Running on Empty

imageLast night one felt some satisfaction, but more than that one felt happy.

Back some thirty plus years ago, I used to handle Unilever’s treasury. It was one of my first assignments in that huge machine, which excelled at absorbing us humans into its folds. I used to regularly deal with a banker, who stood out as a human being. He was in senior career (having the Unilever account, must have been a status definer) and so could have acted the part. However, so transpired that he acted very normal, laughed, joked and guided me in my early days of learning banking stuff. I found that status and professional success had not defined him. He was himself, no frills.

I note this, because it has been my observation, that status and symbolism gets into our heads very easily. At a fairly young stage, our executives tend to play a certain role. Perhaps they do it because they are ‘expected to’, but more likely it is because they feel they have gained consequence. This cocoon which acquires us, begins to define us and tell tale signs become visible quickly. Having watched it for more than three decades, I can tell you, it owns the vast majority of us.

It begins with the feeling that ‘I am right’. Such a simple statement, but such disastrous results. Then it graduates into a more self propagating mode of ‘I know better’. Subsequently, it shuts down our listening skills. By the time a person has reached mid career (mid 30s), these habits are already ingrained in us. Once you are not listening, you quickly start talking more. This then gives you more consequence. You feel you know, because so few are telling you their version. It becomes a vicious circle and self fulfilling and makes you more diseased at each iteration. Soon the dinosaur is devouring many and hurting plenty. Till disaster strikes one day for whatever reason and the edifice you stand on collapses. And just for the people who do not realize it, the end happens in all cases. Our lives always descend into nothingness. You then realise you have been running on empty.

So to get back to my source of happiness, after a long digression. Some 30 years on, I met the same banker last night. Much aged, comparatively, but he still looked well. The same smile, same physical posture but more importantly, same demeanour. This was the same heart I once knew and appreciated. He even treated me the same. Oh, he knew, had followed my history and the various worldly successes. But, I tell you he treated me exactly as he treated that young manager decades ago. Still more typical of this person. His words. “I have been retired a long time now. Really enjoyed it. So much to do in life. No reason to miss work. I am busy with stuff all the time.”

Allah bless him. It re-invigorated my faith in humanity. Some can still be good and real. They do not have to impress anyone, are happy in themselves, and everything has its place and right value. Nothing really is above goodness and happiness. Some of us go to ‘art of happiness classes’. I learnt it in a few minutes conversing with a genuine human.

To all the young people out there. Enjoy your work and its benefits, but please do not let it own you. Be yourself, the genuine you, do not inflate yourself into a hot air balloon. Do not run after goal posts you will never catch. You will be much the better at the end, by just living. Enjoy it!

* picture is from Wylio.com

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