Being at Work: The Power of the Mundane

Zubair Lone

Aristotle uses the word hexis to describe moral virtue, an active state wherein a person is ever ready to act rightly. For instance, a goal keeper in a game of football is always ready on his feet, swaying back and forth, and ready to dive on any ball kicked in his direction. When a shot is taken, he doesn’t consciously instruct his hands or feet to move in a particular direction or fashion, the action arises naturally as a product of training, practice, focus and reaction time. Hexis is, therefore, an active and virtuous state that propels right kind of action.

Hexis, according to Aristotle, is itself dependent upon energeia. Energeia can be translated as ‘being-at-work’. It is this idea of being-at-work that leads to hexis – which ultimately propels right action.

Interestingly, the construct of hexis/energeia can be taken out of philosophy textbooks and adopted to examine our professional lives and to demystify the connect between our work, the mundane and professional excellence.
Somerset Maugham, a 19th century British playwright, novelist and short story writer, was once asked if he followed a schedule to write or wrote only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Maugham is actually establishing a link between hexis and energeia from a professional perspective rather than its original ethical and philosophical form. He is reckoning the fact that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, we put ourselves in a state of being at work- energeia. It leads to hexis- a virtuous professional state where we set in motion the mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration and as finest results as the illustrative works of Maugham.

As can be seen, haunted by “boring stuff” at their work places, young professionals seldom sustain a steady state of being-at-work. Certainly, early on in one’s professional journey, it is often difficult to realize that the road to the virtuous professional state could be at times through the mundane and the boring.

Also, younger professionals tend to believe that hexis is something attained overnight. Important to realize, attaining it, like the pro football goalkeeper, may take months, years and even decades of training, practice and focus.

Having said that, once you are there, you shall know you have arrived. Your every stroke shall be a master stroke and your every action in your respective fields of practice will be of the highest professional standards and quality. You would love and enjoy your work. You will be invested in it wholeheartedly. Anything that you will be doing will be great. Your next assignment will be greater, and the one after that, greater still.

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