Thursday, November 27, 2014

What I wish I had known :: Lesson 1 :: Balance Sheets Are Not Made Everyday

I have been asked by student bodies, many times, to share what it is really like to work in Corporate India.  I have made the standard presentations on work culture, discipline, career management, etc. many times too.

Last year, I decided to do something different.  I decided to share with them, what I wish I had known about working when I joined the workforce in the mid-80s. These lessons, if I can call them that, may have helped me feel happier, make fewer mistakes, learn faster, or just revel more in the here and now. 

Lesson 1 : Balance Sheets Are Not Made Everyday

I believe, if I ask myself every day, whether what I have done or achieved was worth the effort and time spent, then I am sure to be disappointed. Working life, or for that matter, life, is not a balance sheet where all the numbers match up neatly at the end. There are days that I feel are a total waste of time, where I deliver nothing and do nothing useful.  There are also days when what I do is so absorbing and interesting, that I don't have time to eat or when my bladder is the only thing that tells me that it is time for a break.
Also, believe it or not, there is no such thing as Work-Life Balance. I say this for 2 reasons. 
Reason 1: I disagree with the semantics. "Work-Life Balance" implies that work is not life and life is not work. Work is life, life is work. What I want is to balance my personal and professional lives.  Lucky are those whose personal and professional lives are the same, but for most of us these are 2 distinct areas, with some overlap. The bigger the overlap the better it is.
Reason 2: At any given point of time everything cannot (and dare I say, should not) be balanced. Sometimes my personal life will need to take center stage - all my mind share, time, effort, focus, money; and sometimes my professional life will take center stage. That's just the way it is.
I have worked 18-hour days for many, many months, without weekends off, 'coz that is what was needed by the organization.  I did it without resentment.  I just put other things on hold.  I have also taken many weeks / months off to recover from illness, take a sabbatical because that is what I needed for me.
I have learnt to look at the bigger picture, view what I have achieved or missed from 30,000 feet.  The questions I have asked are:

  • Over a period of time have I done what I  wanted to do?
  • Have I learned and grown?
  • Am I better as a professional and person today than I was 6 months ago?
  • Have I met my personal goals?
  • Have I created new goals for myself?
  • Have I truly impacted the lives of friends, family, customers, partners, colleagues, and of course, myself? 
If the answer is "Yes" to even some of these questions, then I know I am on the right path.

Daily Stock Taking is Just a Waste of Time and Energy


  1. Do people actually take a daily stock of life?

  2. Yes Manish. I knew someone who used to look at their goals/objectives weekly (sometimes more) to gauge how they were doing. And, at that time (very early in my career), I thought that was admirable. Now, I so agree with you Sang.

  3. I also think that there is so much focus on metrics, reviews, quick & short term results that it tends to spill into how we view the macro picture.

  4. I also disagree with Work-Life semantic. In my view, it is Work Life blend. As you rightly said you have slogged and chilled. I want to add another dimension to it. What about addressing important issues or taking a conf call while on vacation OR attending a parent teacher meeting on a work day OR instead of reaching to work at 9AM (or whatever officially prescribed time is) reach at 10:30AM after a game of golf. First thing, Stop Feeling Guilty about doing business while on official vacation and doing chores/leisure during work hours...till we deliver our objectives. I have been lucky to get such corporates and more important, managers to work with...

  5. You are right Deepak! What is important is getting the job done, and getting it done well!

    We all do personal work during office hours and professional work during off time. There is nothing wrong with that.