Musings from a Decade

So far, I have had a career in technology spanning 17 years. Recently, I completed 10 years in my current organization. I had the opportunity to work with great leaders, articulate managers, creative technical experts and incredibly hard working developers.

While 10 years in an organization is a milestone, there are others who have served for many decades. In the words of the American poet Robert Frost, "There are miles to go before I sleep". 

I was reflecting on the decade gone by. Here are a few musings for a fulfilling career.

The Astrologer's Dilemma

This is a folktale from Birbal. He was the advisor to the Mughal emperor Akbar. Birbal once had a merchant as his neighbour. The merchant's fancy was to constantly consult astrologers about his fate. An astrologer once read the merchant's palm and predicted various things. Towards the end, he also proclaimed that the all the near and dear ones would die before the merchant himself. This enraged the merchant and he threw the astrologer out. Birbal was watching the entire episode and called the astrologer aside. The astrologer said that he felt it his duty to tell what he believed in, no matter how unpalatable. Birbal patiently listened to the astrologer woes and gave him a tip. 

A few weeks later, the astrologer again met the merchant, this time in disguise. He proclaimed the same things again. But, at the end, he predicted that the merchant would live a long life, longer than his near and dear ones. This time, the merchant was happy and gave him his fees.

I call this the astrologer's dilemma. Often at work, we have to make difficult choices, decisions and face similar dilemma. The idea is not to sugar coat anything, but to act with fairness. I once led a team where we worked on a complex project. And, we had to repeatedly throw away our code and refactor it. It took a few iterations before we got it right. Every time, I had to be the "astrologer" and take the team through difficult moments. End of the day, the credit goes to the team. They delivered by their sheer hard work and determination. 

Be a Sport

I had the privilege of visiting the centre court at Wimbledon a few years ago. For followers of tennis, there can be no more a hallowed ground. There is a passage from the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling inscribed at the entrance. "If you can meet with triumph and disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same... Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And which is more you’ll be a Man, my son.". Apparently, Kipling wrote it as advice for his son.

Sports are part of the human universal and narrative. As spectators, we exult when a player wins. And, there are players who revere the game even more than their own glory. Irrespective of victory or defeat, such players not only display skill but also incredible grace. And, such moments not only endear the sport to us but also truly lift our soul. 

In a professional career too, we have goals and aspirations. Sometimes these aspirations are met, sometimes they are not. We should take it in our stride, focus on our work and handle setbacks with grace. I refuse to believe that nice people finish last.  

I once had a brilliant developer in my team. Today, he is my peer and may even get promoted above my role. It doesn't disgruntle or disappoint me. On the contrary, I am delighted that talent and hard work has been recognized. Hopefully, I have played a part in his success.

Change

When it comes to change, often people quote Gandhi, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world". While I believe in leading by example. I am more inclined to another of his quotes, "In a gentle way, you can shake the world.".

I normally shy away from making big changes. The bigger a change, more the uncertainties. Uncertainties lead to fear. Fear leads to resistance. Resistance ends up in frustration. By then, the whole purpose and momentum of the change is sadly lost.

Instead, tell a story. Take people on a journey, perhaps a few steps at a time. As people embark on the journey, they will gain confidence. Before you know it, instead of resisting, people will be participating in the change.

So, that's the decade gone by. Let's see what the next decade brings.

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