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Gandhian lessons for crafting your career

Like Gandhi famously said, we need to model the change we wish to see in the world, writes Aruna Sankaranarayanan
Last Updated : 04 October 2023, 20:58 IST
Last Updated : 04 October 2023, 20:58 IST

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The corporate sector, with its hierarchical structures, competitive culture, and the centrality of profits, seems far removed from Gandhian ideals. So much so that juxtaposing Gandhian principles with career crafting in today’s world seems antiquated and farfetched.

Yet, if we pause and reflect like Gandhi often did, we can unearth lessons relevant to career development even in our hectic, digitalised, capitalist corporate world.

Foremost, Gandhi emphasised truth. As an individual, no matter where in the pecking order you stand, ask yourself whether you are bringing your authentic self to work. Growing towards truth is a process that starts with being true to yourself.

For that, you first need to know yourself. That involves periodically checking in with yourself on your own terms. You need time to rethink and reflect on who you are and who you want to become.

Defining goals, defying norms

You must also examine whether your job aligns with your goals and core values. Can you exhibit skills, talents and facets of your personality at work that are elemental to your identity? If not, you need to reassess whether this job is the right fit for you.

Gandhi did not shy away from defying accepted social norms if they weren’t in sync with his personal values. Likewise, you need to ask yourself whether you’re making decisions as an autonomous individual or being swayed by social currents incompatible with your core self. 

Next, Gandhi also highlighted the importance of manual labour and the dignity of all jobs, especially those deemed ‘low’ or ‘dirty.’ In today’s career scene, this may translate into respecting all personnel, including the security guard and the cleaning staff, and giving them the same dignity as management.

Further, if you are in a leadership role, you must know that no job is beneath you and that when pushed to a crunch, you do not mind getting your hands dirty. For example, the director of a chain of schools stepped in to teach a class at a rural school for an entire semester when the History teacher went on sick leave. Or, the CEO of a company cleaned machines on the factory floor for half a day to set an example to workers of best practices. The two examples quoted here are based on individuals who’d prefer not to be named.

Adaptability is another hallmark of Gandhian thinking. Though he held strong beliefs and was known for his stubborn streak, he was equally capable of bending if the time and circumstances required it. If you embody flexibility at the workplace without compromising on your ideals, you will find that you will have smoother relationships with colleagues and clients.

As today’s career scene is hyperdynamic, being willing to adapt is necessary to survive and thrive. Whether it’s a different role, a new way of doing things, upskilling yourself or embracing technological shifts, expect and accept change.

Gandhi also embodied compassion and exhorted us to do the same. In a YouTube talk, Stanford professor James Doty says that when corporates embrace compassion as their “primary ethos,” they see an uptick in productivity and stock prices and a decline in healthcare costs. 

Lessons in sustainability

Gandhi was a champion of environmentalism long before terms like climate change, global warming, fossil fuels, sustainability or carbon credits became a part of our lexicon. With a prescience that defied the “modern thinking” of his times, Gandhi foresaw the catastrophic degradation that industrialization would wreak on the planet.

That we chose to pursue economic development without regard to the environmental costs is hitting and hurting people all over the globe. From unprecedented flooding to hotter and drier summers to raging forest fires, the planet is calling out to us.

Is your workplace adopting sustainable practices? What can your company do to reduce its carbon footprint? Is it tapping local resources? What role can you play, both as an individual and as a corporate citizen, to “reduce, reuse and recycle”? These are burning hot questions that cannot be left to policymakers, politicians and top management alone. As consumers and commuters, we’re all complicit in polluting our planet, and like Gandhi, we may simplify and cut unnecessary frills and coax our company to do the same.

We may also be aware that companies are not shy to “reduce, reuse and recycle” when their profits are down. Why can’t the same thrift be applied, even in more prosperous times, in the interests of the planet and our collective futures? Like Gandhi famously said, we need to model the change we wish to see in the world.  

(The author is a psychologist)

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Published 04 October 2023, 20:58 IST

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