It was one of the memorable moments of my career, I had just received the best engineer for the year award from the program director. I was jubilant and why shouldn’t I be, there were reasons for it. My client in the US had sent word of appreciation for my months of hard work done for their eCommerce ERP systems in Texas.
Over the day when the initial excitement tapered, my boss called me at his desk.
“You didn’t seem all that happy among all of that, did you?” he blurted with a straight face.
“Actually, I wasn’t.” I retorted
“Your face should be lit with pride and you are sitting here with a straight face. Are you unsatisfied with your job?” he asked with no change of expression on his practiced poker face.
That question sucked me into an introspection mode. ‘Am I unhappy?’ ‘Is my job unsatisfactory?’ ‘Oh, the cliche grind again!’ ‘Should I be applying for job interviews?’ ‘How does he know? Maybe I have to practice the poker face like him.’ ‘Wait, is he still reading my thoughts? Shit.’
“You did not answer…” he jolted me back to reality real quick.
“I don’t know, I will get back to you on this one when I gather my thoughts congruously,” I said this and rushed out for a quick coffee break.
Over the next several days, I reflected on my recent thoughts and behavior. I realized I was unhappy from within, and couldn’t care more to remember that it was conspicuous to others. Even my boss could spot that. But the reasons were elusive to me. In the days that followed I was taking frequent leaves of absence to stay home and do nothing. Then something worse started to happen, my productivity fell at work. I was suddenly not hungry anymore, the vivacity and zeal were getting feeble by the day.
The golden boy without the shine
My performance in the office was going through a downward spiral and it was reflective in my next assessment. From best performer to the least in just six months, how in the world is that possible. As flabbergasting as it may sound, it was the fact.
It was a dull Monday afternoon, I wished to take the half-day off and go home. But I was summoned to a meeting room where my annual work appraisal was to be discussed. The feedback wasn’t great and I expected it already. I got an unfavorable rating and I instinctively knew it irreversibly damaged my chance for that US onsite opportunity coming up next quarter. I subconsciously turned selectively deaf for every word that was uttered afterward in that meeting room. It was all about ‘How’ I could do better like everybody else, about ‘What’ I needed to do next to shine at work. But the ‘Why’ was missing, why whatever happened wrong, happened at all. And then I heard those words:
“You know ‘why’ you failed? All external signals at work were great, the client was happy, colleagues were good to you, management loved you, then why all of it got screwed up?” yes my Boss had my attention this time. He took a long pause looking deep into my eyes with a straight face.
“We needed this conversation 6 months ago, but you were evasive. I am glad at least we are here across the table now, talking about this.”
I was all ears, curling up to gather more attention. My boss went on.
My boss clinically did the postmortem of every project I undertook in the last 1 year and showed to me that the motivation behind my actions was driven by self-interest alone. Firstly, I was always on the lookout for personal gains at work. ‘What’s in it for me’ was my mantra. I had to agree it was a fair assessment. I was, in reality on the lookout for the easy opportunities which would bring my technical skills at work to the spotlight. In that drive, I would jump at the prospect of any popular and new project which would easily catapult my reputation among the ranks and corridors of the higher Management.
While this worked well with getting an unfathomable good reputation in a short span, in due course it also drained my energy. I was spending more time in search of easy and popular opportunities and less on doing what I was good at, which is writing software. I bled myself in scoring over gullible colleagues and also missed no opportunity in beating my own trumpet for all the little successes at work. I was reminded of the innumerable mid-night emails I sent which sang glory tales of how I was solely responsible for solving those critical last-minute production problems, etc.
The short-term benefit
Secondly, my Boss made me realize I was afraid of the obstacles at work. I avoided the difficult tasks which only delayed the final solution. I was into short-term gains.
My attitude toward the problem at hand would go like this: ‘How can I put the least effort to somehow give a quick fix to the problem right now?’ Clearly, this stopgap interim solution would lead to a pile of problems later on. But I would be keen on passing the buck to the next gullible guy and running away from those larger problems. Slowly this norm insinuated into the team culture often causing miserable feelings at work.
Unquestionably the obstacle is the way to virtue. The more workable attitude should have been the one where I would be on the lookout for what I can learn from the next obstacle at work instead of passing the buck. This is a slow process but the one which certainly gives success in the end.
Playing for the team
Lastly, being in a team I wasn’t playing for the team. This is an extension of the first point, but surely deserves a separate mention for all the virtues it reveals. There is a distinction between an Individualist and a Selfish being. Individualism is being independent and also being respectful of oneself and others, but Individualism is not a license to be selfish. If I claim certain rights for myself and do not apply similar rights and principles for others, then certainly I am driven by selfish motives. Selfishness stems from Egotism.
The change that was due
This conversation opened my eyes. It was humbling to see my actions through someone else’s eyes. I saw glaring holes in my approaches and serious room for improvement. When all my energy was going into cutting corners surely I was draining myself while increasing work anxiety. This led to the frequent feeling that the next job switch was just around the corner. It was apparent, an overhaul of the whole system within me was imperative.
Over the next several months, I took regular feedback and did course correction in my career path. I changed my outlook toward work and colleagues. I slowly learned it wasn’t always about me. We have to add value back to the system, back to others who come together as a team to get the job done.
It took time but over the years I see the changes within are apparent. The empathy has grown manifolds time and it reflects in work and personal space. Needless to say, I have grown in my career much higher with a strong foundation.
Happiness blooms in the presence of self-respect, and the absence of ego. ― Jonathan Lockwood
Thank You for reading! As a bonus here are the steps I followed to get through the Product based company inteviews like a breeze.
Image credit: Photo by Ali Morshedlou on Unsplash