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Purpose: The Difference Between Going Ahead and Giving Up in Tough Times

Our purpose is the compass that can guide us in navigating the correct path. Interestingly, our purpose is never clear to us amid the usual humdrum of life until we are faced with situations that challenge us.


One of the most joyful aspects of childhood was the sense of wonder that we cultivated for the world around us. This sense of wonder nudges us to explore and learn. We gather moments and we build dreams based on our unique experiences. All these together define our vision of life that in turn shapes our outlook—as individuals and as professionals. This sense of wonder is our first step to discovering the purpose of life. 

Presently, we are going through testing times. The pandemic has shaken lives and jolted many from their comfort zones. Many of you might be contemplating your career choices as you read this article. Attrition and pay cuts have been the norm in many places as organizations reframe their strategies to align with the new normal. According to an article in Oil and Gas Technology, California-based BW Research Partnership, using US Department of Labor data and the firm’s own survey data, said the US oil and gas industry cut nearly 51,000 drilling and refining jobs in March. Of those individuals still with jobs, many are stuck in remote work locations and others are juggling work as well as personal life from their homes. Such tectonic shifts that were hardly ever imagined stand before us as the order of the day.

We have two choices:

  1. Give up and go soul searching for your old comfort zone, and follow it wherever it takes you, or
  2. Learn and adapt to the new set of circumstances.

Our purpose is the compass that can guide us in navigating the correct path. Interestingly, our purpose is never clear to us amid the usual humdrum of life—unless we consciously contemplate it—until we are faced with situations that challenge us. The choice of adapting to the new normal will surely not change our external conditions, nor will the first choice of giving up. Rather, if we stay aligned with our purpose and move ahead, trusting the future, then we can rebuild our careers.
With so much upheaval in the industry, no doubt the overall perception of the industry seems to have been dented. But continuing to learn is one of the ways we can keep ourselves from gloom. As part of my job as a field petroleum engineer, I am fortunate to get opportunities to interact with many fresh yet brilliant minds joining the industry and also to learn about their ideas and perspectives. Perspective usually is one of a person’s most underrated—yet defining—attributes. I have learned from experience that a major factor that stands out prominently in those who manage to go far in the industry is their passion to learn and a resilience that keeps that passion burning even in the darkest times.

Five years ago, when I started my career as an engineer trainee, my initial experience was exciting and then shocking. It was exciting because I was experiencing what I had once dreamt of as a student engineer—I was working in a major oil and gas company. It turned out to be shocking as my first brush with reality was different from what we were taught in university classes. Working in the field under harsh conditions, getting my hands soiled handling the tools, hurrying up to finish reports within deadlines, and continuing this for long durations while away from home— these conditions were challenging for any new employee.

However, the happiness that resulted from learning that one concept by doing things or that one word of appreciation from a senior colleague after completing the work on time was the reward for that hardship. We lose motivation when we lose sight of our vision of life; complacency sets in when we forget the purpose of our struggle. On the other hand, no matter where we are in the journey, the day we remember that purpose and vision, we blast ahead in life.

A few tips to help you stay in tune with your purpose:

Journaling. There is an inner voice in all of us that knows what our purpose is and secretly guides our decisions (sooner or later) in that direction. Journaling is a way to reconnect with that voice every day. Take 20 minutes and pen your thoughts as they flow into your mind. Bring up the events that happened, the decisions you made, and the words you said to important people in your life and replay them in slow motion; try to remember the sequence of thoughts leading to those events, decisions, and words and the underlying beliefs producing those thoughts. While it may seem difficult and trivial at first, it shows you whether your beliefs are aligned with your vision. Just as a directional driller conducts a gyro survey to check whether the trajectory of the well is as planned, journaling is the gyro survey of your life.

Reflection. One of my mentors once said, “Every day question each decision you made at your workplace and ask how it is going to impact your organization.” In our daily lives, our minds often work in auto-pilot mode. We are habituated to do things and so we do them without much thought. Take out 10 minutes in a day— it could be when you are having a tea break or while walking around your office—and rewind the day that went by. Question yourself: “What difference will my actions make to the company?” Don’t worry if the impact is not that powerful —consistency is key; small impacts build to a big one over time.

Learn from others. We are never alone. Talk to people who have spent years in the industry. Engage genuinely with them over meals or during any other informal situation. Try to understand what their source of motivation was and how they guided their careers in the oil industry market cycles. You might discover answers to your questions in the lives of others.

To summarize, I want a promise from you as a reader. From today onwards, ask yourself these three questions every morning or evening before going to work:

  1. What are three fascinating things about the industry I am working in?
  2. Why did I join this industry?
  3. If I work sincerely today, how will the world become a better place?

I hope these questions will help you realize the fire within you that will serve you through the difficult times. Remember that the sense of wonder we once held as children encouraged us to get up every time we fell. Well, it is time to be those children once again.
All power to you.

Subrat Mohanty works as an artificial lift engineer in the Rajasthan asset at Cairn Oil and Gas in India. Mohanty holds a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. Apart from being an engineer, Mohanty is an author of two English poetry titles and loves writing and reading books.