Recently I attended an interview preparation workshop. The guy there was joking about typical interview questions and how, on being asked "What are your weaknesses?" one shouldn't answer (with a long sorry face) "I am very, very hard-working". Many people laughed at his antics. While I don't care to surmise why others found it funny, this blog-post explains why I found that particular answer bitterly funny.
From when I was a kid, I remember lessons in school textbooks and from elders glorifying hard-work, efforts and patience. One of my teachers had also coined a nice term for it. She called it "The 3Ds" (standing for dedication, devotion and determination). And saying that someone possessed the 3Ds was a great compliment.
As I went through college life, somehow I began to see the perceived value of the 3Ds decreasing. Especially here in IIT, I find that cultivation of these 3Ds is often frowned upon and is many times not seen as a virtue. More so if these 3Ds are inclined towards academics.
We have not yet come to censuring excellence itself. There are some minor cases where the pursuit of academic excellence itself is frowned upon, like the relative grading outlook where toppers are derogated for "increasing the average", but I feel such are just excuses to shirk work. Excellence in any form is still respected here in IIT and we are not yet the dystopian Atlas Shrugged-y society which decried merit and its achievers. People who excel in any field, be it academics or anything else are commended appropriately, whether dedicated or not. Thank goodness for that!
The problem, thus, is not with excellence. The problem is with dedication. We respect achievements, but not perseverance. This is very clearly indicated in our IIT-lingo terms for the same. We call people with academic commitment a Maggu (someone who mugs and does nothing else i.e. put in lots of monotonous effort). We call achievers Cracku (someone who cracks in everything, without much effort). Why is the term Maggu used as a derogatory term and Cracku used as a complimentary term?
Ordinarily I would have believed that one cannot achieve anything without putting in effort. However, to accomplish a required goal, the amount of time/effort required by different people is so vastly diverse that what would be a solid exertion for one would be just a light effort for someone else. And the ones putting in least effort to attain top goals become the measurement standards and anyone putting more than that amount is disparaged (or is labelled a Maggu in case the field of excellence is academics)
So here’s why the 3Ds are frowned upon. The elite few set incredibly high standards with minimal effort. And they have lots of time to spare. If you are not among them, then you have two choices: be a Lukkha or a Maggu (or some shade in between)
Category A: (The Lukkha)
Assume that the targets set by the elite are insurmountable and that you are just a commoner. Then give in less than your true potential at your job since you are anyways not going to win the rat race. Keep no goals. Work only when it’s absolutely essential, like the night before the exams. Since you have already inherently accepted defeat, you won’t ever bother to strive for excellence. This way life is easy, no struggles, you have time for all random things on this globe.
Category B: (The Maggu)
You want to achieve the same goals as set by the elite. So you bring out the 3Ds that you've got. Put in a lot more effort. But the cost of this is that you miss out on other things in life. Whether you achieve your goals or not, you are happy since you have given your 100%. You learn a lot along the way too. You gain the satisfaction and pleasure of getting what you actually deserve.
It is these category B Maggu people for whom the supposed virtues of the 3Ds become cause of public scorn. If, as a Maggu, you don’t attain your goals, then you are made out to be an idiot who spent lots of time and got no results. This is because of the result oriented society we have. Damn the journey. The destination is what’s important. Like where a single night's worth of effort can get the same grade as an entire semester's worth effort. Knowledge wise the diligent fellow is better off than a single night-er with the same grade, but who cares about knowledge these days? It’s all about results, as the great consulting firms say.
Even if as a category B student, you achieve all the goals you set, you are still derided (mostly by the Lukkhas) as being a loser-Maggu just because you took longer to achieve the goals as per the elite standards. This disdain is because of the entire effort minimization lifestyle that we are a part of. What the finance guys call good leverage (multiply gains with minimal capital). We want something for putting in the least effort. Hence we consider as fools those who put in more efforts than the standard defined by the elite.
Like in business, when a certain goods producing company ABC possessing better abilities, innovation or efficiency is more lucrative than company XYZ who does it in double the time required by company ABC. Most would readily agree how the inefficient company XYZ would obviously be unprofitable. The same reasoning is extended to the category B students. Any sane company owner will hire a Cracku rather than a non-Cracku category B student simply because the Cracku guy gets work done faster.
Hence, coming back to the interview preparation workshop point, I found it pretty ironic that we glorify “working hard” as a virtue and yet we do not appreciate efforts since effort approval has very little place in the results-seeking, cost-minimizing corporate world.