One of the most difficult questions that I have ever been asked (and that I still don’t know the answer to) is about the purpose of life. There are times when I feel like I have gotten closer to an answer and then other times, I honestly believe no matter what purpose we end up with, it could all just be made up. Regardless of knowing or not knowing the ‘purpose’, there are other (and relatively more tangible) things to think about.

Let’s calculate life. Independent of a person’s age, everyone gets to have 24 hours in their day. Out of these 24 hours, we stay awake for around 14-16 (on average) and sleep for around 8-10; which means we are fully in our senses for around 60% of our life. From these 14-16 hours of awake-time, we spend around 8-9 on work (during a weekday) which is essentially 50-60% of the weekday awake-time. Work is the biggest part of our day. Work is the biggest part of life.

Let that sink in!

Now the idiot that I am, I’ve always tried to find my ‘play’ in my work. If I am going to be working for such a big part of my life, I would REALLY want it to be something that makes me happy. Something that pulls me in. Something that makes me forget the passage of time when I am on it. Something that makes me want to get up and start working.

I get it. For a lot of people, finding your love and your ‘play’ at work might be a luxury when there are other more pressing needs at hand like paying your bills or those of your loved ones. You work to meet your needs. You work to pay the bills. But in that struggle, I have personally witnessed so many people finding their way to earn much better eventually. What then? Do they move on to find work that pulls them in? How many people end up thinking beyond bigger paychecks after a certain threshold is reached? How many people take a job that aligns better with their ‘happiness’ than the one that pays more?

While it makes me happy to see more and more people reaching the realization about the importance of their decisions around work, I also still see plenty running after money. If money is your happiness, good for you. But is it? If you frown while getting up on a Monday morning and you smile while ending your day to get back to ‘life’, the other part of your awake-time really needs to make up for the joy lost at work.

Now back to the purpose-of-life question; my answer is ‘happiness’. If I want to stay happy, I can try to find happiness in my free-time from a lot of things. Books, movies, games, people, technology, and so much more. But what about the biggest part of my day? What about my work? I have realized it is better to start from there. If my work can give me happiness, not having anything to do on a weekend doesn’t feel as bad. Instead of trying to make up for the loss of my happy-time at work and finding it in my free-time, I have tried and I continue to try to start it all from my work itself.

It has been working great so far. My first big and independent decision in life was to not join the corporate sector (which promises great prestige and money) against all wishes of my family. There was a pay-cut but not as big as people said it would be. But the work itself was nothing less than drugs. There is a reason Passion Leads to Burnout (hbr.org) in some industries more than others. It is difficult to stop. It is difficult to close the laptop when you are so in it. 

It does not have to be the development sector for you too. Many people said to me that they work in non-profits because of the ‘people’ they can (and they do) help. I found out that I did not care as much about the people as I did about the ‘why’. What am I doing and why am I doing it? I worked in marketing for 5 years for a non-profit education institute and I still remember the day it started coming full-circle. I was interviewing a fellow for our program and I asked them how they had decided to apply? This person’s eyes started sparkling, they smiled, then giggled, and then said there was this funny video of two thumb-figures talking to each other about our program (Thumbs Don’t Lie) and it felt like a wake-up call for this person. I had made that video in my personal time since I was unsure of the idea and even my boss had asked me to prioritize something else. But it turned out to generate MUCH better results than any one of us anticipated. That moment felt so fulfilling to me that no amount of money could make up for even a fraction. That was it for me, but probably not for you or for anyone else.

In sharing a lot of what I have shared (and a lot of which might still seem nonsense), I wanted to provide an insight for someone like me but 5-10 years in the past. Someone still thinking on where to start or where to go next with their work. Someone who might have enough money to get through but on the verge of deciding whether to go for more-money or stick around or move on to a different role altogether. Wherever you are, whoever you are, if any of my words might have invoked some relevant questions or thoughts, don’t let them suffocate and let them lead you on to even more questions. 

I hope and pray that we can all find joy, happiness, and meaning in life, whether that comes through work or something else ❤️