When my elder daughter (Aarushi) was growing up, an interesting thing happened that I can never forget. She started reading. It wasn’t the reading itself that was so interesting. It was her excitement at the ability to read that made me take notice. After she learnt to read, wherever we went, be it a restaurant or a shop, she would try to read everything and feel extremely excited about it. Her reaction was of a person whose spectrum of visible things suddenly increased many-folds. She could suddenly know the world around her so much better; she could connect with it better; she could be more than she was.
What really changed with her ability to read? A new communication link got established between her & her environment. Through that link, she could absorb her environment so much better.
And recently, I had some interesting experience which made me reflect on this matter a bit more. For an upcoming project, I was designing the website. And this time around, I decided to approach it as “a designer”. So, I started studying typography, colors and other elements of visual design. And suddenly, I experienced the same excitement that Aarushi had experienced when she learnt to read. I could now read “colors” and “types” in my environment. A new communication link got established.
What do I mean? Let me explain further. For designing the new website, I had to design a color palette whose colors will be used in the website. Now, in order to do that, I studied the technicalities about colors. Something like:
- The technicalities: What are hue, saturation and value? What are shades & tints? What are additive & subtractive colors?
- The emotional aspects: What moods are created by different colors? What emotional response different colors create in people?
- Getting control: How colors influence people’s experience of a website?
I spent about a day or two on this and the learning I got was very valuable. Suddenly, I found that my surroundings were all the time “communicating” with me in the “language of colors”. But it was my lack of knowledge because of which I could never “read” that “communication”. Now, suddenly, everywhere I see, I find a communication encoded in the colors. From my furniture & walls to various shades of green in my balcony plants to grays & blues in the sky to the browns of earth and tree trunks. I can now “read” colors. Not very proficient yet but a world has suddenly opened up.
And this whole experience got me thinking. Is it only about colors? What are the other “mediums” that my environment uses for communication but I have not been trained to understand those mediums very well? What about body language? What about language of the eyes? What about the language of how people walk? What about the language of tonality? What about the language of proportions? What about “Hand-writing”?
There is so much “communication” hidden from me just because I do not know how to read it.
No, seriously, what exactly is work? You’ve been working day in & day out but did you pause for a moment to reflect on what is this thing called work? The thing that you keep doing all the time (or forced to do from time to time)?
I never did but for past couple of days, a few thoughts have been dancing around in my head. Thoughts that I was not able to put off. And finally, when a neighbor sympathized with me for working on a Sunday, the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle started settling in.
The interesting thing about most of these mental jigsaw puzzles is that they complete on their own. Not the ones that you are actively trying to solve. Rather, the ones in which pieces emerge from nowhere and start floating around in your head. You don’t know what picture will finally emerge but you just feel that your mind is trying to tell you something. The destiny has decided that you learn something at this point of time. At a time like this, if you are able to give your mind a little bit of breathing space, you are told what you need to be told. And I guess, I was told something today.
Anyway, that was a digression. So, let’s come back: what is work? And I don’t mean to get to a “definition” of this “word”. What I want to get to is an “understanding” of the same. Whole of my life after I graduated has been revolving around this word and it’s high time that I (and even you) get a grip on this. Otherwise, the risk is to just keep working while the life slips by.
For quite sometime, people have perceived me to be working while I was actually not working. At least, I didn’t think that I was working. It’s happened more & more after I quit my job and got into “the startup thingy”. And it’s suddenly happening all too often in past few days. So, what the heck is going on here?
I am writing code. Does that mean I am working? I am debugging some problem. Does that mean I am working? I am on a call with someone discussing ideas. Does that mean I am working? If yes, why is it that sleeping, eating, playing cricket, cycling, traveling and a whole lot of other stuff that I *do* is not “working”?
For me, the answer became clear when my neighbor sympathized with me when she saw me working on a sunday. Why did she sympathize? Because somewhere, she had a mental model that “given a choice”, I’ll not sit in my study writing code on a sunday evening. “Given a choice”, I’ll do “something else” on a sunday evening. And if “given a choice”, I would do something other than what I am doing right now, what I am doing right now is “work”.
Yes. It’s as simple as it is complicated. Given a choice, if you’d do something other than what you are doing now, what you are doing now is work.
And that’s why there has been a disconnect between my perception of what I do and what other people think I do. Others think that I do what I do because I don’t have a choice. I have to “work” long hours to get things done to be successful. On the other hand, in reality, more often than not, I do what I do (whenever I am doing it) precisely because I have had a choice and I made my choice.
And with time (it’s been about 1.3 years since I left my job), increasingly, the work is ceasing to be. In the initial days of the startup life, I did as much work as I used to do in the job. However, over a period of time, I am getting used to making choices. And as I get more and more used to making choices, I am able to align my activities to my liking.
On the surface, it may seem that I was coding back in the job and I am coding now. But that’s a wrong way to look at the situation. While in job, I was just following the directions given by some people. That’s all. Now, on the other hand, either I am bringing people together around a shared interest (NotJustScore) or working in the direction of people getting better educated in areas that impact their life (an upcoming online training center).
Everything may finally boil down to coding but that’s as good as saying that cutting vegetables and killing people are knifing. That’s like confusing the “tool” with the “intent” and the “end result”.
So, that’s all from my side for today. The next question for me is: can I get rid of “working” altogether?