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Rashi Goel

The Karma of Work

‘Work’ that uplifts us or others, is work
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ever since I realized that writing and drawing are intertwined for me, I have serendipitously discovered hugely talented visual artists. I love Aletheia Délivré’s feed on Twitter.

Visuals crush words: As cavemen and women, we may have communicated with each other through grunts first, but cave drawings prove that our brains prefer visuals to words. In fact, we process images in just 13 milliseconds!

Aletheia’s simple hand-drawn visuals convey wisdom and insight in just one frame, rendering a bunch of words as redundant as the appendix in the human body.

Image
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – Visuals Crush Words

So I thought I would try something new. I take Aletheia’s excellent visuals as a starting point and weave my own narrative around them.

Aletheia’s visuals speak about creators and the process of creation. I use her visuals here but with my own narration around ‘work as karma’. I must admit, what I say here is not new, but the visuals make it interesting.

I cover:

  1. What is work
  2. Our work contains multitudes
  3. Thrive, not just survive
  4. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate…fearlessly
  5. Quantity or quality
  6. Strategic rest
  7. Find your people

What is work

When we meet new people, all conversations start with the question, “What do you do?”. Automatically, we rattle off our designation, the name of the company we work for, the degree we pursue, or the business we manage. If we are homemakers, we feel sheepish, as if we are ‘wasting’ our time and qualifications. If the work we do is not ‘up there’ on the social ladder, we feel shamed and judged.

Our identities are wrapped up in a resume-based class system of work.

Today, I want to propose that we expand our definition of work beyond the linear definition of stuff that gets us money or status, to anything that we enjoy doing, that expands our skills or is in service of others.

In short, anything and everything that moves us or others forward is work or Karma.

My definition of moving forward is progression or state change for the better. New skills, new ideas, different perspectives, even new relationships – anything and everything that moves us forward is work.

Astronaut being pulled up by various planets that represent questions, curiosity, imagination and dreams.
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – ‘Work’ that uplifts us or others, is work.

Our work contains multitudes

By defining our work only in the form of the job we do, we are narrowcasting our identity.

As Amit Varma often says on his podcast, “We all contain multitudes’. Whatever we spend our time on, big or small, even if we fail at it, adds up to who we are.

All our skills, activities, hobbies, relationships, and experiences connect up to make us full stereo, ultra HD, color-saturated 4-D humans. Without our multitudes, we would be just 2-D pixelated shadows of ourselves.

Telescope looking into a constellation of experiences.

Thrive, not just survive

If we repeat the same playbook of work year after year, it is like we are running in the same spot. The right kind of work is not just about the result, but the process. If the process is right, the result will eventually be growth and transformation.

turn on images if you don't see anything
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – the goal is transformation, not staying in the same place

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate…fearlessly

Seen an infant walk for the first time? He or she is tentative, even wobbly at first, and falls often… but gets up. And tries again. Until walking, and even running becomes as unconscious as breathing. For the infant in that moment, walking is work (karma).

The minute we enter adulthood, we forget to get up and try again. That’s because we start taking failure personally. And so we get in our own way.

Lizard brain injects fear and doubt into us
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – we get in our own way at the first sniff of failure or difficulty

Our lizard brain cannot accept that the first idea, the first day’s work, and the first draft is always crap. We forget that overnight success is a myth and it takes at least 10,000 hours of iterations. Even Edison did not get the light bulb right the first time!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

-Thomas Edison

Mistake piece of paper gets transformed into either a paper airplane or a crumpled paper ball
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – The more we iterate, the more our chances of success. Don’t expect to get it right the first time.

Quantity or quality

David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book, Art & Fear, shares the paradox of quality and quantity through the story of a ceramics teacher. The teacher divided his class into two groups.

One group would be graded only on the quantity of work (e.g. number of vases they bring). He would grade them by weight. More vases = higher grade.

The second group would only be graded on the quality of work. They would need to bring only one vase – the perfect one – for grading.

Guess who produced the best quality vases? The “quantity’“ group. Turns out, while churning out piles and piles of vases, this group was iterating and learning from mistakes and ended up perfecting their technique. The “quality” group kept discussing and theorizing instead of working.

turn on images if you don't see anything
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – Quantity breeds quality. We have to put in the work again and again, to get to peak quality.

Strategic rest

It is good to love work. But recharging our batteries gives us perspective and connects new dots for us. So when we get back to work, we are even better. Winston Churchill painted, Einstein played the violin, Murakami runs marathons. And they were more productive for it.

Like dough being worked, you and your projects will rise if rested.
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – rest helps us rise again

Find your people

We cannot work inside isolated bubbles. We need two sets of people on our journey. The first is an intimate group of supporters. People on our side of the fence, boost our morale as we iterate and get up again after each failure.

Image
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – a supportive community does not allow us to give up

The second is the marketplace or audience we serve. Our goal may be financial gain (more common), validation (artists and creators), duty (parenting), or mastery (knowledge workers).

Jam as ideas, spread on bread which represents an audience who cares
Aletheia Délivré on Twitter – Work needs a marketplace that makes the effort worthwhile

The story comes full circle here. If we expand our idea of the marketplace (karma bhoomi) beyond just our place of work to our whole life and the people in it, our definition of our work (our karma) expands from just a 9-5 job to everything that moves us forward.

And that’s the karma of work.

Finito

Thank you for reading! Visuals communicate meaning that sticks in our minds. Let me know if this experiment was sticky?!

Bat holding up a thank you sign
Thank you Aletheia Délivré!

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