There are some conversations which make you introspect and think about everything which you have worked towards till now. Those which traditionally happen on a weekend at 4 in the morning, most of the time with a friend who is lonely in a different city. The trigger for such conversation can be as innocuous as a pass being made in the mountains far away.
The trigger for the conversation this time was the tunnel which was inaugurated in Pir Panjal recently. A friend had worked on the project and was talking about sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, which he felt when he saw the project being inaugurated. He added, as an after thought, that from working on projects which gave you such a high, he now sells biscuits for a conglomerate ( He works for one of the most respected FMCG firms, post his MBA). The broader question which he posed was, what is it that makes us happy? Is it the money? Is it getting degrees and going to the right institutions? Is it doing what we ( our in some cases the society) wanted us to do? or it something entirely else, something as simple as satisfaction?
All this made me think about the first job which I had. I had joined a state owned energy firm, directly out of college. It was a firm which had its own township, a few kilometers from the city, which was fast becoming the hub of IT and hence extremely rich. My employer, being state owned, provided salaries which were determined by pay commissions and hence revised every 10 years. The promotions were, majority of the time, based on seniority. The firm had enjoyed a monopoly for most of its 50 years of existence but it was recently facing competition from China. Being a product of Nehru's "monuments of modern India", it still had slogans, which were probably thought of then.
The people lived in that township, cocooned from the changes of post liberalization India. They would go on walks in the morning in one of many stadiums in the township, visit the plant at 7, go home for lunch at 11:30, be back at 12, work till 5 and then spend the evening at the officer's gymkhana. they would carry on this routine till their retirement at 60. The thing about the place, was that most of them were happy. They were in fact happier than their friends a few kilometers away, working in the offices of multinational IT firms. I had always wondered why?
At first I thought that it was the lack of ambition. But it could not have been, because while I was there, everybody was working on improving himself or herself. From the peon who would silently open his english book and try to enhance his skills during the free time at office to my boss, who would take each and every training so that he can perform his duty in a much better way, they all were trying to get to the next level. They were competitive too, almost always the buzz on the shop floor was to meet the production targets lest the business would be lost of Chinese. Surely there was something else which kept them happy.
Perhaps the reason for the happiness was that they all at a certain level believed in the slogans painted on the walls. The one's which told them that they were working for the development of the country. Most of them did talk about being the reason for the power reaching or homes. But then, if that was the case, all one has to do would be to buy a few self help books and paint a few lines.
The reason, which I discovered on my last day, was that they all were satisfied with what they were doing. Yes, they believed that they are the generators of power for India and if they stop, so would the country but they never let work become the only point of their lives. They took immense pride in what they did, perhaps a reason why they were not disenchanted with the glass offices outside the township. It was a society which content with what they had and small aspirations for what they needed, perhaps that is why they were so happy.
I would be starting with my new job this Monday. A job, for which I slogged for two years during my MBA. And while, at times, when I would get disenchanted, while running the rat race, I would think about the cocooned island, I was once a part of and the most important lesson I learnt from there - Be content in what you have and take pride in what you do.
image courtesy: http://socialpsychologyeye.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/happiness_bulldogdrummond.jpg