The festival season and particularly Navratri is a time when I get to meet some of my friends who are usually busy with their jobs or families. These invitations for "haldi kumkum" during Navratri help women give their busy schedule a break and catch up with friends and other relatives. Even a self imposed recluse like me decides to dust off the cobwebs and honour these invitations.

During one of these visits, I met two of my old friends. One has a globe trotting, highly paying job in a big multinational but when she spoke about her job, she sounded very disillusioned and unhappy. She was complaining about the kind of power politics she had to endure day in and day out, the games people were playing and how finally none of it made any sense to her.Her words were "I am working my a&* off here, all to no avail."It seemed like she was staying in the job because that was the best job that her CV could fetch her in today's time and the company is a heavyweight name in the industry and since she was career minded, she had no option but to put up with the stress and carry on. The other lady was bubbly and happy with contentment emanating from every pore.She accepts assignments to teach English to corporates and those aspiring to take exams for admissions to foreign universities. She was telling us about the great feedback her sessions were receiving, how she was getting repeat assignments and how good she felt doing what she was doing. To hear her talk about her job and herelf, one might think that she held a very important position and had a great career. Moneywise too her earnings are nothing great by today's standards. She felt she was doing something important and useful and she was doing her job very well. If for any reason she stopped doing this she would find something else to do and do it with as much involvement and happiness.And as I said,that contentment and happiness were almost infectious. I kept wondering why my other friend could not see all the advantages of her job that were quite obvious but chose to feel wasted and discontented.

Perhaps it is because finally satisfaction has to come from within and nothing external can give it to you. Friend no.1 was constantly comparing her self with the other colleagues at work and how someone who was not as good as her was treated as her equal and worse how her boss was an idiot but was where he was because he had better PR skills (to use her words, her boss was there "by sucking up to the bosses and by taking credit for all that others do.") She could not be happy about the compensations she was receiving but was unhappy about what others were getting. I understand her completely as I have been in a similar plight and suffered similar stresses. Friend No.2 was clear about what she wanted from her job and life was happy getting it. As for feeling productive and useful this is again a matter of perspective and seeing the larger picture.

I was reminded of this story:
"One day, a gentleman on a walk passed a construction site and inquired of the workers, 'What are you doing?' 'I'm breaking rock out of the quarry,' said one. Another replied, 'I'm in charge of making the mortar that will cement the stones.' A third man, caked in mud, was pushing a wheelbarrow, and he stopped just long enough to say, with a sense of proud delight, 'I'm building a cathedral."

I guess the second friend thinks of any job she does as "building a cathedral." Great recipe for contentment, isn't it?
28 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Yup, job satisfaction is everything. If you are not happy with your job then all problems arise. You start cribbing about everything. But if you are satisfied, then nothing will matter, not even money :). I have already learnt this lesson in my stint at 2 jobs :-D.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    An interesting book to read on the topic is Flow

    It talks about the optimal experience, & what kind of characteristics demarcate the optimal experience.


  3. GuNs Says:

    I again go against the tide and I think when you are pushing a barrow, you should say you are pushing a barrow. Thats just being realistic. That will remind you that pushing a barrow isnt your aim in life.

    Again, like my last answer on your last post, its about balance - a balance of how contented you are with life. You can choose to have little and be content or you can strive for more and make a difference to this world. Its all your call. Maybe thats why not all men are made the same. Some will push a barrow, some will actually build the church.


  4. Twisted DNA Says:

    That story you quoted at the end is very nice. But you are right, contentment comes from within. I completely believe it.

  5. Pradeep Nair Says:

    Very true, happiness comes from within. Only problem is it takes a while for all of us realise that. Till then we need to go through a bit of a grind.

  6. Mahadevan Says:

    As you said correctly, satisfaction comes from within and is not in the object outside. Let us see that cathedral in every brick we lay. If we feel we deserve better and as a result are not happy with what we are, this unhappiness would continue even if we hold the highest office.

    At the same time we must constantly strive to improve upon what we have been doing. A little unrest (not disgust) certainly helps us in our progress..

  7. Hip Grandma Says:

    While I agree that satisfaction has to come from within I also feel that it requires a lot of mental training and is not easy to achieve.After all aren't there people who feel wasted if their efforts are not appreciated?While it is important to put your heart into whatever you do,isn't it equally important that it is recognized?These days appreciation has been replaced by aspersions and it hurts badly.

