Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Finding your inner receptionist

Week after week Lucy Kellaway writes on work and life for the Financial Times and she does it with a rare insight and humour. Her latest column 'Happiness is finding your inner receptionist' is another amazing read. And it set me thinking.

Lucy writes about a friend who's held a succession of powerful jobs in the media. On the cusp of 50, she decided to become a receptionist. Yes, a receptionist. And, she is happy.

Writes Lucy: What impressed me most about her satisfaction was how it contrasted with the dissatisfaction of almost all my other contemporaries. One word describes how most of us in our late 40s are coping with far more interesting jobs: badly.

In varying measures we are susceptible to boredom, fear, exhaustion and frustration. We've all been working for an eternity as it is, but we now realise we'll have to go on working until we are 70 at least and so there is still a long way to go. In all it is not pretty. We feel we ought to leap, but don't how and don't know which way to go.

Actually, all around me there are people feeling like this. And they're not just in their late 40s. They're in their 30s, or even 20s. Show me more than 2 out of 10 folks truly happy in their current jobs!

Quoting a Harvard Business Review article, Lucy notes: The rest of us are falling for the most common misapprehension of mid-career crisis - which is to think this is the beginning of the end. Instead the magazine insists that we have more opportunities than we used to...

Hearteningly, the HBR reminds us that even though some doors may be closed at 50, in reality there weren't so many open ones at 25. This is a truth that we tend to forget: most people are in a rut from the start, blindly pursuing careers with no idea of what the other options were.

Lucy admits that when she was in her 20s she didn't feel that she was deciding rationally between hundreds of possibilities.

I was simply trying to do what I thought was expected of me, and what my friends were doing. My motivation was to do it better than a tiny handful of people I considered to be my rivals.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I'm not saying you need to go and become a receptionist asap. The point to note is that with time priorities change. The very high bar we set for ourselves gets lowered. Life becomes more about the journey than the destination.

But it happens when it happens. Meanwhile, keep smiling as you stay miserable!


  1. hey Rashmi! I totally loved this post. Moreso cuz it coincides with my current position. At 24, I dont know what I want from life, where m heading to. Should I settle for a cushy, not so bright job Or should i go for a high paying stressful job?? The decision is just mine, nd m not able to make it. Ppl wud reccomend option 2 cuz m young and have time to make it big and can consider softer options when m battling wrinkles. But then as u said, life is a journey, not a destination. I dont want tomake an unpleasnt journey!

    To cut it short, ur post was helpful and voiced my own fears. life!

  2. Or, its like someone said -

    Happiness is not in having the things you like, but liking the things you have.

    Slightly worded differently cos for the life of me, i cant remember the actual lines! :)

  3. Hey Rashmi loved your post.. yah its a fear that i am going through myself.. i just quit my job in dec to take a break for 3, 4 months from the never ending one and a half years of stressful office life.. lived in office for 7 days a week..and its quiet amazing that in just one and a half years i reached my boiling point and wanted out for a while.. wonder how to sustain the even longer work life awaiting me :-)

    for better or for worse.. i dnt know if i will change my industry... or maybe i will go back to it.. but then this break was ya muchhhh needed.. and i think at 23.. while i m on this holiday atleast 3 to 4 of my friends have already called saying they dnt know wat to do with their jobs.. they all seem to be having a problem including me that.. WE ARE LIVING TO WORK.. instead of the other way round.. Where did the good life leave us... :-)

  4. @ Rashmi,its really feels good to hear people speak your language..i mean..i alwayz thought was i the only one who used to get frustratingly irritated doing the same f***ing job...for almostlast 5yrs now...but after reading your blog and also others feels that i m a normal humanbeing who is ever unhappy of doing the same thing and at the same time have a timeless urge of doing something new..something different...something which makes n feels u happy.. know what...ihave resigned my job too in december which paid me hefty n huge pay..and sitting at home..though i enjoyed sitting at home for couple of dayz..but beleive me..i m bored n frustrated of that too now..

  5. Well this one is for lakshmi.. :-)

    Think the taking a break is about utilising it effectively.. yes it cant last forever because u will tend to get bored of it.. but while it lasts you can really catch up on a lot of things that u are not able to otherwise inyour busy work schedule..

    Like for me.. i really have been spending a lottttt of time reading..also writing.. catching up on tv since there was a time i was addicted to it.. and catching up on movies.. geting back to being conscious about the fact that i need to be healthy.. therefore a regular walking routine as well as exercising routine..and left home after passing my 10th.. so its been 8 years since have been satying away from parents in mumbai.. so is a good time to catch up with them .. so i have come to stay with them.. Also have been travelling around whenever possible..

    Also i decided to take a break for 3 months..and am sure i will get back in that much time.. so no time to get bored.. just making the most of these 3 months.. who knows if they will come back again ever :-)

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