| June 3rd, 2009

At the Crossroad of Life

by Labiba Ali

Like many of you, I’m still trying to find my calling, my passion, that thing that will motivate and stimulate my soul. This is called the ‘finding thyself’ process of life that we all, every now and then go through. I have been working in finance for the past 5 years and I realized now that finance is not the passion of my life. Of course I am grateful to finance for giving me the means to fund my real passions: traveling to exotic places, buying tons of books, attending concerts (Ravi Shankar, Chinese Opera). But now I find myself again at the crossroad of life. What do I really want to do with my life? I don’t want to be on autopilot, like 95% of Americans, leading a very routine and limited life. When I’m 80, I want to look back on my journey and know that my life docked on all the ghats of life’s river. The problem is that I want to do many things and not just one thing. I want to travel, learn about different cultures, write about my experiences, research classical Islamic jurisprudence, help save the environment, run a business that serves the BOP….do you see my dilemma? I think it’s safe to say that many of you are on the same boat as me, floating about on the same journey.

Recently I read an article by Nandita Das and she gave me some hope and much direction. She put it brilliantly; why not do many things, why limit yourself and your talents to one thing? Here are her profound words from the article:

“There is so much pressure in today’s world to specialize, to excel in one focused area and to be ambitious about reaching the top. But what if many different things fascinate you, what if you want to lose the fear of failure and what if doing all the different things is the only way for me to be happy? Well then you just go ahead, stumble along the way, meet some amazing people and dabble in different things.”

So what is stopping me from embarking on this life path where I indulge in all my interests? Well, the green card issue is causing a bit of a hindrance. But once I get my green card, will I leave my comfortable, well-paid job and start a new challenging career? I don’t know the answer yet, but I do hope I will have the courage to the take that risk.

Though society has educated us and supposedly given us choices, how many of us have the opportunity to follow our dreams? Most of us are at jobs that we don’t like and the only reason that propels us to stay at our desks is the nice bi-weekly paycheck. Isn’t that sad? Maybe the Norwegians have it right. Their waiters earn as much as their doctors. After all both serve people and stand on their feet for long shifts. This fairly equal distribution of wealth allows its citizens to be more flexible with their career choices. No wonder Norway has been voted ‘the best country to live in for quality of life’ consistently for four years in a row!

Meanwhile, it is no help that our work place doesn’t make any effort to help us to like our jobs. Why do we dread going to work on Monday mornings? Why aren’t we enthusiastic about the place where we spend 80% of our lives? I read a revolutionary book that blew my mind and showed me the possibilities of an alternative management style. SEMCO, a Brazilian company, follows the principle of a seven-day weekend at work. If an employee wants to work on a Sunday afternoon and go to the beach on Monday, when it is less crowded because everyone else is at work, then, that is perfectly fine. The employees determine their own salaries, choose their work schedules, and participate in important management decisions. At SEMCO, employees do not perform the same job every day. They rotate throughout the company wearing different hats at different times, depending on what they feel like doing. This is because doing the same thing everyday makes the employees bored and less productive. [Who invented this workplace and how can I get a job there, ASAP??]

Basically, the underlying philosophy at SEMCO is that employees are responsible adults and can be trusted to make the right decisions about their work and complete their projects on time. According to Ricardo Semler (CEO of SEMCO), today’s corporations are run like military dictatorships where employees are told what to do and are not allowed to ‘think’ for themselves. If you ‘think’ about it, the top down management approach has many similarities with the military chain of command! Are we then really working for a military style organization disguised as corporate America?

Coming back to my original topic of discussion, I truly believe that if you are good at what you do, then, you will be successful at it and money will follow. It’s that many times we humans hesitate to take that initial risk and leave our comfort zones. But we have to force ourselves to come out of our warm cocoons and only then can we become butterflies and soar the skies. Why deprive the world of our true talents, be it acting, writing, car-racing, or, all three?

Note: The book on SEMCO is: The Seven-Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler and is available in major bookstores and on amazon.com. Ricardo Semler was one of the youngest graduates from Harvard Business School at age 21.


About this blog

Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more



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