  8. i think it is about setting one's priorities right. for your 1st friend her priority must be to stay in job & make the best money - like choosing the lesser of the 2 evils. but since she has taken a call that the current company is teh ebst her CV can offer her, she should not crib abt it- after all noone is forcing her to stay in the job. not that i am supporting the company if she is being unfairly treated. end of the day she has to decide whether she choses to be happy & contended or otherwise!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Its all in the head and the way we look at any situation, I feel... :)
    But then, as I always say - if we justify the salary we take, thats enough... Job satisfaction is very important!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Persuit of happiness is an elusive cat and mouse game people play. You think you have caught it, when you realise that it has slipped away from you yet again.
    But if you know that it is within you and no matter what, you are not going to lose it, then tell me who can snatch it from you?
    Like ROBERT FROST rightly said,
    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

  11. A very nice post Usha! Contentment -sigh! if only we all were born with the quality of being contended. Unfortunately, I have seen there are very few lukcy people who are mature enough to be contended with the meagre stuff they have. Most of us, are perennially discontent - wanting something or the other and in the process losing the happiness of what we have.
    I am absolutely no exception. I can think this clearly while writing - then why is it that I can just not implement it to my own situation!

  12. Maybe some of us get lost in the "more is better" philosophy and happiness slowly becomes an illusion because you perpetually want more to make you happy but I agree with hipgrandma when she says "being happy/satisfied within oneself needs mental training"

  13. Wow! Lovely post. Loved the little story.

    There is so much to be content about. I wish we could all see it so clearly!

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I totally agree that contentment should be driven by what's within instead of looking for it outside oneself. But that is not very practical for anybody who is not a sadhu/mahatma. So we go about our lives happy a little, complaining a little and overall striving towards the ideal.
    Since you were among friends, I have a feeling that Friend1 complained only because she felt comfortable enough to share her deep secrets. She probably has nobody to confide these in, so although she may be happy with her position in life, she needed to vent as we all sometimes do.
    Friend2 was probably over compensating. You know, sometimes we want our friends to think that we have the best husband/house/kids/job etc, especially since she did not have a "regular" job.

  15. Usha Says:

    Deeps: Is job satisfaction something the job and others at work can give you? isnt it true that some of us have the ability to find the brighter side and be happy?

    S!: Will check out. Sounds interesting.

    Guns:I agree in essence with your point that someone who is easily satisfied may lack the motivation to try for more. And contentment can be actually a cover for one's lack of ambition.
    But I think the perspective does make a difference. For example at 23, two programmers may be working on a banking software. One thinks of his job as "writing a debits module on xyz platform" and the other as "writing banking software". Who do you think has a better chance of making a career out of it?
    And the 2 friends I am talking about are in the wrong side of 40s. Now neither can start and do anything that alters their career progression magically. So it is completely upto them to look at the brighter side or choose to feel unhappy. friend NO 1 knows that what she is complaining about is something she bargained for when she chose to make a career where she is. And yet she chose it because of her ambitions and there is a lot to feel happy about. The second actually could complain of lost opportunities and how she could have had a fantastic career if her husband was cooperative etc but she chooses to be content with what she has.
    I am not judging as I am probably closer in temperamant to friend No 1 and hence understand her well.

    Twisted DNA: Happiness and contentment - no one else can give it to us.

    Pradeep: May be we need to train ourselves not to get stressed about the way other are, the company politics etc as far as they do not affect us.

    Mahadevan: A little discontent is necessary for growth. But I guess there is no point being discontented about unnecessary issues -this only leads to loss of energy which can otherwise be productively used.

    Hipgrandma:There are certain people who are stuck without a choice in a job like in the government and I can understand their discontent.All their good work goes to waste because of the general inefficiency and corruption. I think it requires tremendous character for a person in this kind of job to keep going to work and giving their best.
    There are others who are getting the best in their jobs and still choose to be unhappy looking at what others are gettting. This is avoidable stress dont you think? Some mental training will go a long way in keeping them happy.

    ITW: Yes it is her choice but she would like an ideal setting which does not happen in real life right? I feel bad that she is so stressed out for reasons she has no control over while she could choose to look at all the blessings and be happy.

