What the Gita has taught me about work.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन । मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भुर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47

I don’t consider myself to be a religious person anymore but I was raised in a very religious family spending many hours reading and perfecting my Sanskrit slokas (verses from the Bhagavad Gita and other related scriptures). I didn’t fully understand the meaning of these verses but I recited them every day (Thanks to my Mom for insisting we did it every day before and after school!). This particular verse has been ringing in my head for the last few days.

The importance of this verse struck me today. I had the most amazing week. It was an incredibly messy mix of being busy, focused, exhausted, getting stuff done, helping others, learning new things, getting some more stuff done. I realized mid-week that this is what I LOVE. Just being in the flow of doing, cranking stuff out, learning, iterating, doing!

While I was very intentional about what I worked on, I didn’t focus too much on the outcome of my actions. I just did what needed to be done which made me incredibly productive!

Going back to the verse from the Gita I quoted above. It is what Krishna said to Arjuna during the epic war in the Mahabharata. At a crucial point in the battlefield, Arjuna freezes when faced by his brothers not wanting to fight them for his share of the kingdom. Krishna explains to him that his duty is to fight regardless of the outcome.

When I was in school, my mother would say something to me every time I had a big test. She would say ‘Do the best you can, don’t worry about the outcome’. The emphasis was always on ‘doing your best’ and never on ‘getting a good grade’. I was a very studious kid often finishing at the top of the class but a nervous wreck before every exam. I remember how my mother’s words would help calm my nerves and shift my focus on effort vs the outcome. No wonder I ended up doing so well in school. I was always encouraged to focus on effort vs the outcome. I guess my Mom was the first to recognize the importance of The Growth Mindset, a concept developed by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck.

When I reflect back on the last few weeks, I can recall several examples of pure, unfiltered joy of doing good work, putting in the effort without worrying too much about the outcome, or about being acknowledged or rewarded. I just knew I had produced good quality work and that was an incredible high!

What if we shifted our approach to work to focus on effort vs focus on the outcomes?

Would that change the dynamic of how we feel about work in general?

Would that make us better at what we do?

Would it make us happier employees?