The trap of job identity

The video of Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin went viral, a couple of days back. Why did the video go viral?

Because there was a stark contrast between her personality and expected job identity. This contrast caught the eye of the masses.

There is little room in our minds for an extroverted librarian. Or for that matter a Tibetan monk who might love skydiving. 

We often get trapped in our job identity. Some of us don’t do it deliberately, while others find comfort in our job identity. Over a period of time, it becomes easier to carry the cloak. And soon it starts showing in your behavior. The way you walk, talk, manage your demeanor, choose your words and actions, and dress for the situation, everything begins to shape up. It is like a cage we slowly build and find comfort in. 

Now that you have done all the hard work, people expect you to be in that cage. As long as you comply with the standards set by you, peace prevails. Meanwhile, your authentic self, sits patiently and quietly in a corner, hoping that someday you will break the cage. And then some fine day there is a revolt. There is a civil war of sorts between the work identity and your true self. The winner decides how your life would unfold for many years to come. 

Career transitions and sabbaticals happen when the authentic self wins. Work identity leads you to scale where you are, perhaps at the cost of losing your true self.

I have witnessed some leaders slyly use their work identity to cover their true selves. They just don’t want to be vulnerable. 

Anyway coming back to Sanna Marin’s story. She told reporters that “We partied in a boisterous way, I danced and sang. I am an individual and a human. There is a private side to me.”

I can only appreciate the society that allows people like Sanna to be their authentic selves. 

I can only empathize with those who are striving hard to maintain their work identity. It is like walking a tight rope. It takes energy. It has a cost. The question is how long can you stretch it? Or is there any need to do so? Should your work define your personality? 

What do you think?

#work#job#personality#identity#behaviour#career#society

There is a part in the marathon where you walk

This was me in my first half-marathon in June 2022. Though I am smiling in the pic, that’s because runners care more about their appearance in the marathons. They pay for the pics.

Under that smile, there is a slight disappointment. I could have done a little better but never mind, it was my first. And given my habit to derive some wisdom from setbacks, I started reflecting on the outcome. That’s me, can’t help it. 

A couple of weeks back I read somewhere that there is a part in the marathon where you walk. Not a universal truth, but in hindsight, it makes sense. 

It was 26th June, and at around 12km, I became aware of the fact that this is not going as planned. Thanks to humidity and the hills. My wife with whom I prepared for the marathon had already taken a 1km lead. 

Things started getting tough after 15km. The 17-19km stretch was a 300m elevation. I had to walk. Even if my brain was pushing me to run, I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears. 170bpm, on the watch. I could see other runners walking too. 

When you complete 80% of the distance, the runners around you are very much like you in terms of fitness and willpower. The whole cluster around you behaves exactly like you. Maybe it is their first, they are uncertain, walking seems inappropriate when you have actually signed-up for running!!

It is funny because, at such moments, quotes like “ You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with” become more relevant than ever. Except in this situation, it was not by choice. 

Anyway, life is like a marathon. There will be a stretch where you have to walk. Sprints will burn you out. If you don’t walk, you might not survive and achieve your long-term goals. Walking might seem inappropriate but have you walk. 

Just take it slow on the elevations, save your energy and do your best when the road gets better. 

When I met my wife at the finish line, I asked her whether she walked that stretch, and she replied “Yes, I had to” it was crazy! Everyone was walking!

#marathon#life#thoughts#goals#workculture#people

Who is a bad manager?

Do employees really leave because of bad managers?

Who qualifies as a bad manager in that case?

We tend to overuse the word “bad” here because we simply fall short of defining the inadequacies of a manager.

The word “bad” always has a negative connotation to it. Most employees attack the personality of a manager because that is easier. 

People often link the following attributes to a “Bad Manager”.

Vile
Blunt
Aggressive 
Takes credit for your work
Mean
Doesn’t empathize with you
Careless

The list goes on. Just notice one thing, these are all personality attributes that were made popular by TV shows like The Office, Dilbert comics, and Television Ads. 

But how come no one talks about managerial incompetence? Because that is boring. You can weave stories around “bad” managers but stories around incompetence don’t sell so well. 

