By | Hema Ravichandar | Strategic HR Advisory, former CHRO Infosys Ltd
I was at the Bangalore Literature Festival in late September. The initiative was a community effort—literally a by, of, and for the “relishers” kind of event. Interestingly, none of the five organizers were professional organizers but people with serious day jobs and supporting them wholeheartedly were swashbuckling CEOs, chairpersons, venture capitalists and government officials. They had all come together to put up the festival. Their reasons for championing this cause differed. For some it was the passion for literature, for others the need to create vibrant urban communities, and for some just the need to give back to society. But they all had one thing in common—an overriding interest or cause that they espoused beyond their day job. Call it a hobby, call it a passion, it was in every case a calling beyond their weekday 9am-9pm routine. Tomorrow they would be back, balancing the top line and the bottom line, governing cities and companies, clearing clogged email inboxes. But for this weekend, they had cleared the clutter and the calendar and were wholeheartedly indulging in their “other life”.
So what’s the big deal? What’s the benefit of having a cause to fill some of your spare hours? Why do I call this out and celebrate it?
Stress-buster par excellence
Yes, indeed. A leisure day or two thrown in breaks the monotony of the work-home routine, and you get energized by shifting gears and addressing very different issues. A CEO I know who runs a firm and is also a singer par excellence, swears that his passion has helped him handle ups and downs at work so much better. His fortnightly concerts require arduous practice and unswerving focus. “Singing with bhakti (devotion) and bhaav (emotion) elevates me to a different plane. My batteries get recharged; it’s my medication to cure even a fever or a headache but most importantly my consciousness also changes. It balances my right and left brain. I’m able to look even at my work issues with a different perspective. Indeed I get another angle to the same issue. And finally it helps me handle the disappointment of a flat quarter, especially when my concerts are a resounding success. Yes, indeed, it helps me take the downs and celebrate the ups in a different arena,” he tells me.
A cause like this nipping at your heels at the end of your work week is also a great efficiency enhancer. You know you cannot procrastinate or put away an unpleasant, though necessary, work task to be cleared on a mythical free weekend, because those days are firmly meant for something else. A successful dermatologist I know, who moonlights as a general practitioner (GP) in some slums on two earmarked weekdays, told me how she ensured that the other four days of her work are planned to a tee so that she gets the most done around her speciality commitments at the hospital she practises in. “That way I get my GP days clean and believe me, they give me so much satisfaction. The funny thing is I am not at all tired at the end of these GP days, however packed the schedules are or unfriendly the work conditions may be.”
My favourite example is the transition of my former boss Nandan Nilekani from Infosys Ltd to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). His involvement in such causes was progressive. And, along the way, there had been many thoughtful stops when he nurtured his passion for urban governance and spent much personal time on setting up institutions and initiatives which addressed this—like the BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force), JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), his impactful book Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, the “India Everywhere” project at Davos, Switzerland, and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, or IIHS,…. being but a few.
Networks, useful and beyond the normal
A lot has been said about the benefits of networking and when you connect with something from a circle beyond your usual range, it brings with it a wider circle of contacts. Sometimes these relationships are purer because the causes are pure—beyond the common materialistic ones one encounters in the real world. They bring in more awareness, better perspectives, hidden insights and may even lead you to more interesting causes.
And when a person garners reputation in his chosen area of interest, respect comes knocking even from seniors in his professional line of work. A committed blood bank volunteer who I knew commanded recognition and fame because of the cause he had espoused. Bosses and seniors sought him out when they needed help and he had access to offices much beyond the normal reach of his immediate supervisors.
It’s uplifting for the soul too
Most folk who indulge in this “me” time, whether it is a social cause or a private interest, say that in following the path they find there is balm for the spirit too. Much like “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care”, which Shakespeare eulogized famously in Macbeth, a cause which is one’s own provides that fine edge to the act of living; difficult to articulate, but encouraging you to live in the moment too by teaching you gently to compartmentalize your life. Many stories abound of how retired professionals seem to lose interest in life itself and fall prey to illnesses, many of them psychosomatic. And yet when they have something to ease themselves into—a second career via an interest kept alive through their professional days—it seems to be such a morale and health booster. “My own vitamin H(ealth)”, said one individual to me.
As for me, I am still out there searching the great beyond for my own personal cause. What about you?