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Inspired Living

Edison's Menlo Park Lab; flickr photo by roger4336
In the whole din of work-life balance which surrounds the corporate world today, professionals - especially young professionals - often loose the sense of real achievement. We often get confused about what exactly does success and achievement mean - is rising faster in the corporate ladder success, or is it doing meaningful work, or even more fundamentally is it about doing work enough to earn you a good "life"?

The MBAish answer would be - it depends - depends on the kind of person you are, the kind of goals that satisfy your internal compass, the kind of success that matters to you most, your value system etc. But this answer is as good as the fact that 'the total universe is still finite'!

A professional's moral compass or measure of success depends on the very system in which they live - if your company's leaders spend their night thinking about business and treat anyone who does not as 'less than 100% committed' - that is the measure of success of the young professional in your company. On the other hand, if your leadership gives a higher precedence to doing more honorable work (no matter how 'profitable' it is) - that is taken as the gold standard.

Nevertheless, there are other pressures which a individual must face - the pressure of spending time with his beloved or contributing to his community, or far more fundamental - chasing his/her aspirations. The last one is typically even more complex - because aspirations too are intertwined with you own 'moral' compass / measure of success. There are few of us who decide upon a career direction from their 7th grade - most of us discover their passion in their late teens - some of us never do! The only constant inspirational element in our lives is peer pressure! We can get into a philosophical discussion on internal locus of control, inner strength and spiritual education etc., but the bottomline is we keep reorienting our compass with respect to our circumstances and based on the societal pressures we face.

There is I believe only one solution to this conundrum - and that is 'passion'. Rather than pronounce this an axiomatic fact, let's look at it anecdotally. Historically mankind has spent little time in the relative comfort which we take for granted today - guarantee of food, shelter and a lifestyle of 5 workdays and 2 weekends; holiday at least once an year; work from 9 to 6 - more recently work from home when convenient, etc. The concept of work-life balance is hence a pretty recent phenomenon.

Given the above, how was it that leaders in olden times - military, corporate or even national - inspired people to succeed in their motives? More appropriately, how did great minds - the Edisons and Einsteins - inspire themselves to achieve the impossible. An army officer on the front does not ask questions about his work-life balance while braving coldest winters in mere cloth tents, neither did the workers who produced numerous inventions at Edison's Menlo Park lab. The cry for passion has always been the tool used by the successful to inspire and establish the measure of success.

For young professionals too, passion is the only guide. If one feels passionate about living a high flyer lifestyle - one needs to give up the work-life balance to achieve it; if one finds working on new technologies more satisfying - one needs to live that day and night; if one finds passion in serving the family or being with friends - life should take precedence over work.

One could again argue that the above is just a translation of the term "success" into "achieving your passion" and the dilemma of what success construes simply get transposed into what is my passion! There is just one distinction - unlike success, which depends on your moral compass, which in turn tends to get influenced heavily by what the 'rules of the game' are at your employer or in your community, passion has a completely internal source of construction. At best passion is influenced by your upbringing or your exposure to how much you know about the world (and so have you been exposed to sufficient number of things to feel passionate about one of them), but for a modern corporate professional exposure is hardly a concern, and upbringing is what makes us what we are.

Corporate organizations, on their part, need to make efforts to help professionals identify and achieve their passions. More importantly, they must provide reasonable avenues for professionals to jettison out of the organizations should they find their passion not being in line with what the organization does.

To conclude, I can only say that finding one's passion and measuring one's success in achieving it, is similar to finding true love - you can never be sure what you are looking for until you find it. Talking about passion, I myself haven't figured out mine properly as yet - but I do believe that I am in a position to judge my success without the need to benchmark it to the behaviour of peers or leaders in my company. And that, if nothing, is at least a good start! :-)
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