Thoughts on working and work

Work will be a major part of my life over the next several decades, and is likely to consume a great deal of my mental energy and time.

The older I get, the more I recognize the luxury of being able to spend one’s time as I please, with whom and on what I care to pursue.

As a result, being intentional about the work I pursue, and some of the skills, perspectives, and qualities that I hope to build during my working hours, is worth contemplating in some detail.

What follows are some (point-in-time) thoughts on what I see as the most important aspects of my working life and career.

Principles to lead with

I’ve tried boiling down the key principles behind how I hope to lead in the following bullet points. I’ve tried to elaborate a bit on each as well below, though the goal is for each of these phrases to exist on its own:

Humanity – Seek to unite around a common humanity, and work towards deeply understanding those around me via this lens of humanity, while inviting others to gain a similar understanding of myself.

Dignity – Treat those around me with a base level of dignity and respect regardless of hierarchy, division, or potential dissension, and ensure that those around me feel a strong sense of self worth.

Curiosity – Work in the direction of my curiosity — continue to seek out the challenging and uncomfortable in the pursuit of learning and growth.

Community – Commit to bettering the environment that I work and live in by leaving it a better place than the one I entered, and build community whenever and however possible.

Humility – Internalize the role of luck in all outcomes, and recognize that any success or failure is most often not the result of any one person’s efforts (or even effort at all).

Humanity:

Human connection must be a central part of my day-to-day working life. I believe that each person has a unique set of experiences and a perspective to draw on, and that actively seeking out engagement with people on a constant basis is crucial to my engagement and happiness (read: success) in my work.

Each of us exist in our own personal realities as individuals, with complicated histories, aspirations, and home-lives to juggle. By trying to conform individuals to a single work-culture, or maintain a concrete set of expectations, I believe it is very easy to lose sight of the complex, psyche-driven motivators behind why we choose to work in the first place. However, by trying to deeply engage with one another, by trying to better understand these “realities,” I believe a trust can be formed, leading to more honest and productive relationships. Work should always be centered around the human being, rather than around arbitrary financial, production or other performance indicators.

I believe that humanity is at the center of idea-generation, iteration, and improvement. I have personally experience instances where ideas that live in my head for weeks and seem perfect in the comfy confines of my brain can immediately be exposed as shallow or (potentially) worthy when subject to the judgment and input of a fellow human being. Human interaction – with people of all types – must be embraced and actively sought out, sometimes at the expense of cheaper technological solutions. I believe that this ultimately stands to the benefit of my thinking, perspective, and appreciation for the world around me.

Dignity:

In business, I believe it is very easy to allow for ego to seep into one’s psyche, causing harm to relationships and warping one’s perspective on reality. In the absence of true break-through, innovation, or altruism in work, a net worth or an annual take-home figure can easily take the place of self-worth. As a result, fluctuations in financial success become fluctuations in personal happiness, and feelings towards others can be overtaken by transactional relationships or others’ net worth.

I believe that developing a strong sense of my own self-worth, while seeking to build that sense of self-worth in others, is a crucial component to my happiness and success at work. Divisions created by competitive relationships or arbitrary hierarchies exist to create distance between human beings, and detract from self-worth. As a leader and in my work-life, I hope to help instill a sense of dignity and self-worth in all of those around me, and ensure that they feel secure in their position at work to express themselves and not feel constrained by horizontal, vertical or other organizational splits.

I also believe that I have the most to gain from being around those who feel, see, and think differently than I do. Surrounding myself with a group of individuals with a similar set of experiences only stands to reinforce my currently held beliefs, and stands in the way of growth and evolution, as a person and professional. As a result, I believe that it is important to work even harder to ensure the dignity with those who I deeply disagree with, to create environments conducive to the difficult but constructive conversations that come from difference.

Curiosity:

I strongly believe that learning in its many forms must be at the center of my work. The uncomfortable and sometimes-painful growth that comes from learning something new has compounding effects on my ability to create solutions and identify problems. Evading this growth must be avoided at all costs, despite the relative comforts and ease that comes from a predictable routine and work-life.

An analogy that I come back to often regarding curiosity and learning and its role in my work is the difference between the Google and GMail. I am a habitual GMail user, and oftentimes begin my day at the top of my inbox, allowing the latest receipts and information to take up my brain and define my next steps. While there is value in being responsive and aware of the latest information, I strongly believe that this creates a false prioritization, and prevents the real learning and curiosity that I hope to integrate into my work-life. I hope to strive to treat my days similar to the blank page, or the Google Search Bar – defining my own priorities in pursuit of this curiosity and continued growth.