There is a better word for “Bad” and that is inadequate managers. Following is the list of incompetencies.

Limited ability to plan
Limited ability to offer a constructive and situational feedback
Limited ability to develop subordinates
Limited ability to foster inclusivity 
Limited ability to influence 
Limited ability to listen

The list goes on. All the inadequacies impact the subordinate’s experience at work. 

Employees leave because of inadequate managers. And partly the reason is organizational inability to invest in grooming the managers who are inadequate. 

What do you think?

#work#managers#relationships#experience

The value of decisiveness

Being decisiveness in life is like playing Tetris, every random block that emerges at the top is a decision to be made. It is your choice to not make the decision but then you also don’t get to play for long and have fun.

Keeping this in mind, thought of sharing a simple perspective with you.

These days before booking Uber and Ola, one needs to pray. My wife was getting late for work. We tried booking the short trip to her office multiple times but had no luck. I was even more worried because it became my responsibility to drop her the moment this happens. 

The clock was ticking. We both were just badly hoping for some rider to confirm. At the same time, we were cursing the service. 

Hope is a bad strategy. What is the probability that someone will accept the ride in the next five minutes?

A decision had to be made here. I have to simply get up and drop my wife to the office instead of wasting more time. And I just did that. It had to be done. It took a 30-minute round trip. My wife was happy that she reached out just in time for a meeting. 

This is so trivial as compared to the more significant decisions that life demands.

Indecisiveness kills. You either hope for a miracle to happen or curse the situation. 

Every change that you long for needs some decision to be made immediately. Wish to be more fit, what is the decision that you need to take right now. Wish to find a better role? What is the first decision that you need to make today?

With every decision, your life changes a bit. Consider it has a left or right turn while driving.

A slight right on the GPS will take you on a flyover, a slight left might lead to a service road.

#decisiveness#change#life#career

The Value of Planning

The value of planning in career progression.

In my first job, as a trainee maintenance engineer, my core duty was to just read the open job register in the morning and allocate resources to get the job done. Issue tools and new components from the store to a person who is supposed to do the repairs. Update what has happened in the workshop at 5:00 PM. Go home. 

Once I sign out for the day, there was nothing on my mind. I was free. Solving for the day is more fulfilling. There is a bliss that comes once you close the job because you don’t have to think about tomorrow. 

One day I issued an imported expensive ball bearing for a non-critical job. The following day my boss asked me, Alok, do you know how many days we have to wait for this bearing to arrive once we place the order? Do you know what will happen if you face a supercritical breakdown?

I was taken aback, am I not doing my job?

I was solving for the day. I hit the reset button in the evening.

The technicians were the happiest people. They solved for the hour. They wouldn’t know what their day will look like after the lunch hour. 

On the other hand, my boss solved for the week. “Alok, next Monday, please go and see the status of the newly installed pump at the water treatment plant” 

My skip level bosses solved for the month. “Next month we have an audit, let us prepare for the same”

When my boss used to share his insights during the monthly review meeting with the chief engineer, he talked about what will happen next year. Big changes, and shifts and how we need to get ready for the same. 

Every component in the execution chain is critical. But if you are thinking of career progressing, just reflect on

Are you solving for the hour?
Are you solving for the day?
Are you solving for tomorrow?
Are you solving for the month?
Are you solving for next year?

Your perceived value to the organization depends on the planning window that you are responsible for.

You always need a conflict

Growth only happens when you resolve your existing conflicts. Just recall all the movies that you have seen so far. Almost all movie scripts are based on a conflict. Here are the types of conflicts that are used in movie plots.

Character vs. self (Joker)
Character vs. character (Dark Knight)
Character vs. society ( Rang De Basanti)
Character vs. supernatural (Dr. Strange)
Character vs. technology (Avatar)
Character vs. nature (Interstellar, or any dystopian movie)

From a viewer’s perspective, they see a character growing through these conflicts. It is entertaining.

Conflict gives a purpose and direction to the plot. Conflict enables character development.

Our lives are no different from character curves. Conflicts provide us with an opportunity to grow and have a direction. No conflict, no growth.

What’s your conflict? 

Biryani and Decision Making

Biryani and Decision making.

