPMRtsQ9gR47sQnY . “Stoics see duty everywhere — or rather, they see life as a collection of duties, including but not limited to your job.”
If you have any nuggets to share, please do so in the comments below!