Freedom at Work

Freedom at Work

When do you feel free at work?

Once again, starting with me:

Growing up in a family struggling for financial resources, I always craved Financial Freedom.

My first job gave me a new lease on life. I think fundamentally, it gave me 2 things.

  1. 50% more respect at home, college marks had given about 50% already
  2. Financial Freedom, I no longer was required to explain to my Dad as to why I needed money to watch Forest Gump (yes, it was released in 1994)

The salary I got in my first job used to last only 15 days; Hence, some friends used to bail me out of most month-end situations. Despite the month-ends, I knew a salary was coming at the other end of the month, which gave me that sense of inspiration to borrow and spend. However, the feeling of financial freedom lasted only a year or so. 

As we slowly realize, every organization has its set of People & Processes, and they pretty much steal whatever freedom you would have felt while signing on for the job. Soon I realized much of my financial freedom was outside working hours. During the day, the manager, peers, and the rule book of the organizations used to frustrate me. There were irritants like:

  • Which customer to call on,
  • how many to call per day,
  • how to speak to customers,
  • Writing daily call reports and updating the manager
  • How to dress, waiting for my manager who was eternally late.
  • Travel (imagine getting on a bus at 5:30 AM from Eluru to Tanuku)

Soon the aspiration moved from financial freedom to wanting to be a manager so that I could control 6 other team members. For the next year, I kept working hard and followed every template my boss had prescribed to get promoted. Finally, after some 18 months, I became a manager. After the initial euphoria of people calling me 'Sir', I realized the power I aspired for was never real. 

At that stage, I wanted Freedom from that organization, and I quit in the next 18 months. I joined a startup which gave me a new sense of people connection and ownership. I loved every bit of the next 3 years of creating and taking risks one could only dream of. But soon, I realized that I was not too fond of the Life sciences Industry. I sensed the need to be free from that industry, so I switched and joined a staffing/recruiting company.

I felt my calling in an emerging staffing industry, and for 8+ years, I found a renewed purpose in a company that pioneered contract staffing for India. That was the phase I possibly felt as free as I do today as an entrepreneur. However, there was a catch: the template of growth, position, influence and the creed for recognition kept increasing in different phases. In a way, I wasn't free from my own changing aspirations and the "what next" cuff I used to wear. I have to admit that most of my employment tenure had everything I dreamed of: great brands, the role I wanted to be, and the Industry which gave me purpose. Yeah, money was there too.

One fine day, I became the MD of a Fortune 500 company. I thought I finally 'arrived' and found a unique space for myself. But, I had this 'arrived' feeling every time I got a new job or got promoted all through my 22 years of employment. So, every arrival was contextual, and as you know the context keeps changing with our surroundings and our own personal situations.

Despite its limitations, my employment tenure not only released me from most financial constraints but also gave me the below forms of freedom:

  • To stay with employers where I worked with people with whom I connected (colleagues who gave the right vibes, respect, and inspiration)
  • To change employers when the people/ industry/ company/ role became irrelevant.
  • To create my own wow factors if the dependence on recognition came only from others (That's when I took to blogging/social media).

The question for you to reflect on is when do you feel free at work nowadays? 

  1. The boss doesn't ping you on the weekends!
  2. Your manager doesn't raise an eyebrow when you say I am taking leave on a Monday/Friday, or even better, for a week.
  3. Some of you are being pulled to the office, do you miss the freedom of working from home?
  4. If only your outcomes mattered and not your inputs.

Like in the 75 years journey of India, many have found their space and expression, but some of us are also complaining depending on what we have experienced and aspired for.

The organizations we work for are no different.

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