According to a report, Biryani was the most ordered dish on Zomato in 2021.

As I look back, I must have ordered Biryani more than 20 times so far in 2022. 

I love hot steaming Biryani, Who doesn’t?

I hate making decisions on the food ordering app, especially when hungry.

Ordering food is impulsive—hunger pangs limit decision-making. 

A default staple item on top of your mind always wins.

In which case, Biryani always fits the bill. Delivery times for Biryani are always faster than let’s say Paneer Makhhanwala.

That’s because Biryani is not Make to Order ( eg: Pizza)

Biryani is Make-to-Stock. There is a pot of Biryani always cooking based on forecasted volumes. This means your Biryani is always ready for delivery!

Zomato and Swiggy know this. 

The kind of data they are generating is unbelievable. 

What if they harness this information to come up with Biryani joints in the localities that consume high volumes of Biryani?

Zomato is actually a data company.

If you feel like opening a food joint and making it profitable in record time, include Biryani in your core offerings. 🙂

The root of all evil

Our careers and lives are shaped around the type of insecurities that we all harbor within ourselves. 

Our insecurities bring out the worst in us. When we are insecure we pick the extremes. Fight or flight. 

For instance, financial insecurity might lead you to choose a stable job with poor growth opportunities or a very high-paying job with a poor work-life balance. Saying “Yes” to things that are not aligned with our values and beliefs. 

Insecure about your position? You tend to deploy all the deviant and unacceptable behaviors to secure it. Work long hours take credit for someone else’s work, backbiting, the list goes on. 

Insecure about your image/appearance/self-worth? You might start belittling others, compare and avoid others whom you feel are better than you.

Insecure about the relationship? You might end up becoming the controller, aggressor or simply become submissive. 

Insecurities intensify when we feel life and progress are a 0-sum game.

What’s your take?

Just blame it on the environment!

The tallest mountain on Mars is called Olympus Mons. It is 16 miles (24 kilometers) high which makes it about three times higher than Mt. Everest.

What makes it so tall? 

Lower gravity as compared to earth allows volcanic formations on mars to grow higher. 

Why I am even telling you all this?

The environment has always played a major role in shaping things and lives.

A life form that thrives in the depths of the ocean has poor sight or even no sight. They simply don’t need it.

So environment matters. Home, workplace, or your neighborhood shape you in ways you never imagined.

So sometimes when you put all the blame on your surroundings and the people you hang out with, guess what, maybe you are right!

Don’t be so harsh on yourself. 

The challenge is there is too much developmental burden put on the shoulders of the individual.

Thanks to self-help books and Warikoo’s of the world.

Why there is so much emphasis on self-development? There is no good answer for this but perhaps it makes more business sense. 

Why there is no focus on managing the environment? because it is very tough. 

By no means I am undermining self-development.

But it helps if we also have a look at the environmental factors that might be disabling us. 

There is a reason we don’t have a Sachin Tendulkar in Kenya or a Michael Schumacher in India. 

What’s your take?

#development#selfdevelopment#environment#people

Are you a 7-11?

Are you a 7-11? Or Ram ki Bandi? 

7-11 is a famous grocery chain that is open 24 hours a day. You don’t have to worry when it is open, it is always open.

“Availability” is the keyword here. Stores like to be “available” that’s how they differentiate.

If you are not from Hyderabad (India), you might have not heard about Ram ki Bandi. 

Ram ki Bandi is a famous Dosa/breakfast joint in Hyderabad that only opens from 3 am to 9 am in the morning. 

Back in 2015 when I was working in Hyderabad, I could never visit the place. 

I only heard anecdotes about its fame. 

Anyway, the small joint worked on “exclusivity”. It differentiated on product and did not care so much about availability. The owner expected people to turn up in the wee hours, still sleepy but excited enough for the offerings. 

So are you a 7-11 or Ram ki Bandi?

Are you playing on “availability” or “exclusivity”?

I see so many people working hard to be more “available” when it comes to working.

Very few work on building the competence to be “exclusive”. 

Is there anything wrong with being more available? 

Depends on the “cost” you are paying to be more available. Oftentimes the cost is poor work-life balance. 

What’s your take?