Friday, October 1, 2010

How "NOT" to Work

I am writing this post to explain some of my incorrect perceptions of work and the different strategies for work I experimented with

Phase 1: Introduction to Work

I had always thought of myself as a social misfit and as a recluse. I was occasionally bullied at school and these experiences made me a little shy. Public speaking was a scary proposition for me. My family on the other hand treated me as a genius and so did some of my friends who sought advice on wisdom. I was naturally interested in exploring different subjects and espoused to become an intellectual one day. I attempted an IQ test one and scored 139. The website that I attempted this test on, was also providing a personality test which said that I will be a "visionary philosopher". Being an impressionable teenager I actually believed in the predictive powers of the website. I started reading Philosophy which I really didn't much enjoy but later on my interest in Philosophy naturally deepened which probably had everything to do with that website which forced me into reading it in the first place. Life is a complicated mix which gives you the delusion that you are in control when every decision that you make is completely deterministic and dependent on external influences. A second influence on my choice came from a brilliant physicist from our class who once blurted out that I was a genius and better than most in the class and my only problem was that I don't apply myself. The reality was that I was applying myself and successfully managed to fool this guy into believing that I was this good without application. This guy in turn fooled me into actually believing that I was intellectually gifted. I had to personally suffer because of this delusional mentality but these were some of the events that forced me into determining my chosen calling. 

Due to personal problems and an occasional passing away of a loved one, i was in depression. I always thought that once I started work then I would be busy and there would be people around to hangout with like in school. On top of that I would be earning money. I found studying to be a boring and depressive experience because you had to do it all alone. My initial notions of work were therefore very very positive and work was like the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. I thought that work only involved analytical analysis, high IQ, good math skills etc and really downplayed the importance of socials skills. Since my school and university life were mediocre and there was a notion, which i got from movies, that geeks end up doing really well when they start a job hence I strictly thought that people who go into debates and wasted time displaying their leadership skills were just losers and I would beat them  when the real test comes.

Phase II: First Job

I got an awesome job when I graduated which was well above my expectation. This reinforced my personal image about myself, which basically meant that I started believing more that I was naturally gifted. The job was a sales job with a lot of international traveling. I was probably the first in my batch to go international. I honestly thought that my life has finally turned the corner and good things were on the way. Unfortunately this wasn't what happened, and my international assignments were horrible. I didn't expect that there was such a thing as home sickness which could really make things horrible. I was an extremely bad communicator and dealt with my colleagues like a 2 year old. It was basically pay back time for all the extra curricular activities that I did not take part in, whether they were at school or family functions. It soon started dawning on me that the work and progress all depended on your social abilities. The work itself was analytical but it was not similar to my school studies. The work had a certain difficulty level but unlike studies it never kept on growing harder as you progressed, on the other hand once you had experience then it actually became easy and that was about it. You can't really compete on something that everyone gets good at within months. Social skills was hence everything.

I grew more depressed, and this time I literally had nothing else to look forward to. I suffered school and studies so I could have a job, but that turned out to be an even worse experience. Being already depressed because of a few deaths I became clinically depressed and reached a point where I could barely communicate. I sat in my office alone trying to focus on work not realizing that it was the social aspects which were important. I reached a conclusion that I would entirely give this up and take on a lesser paying field like academics which would help me function better, or at least I could end up being good in it because it was work-centric and required lesser social haggling.

This line of thinking led me into making the biggest mistake of my life and I quit my job. I wanted to be a lowly paid teacher initially and wasn't really ambitious about my new job but I eventually fell in love which kind of makes you supremely optimistic and ambitious. I now had someone to get married to and that needed a hell of a lot of money.

Phase III: Switch to a more "Analytical Profession" and starting off really well

I started lecturing in a university and started working on research papers alongside someone who was already burnt out but had a very accomplished past. The guy I worked with me couldn't figure out where he went wrong. This guy made me work hard and I wanted to work hard. I worked from 7 in the morning to 12 at night literally non-stop. I would take naps and sleep in my office. Hardly did anything else. I ignored all my colleagues and friends and there was simply no down time. Even weekend was work. I started off really well and my aim was to get into MIT for a PhD and wanted to win a few scholarships. I had a really poor GPA in my undergrad and never ever really thought about doing a PhD and going to MIT was probably the most far fetched thing I had imagined.