    SG:Justifying the salary is enough - mmm, letme talk to you 10 years from now. :) seriously, I see what you mean but we all start out like that and then the environment spoils us!

    Shalini: So true!

    Vidhya R:I know, it is all easier said than done. I think when you are in the middle of it, it is tough to see it so clearly.Now you are takinga step back and seeing the big picture.

    Orchid: Yes, I agree with Hipgmom too.

    Vaish! Everyone goes through this-only we should know when to stop and concentrate on the essentials.

    Vidya: Yes you summed it up neatly.
    Friend no 1 chose to open her heart out as she was among friends. but it is also true she is stressed out by these and preventing her from being happy with what she has. Freind no 2 is "over compensating" - hm, I had not thought of that possibility!

  16. Artnavy Says:

    very nice anecdote

  17. Artnavy Says:

    Usha- Just saw ur comment- why don't you do a " then and now" of questions/ dreams that you had at 25 and now?

  18. Anonymous Says:

    I am reminded of a Japanese proverb that goes something like this -
    Lucky is the one who knows what (s)he wants to do in life, luckier is the one who gets to do what (s)he wants to do, and the luckiest is the one who gets to do what (s)he wants to do, and does it well.
    I guess, there are different levels of contentment!

  19. Shruti Says:

    satisfaction with ur work what makes you feel happy...
    money does matter but when it comes to ur inner self ,acceptance and satisfaction always have majority..

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Wonder what would have happened if friend No. 2 was in No. 1's position. Would she have quit to do what she liked? Or, would she have found ways to be contented in that job too?

    Really career-oriented or ambitious people can probably only be satisfied if they reach the top (like a CEO) - a lot of them hit glass ceilings and so they do other things (like head startups) where they can be more in control. That might be one reason why friend No. 2 is more content - she is less answerable to others.

  21. Nice post. In the 'Gita' it is said 'Do the job that is in tune with your nature (Sva Dharma). That will bring lasting happiness. Please see my post with a couple of relevant quotes - one being as below:
    "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar." - Drew Carey

  22. Paavai Says:

    What is it that I will never ever do to keep my job and then I draw a list. As long as I dont feel pressured to do them, then work environment becomes tolerable. However at times, the nature of work, immediate boss and the money - when all go wrong its better to step out than stress out. May be your friend is reaching this point ...

  23. Anonymous Says:

    What you should do, Usha, is invite both friends home; advise Friend A that success without happiness is meaningless; advise Friend B that if happiness/ contentment sets in at such low levels of success, it will not last long. Then quietly leave the room, till they discuss and reach an eqilibrium position.Do let us know the results!

  24. Usha Says:

    rtnavy: will try over the weekend - wonder if I can remember so much now!

    The RF:Yes How many of us get to be so lucky! and there are those who think they want something and when they actually have it, look for reasons to be unhappy. There are a million levels of discontentment for the 3 levels of contentment no?

    Shruti:Beyond a certain level money loses the ability to provide contentment and that can come only from other things and acceptance goes a long way.

    n:I agree. And another advantage for friend no 2 is that she works as a one man army and how others behave or get treated doesnt come into the picture.

    Bala: Nice quotes. Why are comments not allowed on your posts - you want to keep it that way or is it a setting that you haven't changed?

    Paavai: You are not going to believe this. Just this morning I said I must go to your blogspot and check if you have started posting and Voila there is a comment from you 10 mins later.As for friend 1 the pity is she has everything going for her except her boss and I suspect what n says is true of her - she is not going to be happy until she is the boss. And she does have the ability too.

    Raj: This is called the Big fight strategy. In my hometown they used to call this "shindu mudiyaradu" meaning tying the ponytails of two people together and watching the fun!
    Bestter still when i do this I will invite you to be the moderator!

  25. Paavai Says:

    :)- your friend must read the gartner research on why people leave organizations - immediate supervisor and in a typical organization one never really becomes the boss till one owns the company I suppose - we can only wish her well

  26. Thanks Usha for pointing out. I had the wrong settings all along - (being technologically challenged!!). I will be delighted if you visit my page and leave your comments (if you can).

  27. Anonymous Says:

    awesome piece!

  28. Usha Says:

    Paavai: yes.

    Bala:Have been checking your post regularly. Will comment now that it is possible.

    hkarthi:Thank you.