Soul of a profession

This article appeared in the HR Magazine “Management Compass” in June’2007. Unlike some other articles given below, it is not possible to give a scanned version of this article. I am giving the text version:-

Soul of a profession

Forget material considerations while choosing a career; Follow your heart to be happy in a job

Having worked in the corporate world for several years, I found management work quite mundane. I was more inclined to study management and write about management than actually operate as a management executive.

Since changing careers is never an easy option, I tried to ignore the ‘football player in a hockey field’ or ‘square peg in a round hole’ feeling to the best of my ability, but it was never easy to ignore the constant stifling feeling that one gets when one is in the wrong profession. Over the years, I got to read about the heart element in deciding one’s career and how important it was to be passionate about what one was doing. I read about how some artists endured a lifetime of poverty for the love of their profession, how some animal lovers lived under appalling conditions, how actors took rejection after rejection but continued to do the work that they loved.

The word “passion” is more tilted towards the heart and it goes without saying that one shall be able to like one’s work in all circumstances throughout lifetime. And that is possible only if one is genuinely interested in one’s work. In the artist’s context, the word ‘soul’ is used because the word art generally implies an expression of one’s soul and artists are generally completely absorbed in their work, which really is the expression of their soul.

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
— Henry Ward Beecher (1813 – 1887),

The role of the artist I now understood as that of revealing through the world-surfaces the implicit forms of the soul, and the great agent to assist the artist was the myth.
— Joseph Campbell

The chairman of ICICI, KV Kamath once said that if you want artistic satisfaction in the business world, you have to innovate continuously. Being a poet myself, all I can say is that nothing can match the intense delight-cum-satisfaction that comes from writing anything well even if it does not attain commercial success.

Nothing explains ‘artistic satisfaction’ or satisfaction in terms of heart and soul more than the life of the great Indian actor Balraj Sahni. I empathise totally with him since I have led a somewhat similar life.

In his book My Brother, Balraj, Bhishm Sahni has narrated how his brother was a career dabbler all his life — handling his father’s business, a printing press; Sevagram with Gandhiji; Shantiniketan with Rabindranath Tagore; off to London as a radio broadcaster; actor in the Indian film Industry; and when still unfulfilled, going back to his native Punjab to write in Punjabi.. Balraj Sahni had a literary bent of mind and his brother describes his dissatisfaction in their father’s commission agent business vividly:

“He was not content with the mode of life he had adopted and his impatience with it was increasing with each passing day. That also explains the varied shifts that took place in his interests during the next few months. Dissatisfied with the vocation he had adopted, he was now groping for a better outlet for his talents and energies.”

Balraj Sahni used to participate in English plays and writing activities. This paragraph describes his plight even more vividly:
“All these varied activities, more or less at the same time, only reflected Balraj’s inner restlessness and his increasing dissatisfaction. Such cultural ventures were perhaps a desperate attempt on the part of Balraj to convince himself that even while he was pursuing a business career, he could somehow reconcile business with his inner urges. He had stuck on to business for nearly three years, out of deference for Father’s wishes, but his heart was not in it, and his dissatisfaction had begun to increase.”

It would not be out of place to mention here several people who moved from corporate/management to film life on account of dissatisfaction. Amitabh Bachchan was a corporate executive before he shifted to films; director Shekhar Kapur and singer Abhijeet were chartered accountants. Music composers AR Rahman and Shanker shifted from civil and software engineering respectively.

It is generally artists and sportspersons who insist on “enjoying your work”. Cricketer of the century Kapil Dev always stressed on the need to enjoy the game. Chairman of cricket selectors and former cricket great Dilip Vengsarkar, when asked which job he found toughest, playing, officiating or selecting, replied, “there is no such thing as tough when you are passionate about cricket. All roles are satisfying. Having the commitment to stay in them is important.” Is that kind of commitment possible without a passion for the game? Kapil Dev as a director of National Cricket Academy answers that when he says that he tells recruits that if they found that cricket was a
punishment, they should leave their sport.

Lately, a lot of American writers have started expressing the same theme in terms of the soul. Nanette Hucknall explains in her book Karma, Destiny and Career, the practical dimension of life’s work with one’s soul. She says that one may achieve a high status in a particular job and do very well at it and still not be doing his vocation. The feeling of doing well may give a sense of self but if it is not one’s life’s work, one may always feel something wrong with it. She says, “If an individual relinquishes his or her vocation for material considerations, he or she will be unhappy at a later time in life. Never will the worldly goods replace the feeling of accomplishing the chosen vocation and never will the vocation be relinquished without deep feeling of regret.”

According to American consultant Lance Secretan, “Finding joy in our work depends on the relationship between our soul and our work and on the degree to which our work engages and nourishes our soul. Whether or not you have found your calling determines the level of soulfulness in your work. We all experience soulful moments in our lives — when we are at the symphony, when we watch a sunset, when we gaze into the eyes of a baby, when we play with a puppy, when we are deeply appreciated or practicing our highest mastery or when we are connected to the divine. We all want to feel the same way at work throughout our lives. There is no reason why this should not be so.”

Nick Weiler and co-author, Dr Stephen Schoonover have written a book Your Soul at Work on over 20 years of research with many well-known organisations worldwide. Their tools and techniques are used by numerous Fortune 500 companies (GE, IBM, AT&T, Lockheed Martin, Sun Microsystems EDS, Citibank etc.), in addition to small startups, and not-for-profit organisations. If the following questions hit home, then their book is written for you:
• Would you like to fulfil more of your personal and spiritual values on the job?
• Do you love your work?
• …Or like most people do you wish it were a little more satisfying? Maybe you’ve been the victim of downsizing and are trying to make the best of the situation.
• Could you use some very practical techniques for finding and pursuing a career path that better satisfies your values?
• Would you like to learn specific, research-proven non-technical skills that are key to success and advancement in just about any career specialty?
• Are you frustrated with career planning books that neglect your more spiritual concerns?
• Are you frustrated when you try to practise on the job what you’ve learned in spiritually oriented self-help books?
• Is this all there is?

Often it’s the people who are very successful financially who find themselves asking, “Is this all there is?” But it’s more than time and it’s more than money. In a recent cover story of Fortune magazine, one executive was quoted as saying, “You get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it’s leaning against the wrong building.”

Mahatma Gandhi expresses the same sentiment in his autobiography, “My aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion, so much so that it often led me to neglect my work and on occasions, I engaged not only my wife but the whole household in such service. Such service has no meaning unless one takes pleasure in it. When it is done for show or fear of public opinion, it turns the man and crushes his spirit. Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant not the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”

The emphasis on the words “spirit” and “service” clearly indicates the spiritual dimension of being in the right occupation. In any case, the word “spiritual” implies peace, balance and equanimity and the more chances you are in the right occupation, the better chance you have of being practically spiritual.


3 Responses

  1. A great article, can I have some guidance of what type of career will suit me. My MBTI personality type is ISTJ and according to one more test out of four personal categories Leader, Networker, Thinker and Supporter my personality type is Thinker

  2. The writer has used a very nice and breezy style of writing. However, much of the essay is drawn from other books and liberally sprinkled with quotes which at times appeared a wee bit cut-and-paste job. More of the author’s views, opinions & experiences would have been welcome.

  3. felt as if the author read my mind… good work

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