Two things forced me into working really hard. One was that I was in love and I desperately needed to impress someone. The second was Stephen Covey and Napolean Hill. And then there was this amazing story called "The Alchemist". I honestly thought that "The Alchemist" was my story. I was the kid with the tragic background who stood against all odds, and jumped over all obstacles, to make a life for himself. Self-Help was a miracle for me. I thought that I had the secret rules to get rich and happy and I followed those rules religiously. Since I hardly followed religion hence this was the closest belief system that I found acceptable. I followed those rules, like thinking everyday about what I was going to do. I set long term goals and imagined myself achieving those goals. Like the Alchemist there was a pyramid at the other end and I needed to get there.

Since hard work eventually pays off, I soon progressed and was able to pull myself up from my bootstraps. from earning a few dollars a month my income increased substantially and I was able to get scholarships and admission in good universities (but not MIT, never applied there). I started climbing my proverbial ladder of success but there was one problem that kept pulling me down.

Phase IV: Burnt Out

That problem was that I wasn't motivated the way I should be. I did everything those self-help books told me to do. I bought more and more self-help books to learn new secrets, believing that I was missing some secret ingredient. I read motivational quotes and articles but after some time they all seemed the same. Its like watching a movie twice. You can never get the same kick the second time. The conclusion was the self-help was a short term solution that cannot be duplicated over and over again. You can only motivate yourself once with a single quote, or watching a motivational speaker. There was an incessant need for these motivational kicks which I simply wasn't getting.

I stopped working hard and quickly all the self-help crap lost its magic touch. I could no longer work hard. Even love became hackneyed. The emotions of love even aren't the same but metamorphize into something that is more "normal" and long term rather than the crazy initial infatuation that knows no reason.

I was now totally lost and had to tackle some serious fundamental flaws with my approach. Even academics was all about social skills and group meetings. Work revolved around collaborations. This was a difficult problem for me and I had nothing to fall back on. I burned out and stopped working. Everything was a repeat of my first job. I fell into the same darkness as before.

Phase V: The Secret Unveiled (still in progress)

I wrote in detail about the actual secret here.

There are some other interesting articles about work:

  • Their are no goals, their is nothing at the other end. People who wanted to become super programmers in the 90s find themselves out of work. People who wanted to be financial analysts and one day become billionaires can't find work today. Farmers who 10 years ago were leaving work now regret leaving farming, since farming is now booming. We live in a very complex world which throws all kinds of challenges and good things at us. If we are too rigid then we might ignore the goods being thrown at us and would probably end up leading a very challenging life if our luck doesn't help us. We need to be like palm trees which are flexible because they have to survive hurricanes, or the branches of conifers that need to be able to lift the heavy snows.  
  • Its all about living your life naturally. Work is just one small part of your life. There are other aspects which should be focused on. A more balanced life would help you with your work as well.
  • The secret is intensity. Do everything with intensity but for a short burst and then take a lot of time off to relax. This way you would always accomplish more than somebody who works at low intensity but for longer periods and enjoys lesser. When I talk about INTENSITY then it means real hard burning hot intensity. 
  • Time your work and don't work for more than 90 minutes non-stop. When you are working then remove any notion of time by deleting any clocks on your laptop etc as this would make you aware of time itself. The state of high intensity flow can not be achieved if you are aware of time passing by. The intensity of your effort should be so high that once you finish your time then you should feel completely drained.
  • After the 90 minute high intensity work, relax, do anything you like. Loafer around, read literature, go to the gym, just waste time in the most unstructured and creative manner possible. Sleep even, if this would make you relaxed. Once you feel like working again then repeat the routine. The maximum you could work in an entire day would be no more than 4 1/2 hours but I have worked for 2 hours and accomplished more than when I used to work for for 12 hours non-stop.
  • Find a really nice place to work. Don't limit yourself to boring office environment. Work in a park or on a bus stop. Be creative with your choices. There would be lesser distractions in unfamiliar environments than in familiar environments because you mustn't be disturbed in your high intensity 90 minute work routine.
  • Be outgoing and sociable. This is the most important lesson I have learned so far. As Nassim Taleb once stated that going to parties would bring you luck. This is true. Luck matters much more than anything else, even in academics. Brilliant ideas mostly come from other people then from reading and studying. Meet as many people as you possibly can. Parties, conferences, talks etc are all just amazing places where you can get in touch with people even if you have poor communication skills. The biggest achievements in my life were just random occurrences at talks and conferences. 

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