During this break I checked out the Cholas and their world by traveling to the Thanjavur and its surrounding places, in Tamil Nadu. I have been here before. And as with every trip there, this trip left me with oodles of fresh inspiration. Additionally this time around, some ideas on getting better at your craft showed up on my journal. A bonus, if you will. So, here we go.
This is a picture from Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The structure has been standing for over a 1000 years! Isn’t that impressive? As much as I soaked in the magic of the place with awe, I was present to the fact that this place was the Capital of the Chola empire for 250 years. It is nowhere near its hey days now. Sought out by history buffs and the odd temple visitor. ( Let’s keep the Influencer who wants the temple as a prop for his Instagram Reel out for now)
Amongst the questions that I have been asking myself ever since spending time here, the one that is pronounced is this: how proud must the craftsmen of that time feel, if they found that their work stood still a 1000 years later? Replete with its honour and capacity to instil respect for craftsmanship of a different era.
The Quarry Workers Creed
But how might they have done this work? With primitive equipment and basic material that would have made the task tough? Wouldn’t it not have been a drudgery? Or did a greater purpose envelope them? The medevial quarry workers creed goes like this: “We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals”. Maybe, that’s how they went about it.
In any case, Let’s leave them out for now and bring the focus to you. Have you wondered about what how you view your work? Or for that matter, how do you see yourself? A craftsperson who works on a building a craft or a spoke in the corporate hamster wheel that answers emails and makes presentations? Treating your work as a craft at which you will get better at is a rewarding proposition for life and happiness. For it often gets you into a state of flow.
The corporate world is laced with Kryptonite and can easily reduce the worth of every job to fit into a competency dictionary mediated by an annual performance review and an increment. Let’s say you are a Business Partner in the Human Resources function or a Marketing Manager incharge of detergent sale. What does it even mean to treat that as a craft?
Cut it man! I am an average Joe.
Is that what I heard you say?
I first encountered Joe the welder In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s book, Flow. That was many years ago and since then he has often been a reference point for my reflections on the work that I do.
Now Joe was a welder was acknowledged by his manager as the most important in the entire factory. He would go beyond his remit and stay in the mode of discovery. He was not a workaholic out to make a quick buck but was someone who was always interested in solving problems. Fellow workers claimed that without Joe they would need to shut down their shop.
To me, Joe the welder stayed in a state of Flow. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it: “The best moments in our lives usually happen when our mind and body is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”.
To him welding was not a job that was done. But a craft to get better at. There is a good account in the book about how Joe would convert his job into a game with curiosity laden questions. Discovery and fascination as an approach, bring adds energy to our daily day.
Ideas For Getting better at your craft
- We have the opportunity to turn our boring jobs to curious discovery laden opportunities.
- Recognise opportunities for action and find ways to act on them. Find ways to reflect on you actions periodically.
- A small unit of rigour on an aspect of the work, that is beyond your comfort zone, usually does the trick. For instance, take a small area that you want to get better at. And work on that small unit rigorously for a period of time.
- Stay immune to the outcomes of the act. For example: If you want to get better writing a blogpost, stay away from both the applause and the brickbats you get. You getting better at craft of blogging is independent of what the world thinks of you.
- Remember to review if you have sufficient variety, flexible challenges, clear goals and ways to get immediate feedback.
I have seen this work at many levels. Perhaps this will get us to live our lives taller than keeping mundane jobs at the centre of it all. The opportunities are always there. The choices are ours to make.
The OWL Despatch
Every fortnight Every fortnight I put out an edition of The OWL Despatch with a short essay like the one above and five curated reads of what I found interesting across the web. Here are this edition’s five pieces.
- What’s the number one life skill that schools don’t teach? Try getting to this one. It is very important for our lives and our times!
- How might you unlock your creativity with a simple four stage process? Heres how.
- I loved this piece on learning and layers of abstraction. “artistic skills have so many layers to them. They aren’t really finite skills, they’re an amalgamation of many micro skills and your ability to combine them creatively.”
- Walter Worthmann has worked for the same textile manufacturer in Brazil for more than 84 years, setting the Guinness World Record last month for longest career at a single company. But is workplace loyalty a concept that is well passed its prime?
- 99 bits of unsolicited advice by Kevin Kelly. Pretty neat. I want to draw your attention to #99. “Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.” The other 98 are good too.
That’s that for this edition. I am still on slow mode on the break. The one thing that I can clearly see, is how jaded I was a week ago!
Stay well. See you soon. And if you like this stuff, pass it around.