I believe it is important to continually reevaluate the intellectual fulfillment that comes from work, and try to redefine what this growth and curiosity means in the context of work on a regular basis.

Community:

As working adults, I’ve been mentored, taught, supported, and “made” by those around me – my community. It is important for me to recognize this and commit to providing the same (and more) that my community has given me to my community in the future. It is important to me to feel a deep connection and communal sense of ownership to the place that I choose to work – to pledge to make the workplace (and surrounding community) a better place than the one I initially found (even if from “nothing” to “something”).

A sense of rootlessness and a lack of connection to my community / environment where I spend my time makes me feel empty and unfulfilled. On the other hand, actively seeking out opportunities to provide service to my community – to mentor, to help others find meaning and purpose in their work, and to work towards making the immediate environment around me a better place helps create meaning, and helps to expand my perspective beyond my immediate self and my (mostly) trivial problems. Amidst the noise of our day-to-day work lives, maintaining this commitment to my community helps to remind me what’s truly important.

Humility:

There is no way to feel fulfilled and content in one’s work without a strong sense of humility. Defining success as a byproduct of one’s output in work or life discounts the massive role of chance and luck in any outcome, good or bad. In addition, tying back this success to the result of the efforts of any one person discounts the input and impact of all of the individuals in the past and present who have contributed in some way to support me. There is no way to experience success alone – we are all byproducts of those around us, and I believe in living and working in full appreciation of that fact.

I feel strongly that leaning into this humility is crucial to helping to ensure that my time is spent in the pursuit of a fundamental good, rather than the need to keep up appearances (in my mind or others’). Returning to my own imperfections, and maintaining perspective on my own insignificance will help steer my work and goals.

Some other thoughts on work and life

Money: 

As much as I would prefer to exclude money from this conversation, the inescapable fact for me is that I don’t believe I would work if not for want of money. Or, at least, that there are much more engaging / important ways to spend my time that (our current, American) society doesn’t necessarily value enough to make them worthy of a living wage, so they are left to the especially privileged / altruistic / selfless or monk-like among us.

The unfortunate reality is that to support myself, and eventually to support a partner and family and achieve much of what I want from my life, some sufficient and predictable compensation is required to provide for basic necessities (food, shelter, healthcare, transportation, etc.) as well as other important expenses (education, travel, etc.).

Reading between the above lines should make clear that I’m not necessarily after some sort of windfall salary or certain number to justify my existence or define my success. However, at a certain point the opportunity cost of justifying one’s time working must be commensurate (with some discounting for other factors) to a salary one might receive “in the market.”

Feeling sufficiently valued in the form of reward (i.e., compensation) is a vapid, but unfortunately necessary aspect of work to maintain psychological wellbeing and continue to feel motivated to continue to pursue a level of excellence in a defined line of work.

Non-Work

I believe it is important to create a line in the sand, to delineate between one’s working life from non-working life..

As much as I hope to seek validation, meaning, learning, and reward from work, I recognize that there is much to be gained in life that is likely to have very little to do with work. Being an active and involved father, husband, and participating member of my community and broader family, as well as continued intellectual pursuits and the practice giving back more broadly, are all important values that serve no direct purpose to my work. However, to truly commit to these overarching goals, time and space need to be created and maintained by establishing firm boundaries between “work” and “non-work.”

In an idealized and imagined future, this division takes the form of set working and non-working hours with minimal exception – to be able to “unplug” both literally and figuratively from the issues and anxieties of the workplace. Without defining the set hours, my assumption would be this would take the form of nights and weekends, with some set weeks of vacation, though of course this balance would wax-and-wane over time, and should be constantly reevaluated and updated to reflect the respective states of work- and non-work.

To maintain an invigorated and energetic approach to work, I believe this division is crucial. Beyond a healthy working life, making sure that dedicated times are set aside for reflection and reappraisal of aspects of this document will ultimately create better business outcomes that are well-considered and made in full consideration of the various tradeoffs, opportunity costs, and choices that come from making difficult decisions in high-stakes contexts.

Unfortunately, maintaining a distance (mental and physical) between work and non-work life is usually the first thing to be sacrificed in the pursuit of [more, better, and sustaining] at work. Hopefully, by putting my commitment to “non-work” front and center, I can continually remind myself of its importance to me, and allow me to be frank with myself when I’m failing in my commitment to this balance.

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