Focus at work

focusMany yeas ago – 1990 to be exact, I was getting my motorbike’s oil changed at a roadside shop. The mechanic working on my bike was a trainee and his boss who was also the master mechanic was keeping a keen eye on him. The trainee was taking his own sweet time to get things done and looked extra relaxed with a cup of tea in one hand and a wrench tool in the other. The master mechanic then uttered a sentence which has remained ingrained in my memory to this day. I’ll do a literal translation here as it was said in Urdu. The mechanic said “Do your work with some fear” (zara ghabra kar kaam kia karo.) The trainee didn’t get it as he kept asking “what do you mean that I should work with fear?” The master mechanic also couldn’t explain it in more words except he kept repeating “work with fear….work with fear.” The trainee didn’t get it. He shook his shoulders and got back to work and his cup of unfinished tea but I got it – or at least I think I got it.

Where the master mechanic fell short on words, he most likely wanted to say that work should be done with focus, responsibility, passion and thinking about what could go wrong (as we call it risk mitigation in project management.) When we are too relaxed or distracted from work at hand, whether it be a project or process there is a chance of missing out on details. Some degree of focus and feeling of vulnerability is necessary to do a good job and mitigate future risks.

Fast forward to 2007 and I was going through a corporate training on EHS (environment, health and safety) in St Louis. My instructor said “You should always feel vulnerable at work.” This sentence raised some eyebrows in the audience but it made perfect sense to me. It reminded me of that ‘fear’ sentence I had heard at a road side mechanic in 1990. Both sentences were literally said Worlds apart in distance and culture and eons apart in time but to me they meant the same – that is, not to be too complacent at what you do.

It absolutely does not mean that one should not enjoy work or not be relaxed at all but some feeling of vulnerability and passion is necessary to keep one focused.


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