“Why do people work” is a question anyone who works beyond subsistence should ask themselves.  “The first gig is for money, the second for fame, the third for influence, and the fourth for joy” I wrote in career stages planning and that triggered a lot of discussion. Does it have to follow this sequence?

Why do people work for money?

I’m a big fan of Maslow’s hierarchy. It simplifies how we look at life. It’s easier to take risks and gamble if we’re sure that we’ll still have a roof over our head and food on the table. (Conversely your money isn’t worth it if you don’t have that security which probably explains the great millionaire migrations.) If you don’t inherit that security, you have to build it. On the other hand if you’re just starting out with the adulting journey, you probably aren’t too worried about that stuff anyway so maybe you can just start with joy! It’s sort of like the difference between a bootstrapped startup and a funded one. We all know who can take more risks and try new things for the heck of it!

My work journey

As a fresh engineering graduate, I joined Tata Elxsi which was the highest paying job on campus paying a whopping Rs 92,000. Per annum, of course, younglings! This was the 90s. I was thrilled but in 6 months I realised that the money was nice but the job wasn’t something I’d excel at, and plotted my way to an MBA.

Graduating from IIM Calcutta I was very, very sure I wanted a stint in advertising and took a job that paid Rs 96,000. Yes, per annum. This was roughly half of what I could have made in my campus placement job but I wanted to do something I would enjoy. Ah, there’s that word – it comes from joy.

Three years into Ogilvy & Mather I felt the pinch of making a CTC that just about kept up with the spouse’s HRA. I was lucky enough to join Infosys and get a tiny piece of those golden ESOPs. I wasn’t wealthy enough to not have an income, but it certainly gave me the freedom to experiment and take some risk.

My role as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro was a really fun gig and delivered on all the parameters, but it was of course linked to my identity as an employee of a well-respected organization. I wrote my first book in part because I wanted to be recognised for myself rather than as a member of an organization. I guess you could say I was consciously repositioning myself as a marketing thought leader, or ahem, influencer 🙂

Why do people work?

Work is a way to earn our daily bread. If you don’t need to earn your daily bread/idli/roti/ then you need to think about how you would like to occupy your time. It’s easy to fall into the rut and say I work for my keto banana bread/Starbucks coffee/organic cherries/Harvard tuition fees. Which is what results in what someone on LinkedIn called “toxic positivity” on that platform.

During the lockdown I realised that what I could make from a speaking engagement could feed a family or two for a month. The work I do –  go to marketing strategies for B2B firms and helping organizations with their digital content is quite fun anyways, and if the money I made could help an out-of-work painter or house cleaner, why not? In any case the usual avenues of spending money – like holidays – were not an option.

My former colleague Sundeep Gandhi told me something that I never forgot – that we should have a cut-off date for not earning to eat, and manage our lifestyle accordingly. I understand that this discussion is available only to maybe 10% of people globally, but you, dear reader, are privileged to be in that group. How do I know? Because you’re reading this in English on a digital device and you’re smart enough to subscribe to this newsletter!

So what’s with the fame and influence

Ok, fame is probably an exaggeration. Reach is a better word. Influence requires reach to do its magic. And what is this magic? As my ex-boss Phaneesh Murthy taught me the goal of a career is to get closer to “controlling your own destiny”. Reach and influence can not only help you do this but also achieve the ability to help others and change the world if that’s what you choose to do. It can also get you closer to self-actualisation. What’s that? Our friend Maslow is here to help with that

““What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization” (Maslow, 1943).” Or the psychological process aimed at maximizing the use of a person’s abilities and resources. This process may vary from one person to another(Couture et al., 2007). How do we get there? The journey differs but I wrote about How to Uncover Your Passions and Find Your Dream Career

Work itself can be fulfilling

Like I said earlier, I like what I do and it’s rarely stressful – thanks to the amazing people I work with! Paul Writer and the strategy and communication work we do is a big part of my identity, having lived it since 2010. But I am also on the boards of five organizations and they bring a different dimension. Yesterday I was on a field visit with the CAO of CreditAccess Grameen to attend a couple of microfinance Kendra meetings. The amount of the loans are typically sub Rs 1,00,000 and in that location, Kanakapura, used to fund either the purchase of cows, goats or silkworms. It was amazing to hear a 15 year Kendra veteran say that Grameen has been life-changing – previously they were never able to repay or close a loan and just lived in perennial debt. Now they are building assets and saving money!

A visit to the branch was an eye-opener too – CreditAccess Grameen hires locally and a high school graduate can become a branch manager handling a portfolio of crores! And when we do brand plans we talk about transparency – but it was a new experience to see a corporate manifestation of that, when we sat down for a Kendra meeting on a tarpaulin in the middle of the village road. Because it is important that the transactions are all out in the open for everyone to see.

I don’t want to be Ellen!

The teen is on summer holiday and while it is no longer cool to tag along with mommy, internships are the rage amongst her older friends and she is happy to be my ’social media intern” and come for relevant business meetings. She is also working on teaching me how to Insta, and I came across this one from Ellen Degeneres. Seriously? How do you go from running an iconic talk show to assembling chairs for a reel? For me the key takeaway was to do more career planning to avoid this fate. I am so not an insta person! (My daughter doesn’t read this newsletter, so I’m safe!) Another answer to why do people work is because it is part of their identity.  Ellen may not know who she is without a TV show to give her a reason to hang out with celebs.

Write in and tell me about your retirement plans 🙂 I have a client cadence call on a brand transformation and then the intern and I are going to the Royal Orchid Hotel for lunch. I mean field visit 🙂 Have a great weekend!

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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.


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