Navjot Singh | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Navjot Singh

Background:  

Oblong Industries is a Los Angeles-based technology company founded by John Underkoffler, who served as science advisor to director Steven Spielberg on the film "Minority Report." Its signature product is Mezzanine, a 360-degree visual immersion co-working platform that allows multiple teams to share information on several screens from anywhere in the world. Oblong's clients include IBM, Accenture, NASA and Fujitsu.

The Mistake:

When I started my career at Microsoft, I had decided that I should have work-life balance and understood it to mean that time in the office was for "work" and outside of it was for "life."

But the big lie in all this is that work is actually more than half of the waking hours available to us. So it would have been healthier, and more accurate, for me to think of what I was doing for work as what I was doing for life itself.

Once I left grad school, I was very much in that mode, where there is the 9 to 5.  And then there was life. And life was where I went to have fun, hang out with friends and so on and so forth.

Since my early work was actually fine, and I was learning a lot, it took me quite a while to break out of this misconception. It was only once I had been working on building things that I was truly passionate about (at Oblong) that I realized my earlier mistake.

I was happier, more engaged, constantly learning new things, reading more, and generally doing more. Instead of looking for work-life balance, I should have been looking for work that was worth spending more than half my life on.

 

I needed to find enjoyment and meaning in the work that I was doing.

 

The Lesson:

The specific realization is that, in a lot of ways, we hold our life up to a higher standard than we hold work, in terms of what we decide to do.

For instance, if we don't like a restaurant, we don't go there. If we don't like people, we don't hang out with them. But work, because we're willing to put it in this box as something we just have to do maybe to pay the bills or to advance your career, etc., doesn't get held to that same standard of meaningfulness. So work is a large part of our life, and it should be treated as such, not this eight hours of misery.

I needed to find enjoyment and meaning in the work that I was doing, even more than any sort of ambition.

That realization allowed me to focus on what I really enjoyed doing and what I considered to be the best use of my time on this planet. 

Interestingly, one of the things this realization can enable is the freedom to let the two worlds come together in a way that is commonly considered dangerous but is ultimately really good. I do immerse myself completely into what I'm doing at Oblong and have no problems coming home and thinking about it. My family is similarly comfortable with all of that. It is not just work.

 

Follow Oblong Industries on Twitter at @oblong_inc.

Photo courtesy of Oblong Industries. 

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