Work treated as a Craft instead of Netflix

If you have ever been to a high school or college commencement ceremony, you have probably been forced to listen to a distinguished speaker preach to the graduates that they should follow their dreams and fulfill the calling they have imagined for themselves. I mean, Steve Jobs did it, and his speech has 36 million views currently on YouTube.

This thinking doesn't usually get challenged unless you miserly fail at your attempt to follow your passion or your parents were not born in the United States.

In my case, my parents—who were not born in the U.S.—were able to successfully challenge my quest to become a U.S. history major by offering to pay for my college education IF I chose a more traditional Indian job route—engineering, medicine, or business. Surprisingly, the decision was not easy for me, but I agreed and unenthusiastically pursued an electrical engineering degree and graduated with an unimpressive 3.1 GPA.

That was eight years, and since then, I have completed a master's degree in solar energy engineering and have had the good chances of securing a well-paying full-time job and keeping it for close to eight years.

I only recently realized how good my Dad's advice truly was for how to pursue a profession. When I was younger, I had always waved his advice off as a mentality from a different country/civilization/decade. What I came to realize was that his way of approaching the profession ended up giving me a better opportunity to find an enjoyable career than if I had blindly followed my passions based on triviality.

My Dad told me to go into a profession in demand, and when you get a job, you can create a lifestyle that supports your passion. The book published by Cal Newport —called So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love—soon validated my Dad's philosophy.

Cal described the tempting mirage of chasing work that fits your passion immediately after college that has been inculcated in modern Western society. Instead, he suggested a more practical route of developing rare and valuable skills and then leveraging those skills into a career that provides the key nutrients for workplace happiness—autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

While reading Cal's book a few weeks ago, I was concurrently practicing the Right Livelihood path of Buddha's teachings (Right Livelihood is one-eighth of the noble eightfold path expounded by the Buddha to people interested in overcoming the suffering inherent in human existence). Right Livelihood is not as sexy as other aspects of the path—like mindfulness—the livelihood factor is essential because it allows one to practice the entire eightfold path. Right Livelihood is not described much in the texts, but it can be reduced living in a world that reduces harm to other living beings.

Although the Buddha had a community of monastics full-time monks during his teaching life, many of his followers were laypeople. The laypeople of Buddha's time didn't have the option of quitting their day job and becoming monks due to family and societal obligations.

While reflecting on this path, the following questions brought some interesting responses from me that fit in nicely with this post, and I wanted to share them.

                -What do you "produce"?

                -What is your relationship to what you produce?

                -What attitudes do you have toward your work?

                -Does it help you become a better person? Does it benefit others?

The most interesting I discovered while contemplating these questions was the following: it is not what work I do that matters, but the quality of awareness I raise in my mind while I am working that matters. This realization has seemed to have suddenly stopped my restless mind from imagining better jobs for myself—or even no job. 

While Buddha and Cal's work are separated by over 2,500 years, I found nice synchronicity in their advice for my career.

The idea of treating your work as a craftsman drastically changed how I viewed my work. My work expectations transformed from trying to make work into a blissful and mind-pacifying activity(like Netflix) and instead choosing the more wholesome route of using my work to develop my character (through Right Livelihood).