Dec 20, 2009

"What are we all working for?", he asked, "At the end of it all, what are you working for? A bigger house, a bigger car, a more comfortable life? Where does it all end?"

It was 8.15 pm. End of a tiring day of to and fro with the client, checking things off on a long list of 'things we don't agree upon as yet'. And yet, somehow ending up with a list longer than we started with. Such is the nature of due diligence, we tell ourselves. And then, their Group CFO enters. The man who seems to be able to, with a mere nod of his head, tick off items that we had argued over for hours.

And just when I was getting ready to leave for a dinner meeting with friends for which I was already late by an hour, he starts this lecture!!! One part of me thinks "easy for you to say, sir. You have the bigger house and the bigger car already. And the comfortable life too. And hence, you start thinking of the 'purpose of life' etc. To a guy struggling at the early part of his career, all this is only so much gas."

And I hurry off once the meeting gets over.

Except the thought stays with me. And nags me. Late into the night, when I should ideally be dreaming about Asin, all I seem to be thinking about is: "What are we all working for?"

This is not the first time. Such thoughts occur occasionally, only to be waved off by more pressing engagements. But lately, they have been occurring more frequently than I prefer. Signs of growing old I guess.

My mind refuses to sleep.

Why do people live as if they have a checklist to tick off? Degree, then fancy MBA, nice cushy job, the first car, the first house, marriage, bigger car, kid, bigger house, second kid, promotion at work, saving for the kids' education, their marriage... and before you realize it, your life has passed you by.

But at the end of the day, Maslow was right. That is the MBA part of me, always ready with a matrix or a pyramid to hang my thoughts on.

Image credit: wikipedia.

My thoughts continue to wander. To my first OB teacher, who had a nice way of explaining this pyramid. I don't know if it was original, but I still remember the story.

It went thus... (suitably exaggerated by me, of course)

Imagine you are at a bus stop, late for an appointment. An important appointment. One you cannot afford to be late for. All you need at that time is for a bus to come. No matter how crowded. Simple Basic Need.

Once the bus arrives, and you have clambered onto the last step on the foot-board, hanging by your fingertips with one leg dangling in the air, you start to think "what's the point of going there if I don't reach in one piece?" And you start to push your way in, desperately trying to avoid falling off. Safety Need.

Now you are finally in. You are no longer worried about getting hit by the truck who swerves a bit too close for comfort. And you see a friend of yours standing at the other end of the bus. She is attractive, and you have been wanting to talk to her for quite some time. You slowly start to make your way towards her. Social Need.

And inching forward through the crowd, you start to look at yourself. Adjust your shirt a bit. Tuck it in a bit more properly. Maybe even smooth out your hair. After all, you want to look nice when she sees you. Maybe you take out that fancy phone you have. A little bit of showing off is not harmful after all. Self-Esteem Need.

And then, finally you are standing next to your girl. Making small talk. And wonder of wonders, 2 people get up and you grab those seats. There you are, sitting next to a lovely girl, breeze blowing in from the window making her sweet smelling hair fly wavily, and you look behind and wonder "What are those people hanging out of the door for? Can't they wait for the next bus?" Self-Actualization.

End of story. Back to the subject we were on...

My mind wonders... "Why do I have to go through those steps? Checking them off one by one. Why can't I simply be happy hanging out of the bus? After all, I am going to reach my destination that way too."

And then the naughty part of me chips in, "It'd be nice to have a girl hanging alongside though. I can even crack the "we hung out together" PJ when I meet friends..."

And thus, like every single time I try this, what began as a serious introspection ends in silly, naughty, PJ-inducing thoughts...

PS1: On a slightly serious note, I hope to myself that I won't put up a pic of me posing next to my new car, or write "Moving into my new home!!! :D" on miscellaneous social networking sites... Nothing against the people who do it, but just that I don't want to...

PS2: On second thoughts, if I do buy a Merc or a Malabar Hill bungalow, I might...


  1. punnaiyaar philosophy a?

    btw, isn't the hung out together pj waay to dated for a master like you?

  2. @ RR:
    14 hour workdays + 2 hour work-from-home = no pun in life...

    and hence the philosophy...

    and now I am a master at PJs? Never knew that! actually that can be a great 'purpose of life' answer... what is your purpose in life? to crack bad PJs :)

  3. Anonymous12:22 AM


    How I wish I was introduced to Maslows hierarchy the way you alone can explain :). I would mess up with the hierarchy order.. not any more

    - Sampath

  4. @ Sampath:
    thanks... but the credit for the Maslow story should go to my OB teacher... Ms. Minu Thomas, currently heading SIESCOMS, Mumbai I guess...

    brilliant she was!

  5. Anjana R10:13 AM

    nice post. this is similar to what I was telling Idling on his blog.

    east or west, Maslow's the best!

  6. @ Anjana:
    tnx... and sorry, but which post of idling and in what context?

    and every theory has its share of critics and am sure, so does Maslow's...

  7. @kiruku
    I think it was 2 posts back.
    i was saying essentially that the your outlook depends on where you stand wrt the pyramid. of course, in some sense, this is all relative, illa?
    and put up pic no? the vehicle is irrelevant.

  8. @ Anjana R:
    hmm... "it's all relative" is a very absolute statement :)

    and no vehicle for now... and not even in the forseeable future...