Occupation, preoccupation, and a filter to see the world through

We usually let our occupation define us to the outside world.

‘I’m a project manager’.
‘I’m a vice president’.
‘I’m a chartered accountant.

How do we define ourselves inside us? Could we let our preoccupation define us internally?

Let me explain.

Owing to my interest in music (merely as an ordinary listener) and writing about music, I have a few composer friends with whom I chat up casually from time to time. I can barely grasp some of the musical terms they use but I understand broadly what they mean. But given how deeply they are into music, as full-time professionals, they think of music almost all the time.

This manifests in the most mundane ways. One of them told me once that he got an idea for a tune in his sleep. Another one said he was inspired by the sound his coffee-maker made to add a new sound in a film’s background score. It is too common to hear composers talk about their influencers from the most common things in everyday life, besides actual musical pieces.

I reckon that composers would be thinking of music all through the day. Or, in other words, they would be finding music in almost everything they do.

A couple of lyricists and poets (I cannot, for the life of me, appreciate English poetry, though I love Tamil and Hindi poetry) I know think of poetic lines almost in everything they do. They see a piece of news in the paper, they try to frame it in the form of poetry.

I also happen to know a couple of people deeply interested in the stock market and all things finance. They think in numbers! Everything they see around them, they convert it into numbers to understand them better in their own way.

Consider film critics too. They think of sentences even as they are watching the film for the first time. They remember scenes by forming sentences on how to articulate their perspective about that scene.

Ditto with journalists. They see the news in the form of words, sentences, and headlines. Cartoonists see the world through the eyes of how they can present what is unfolding in front of them through their art.

Social media influencers almost always are thinking about what to share, how to frame or articulate what they want to share. Sometimes this could be literal – “I’ll stand in front of this wall and say…”.

Photographers look at everything around them through the frame of capturing them as photos. They may not go on clicking everything and anything but they would be looking at them from that angle.

The preoccupation gives them all a filter through which to see the world around them. In that process, their expression is almost 3-dimensional – that is, they could be imagining how to frame what’s happening around them, using the mode of communication they are good at (music, art, words, poetry, numbers, photos, etc.), not just in real-time (what is happening in front of them at that moment) but also across timelines. Something they read in the morning could evoke a framing in the evening, or something they stumbled upon in the previous week could bring an articulation during the next weekend, and so on.

All these people – composers, lyricists, finance professionals, photographers – are probably lucky enough to have their occupation as their preoccupation too.

Where does that leave us normal mortals who are marketing people, coders, HR folks, finance managers, teachers/professors, etc.?

Our occupation is our income-earning capability. If it also happens to be our preoccupation that would give us a good reason every day to wake up with enthusiasm. But if it is not, then there’s no harm in treating the occupation as just that, without contorting it into our preoccupation too.

We could find something else that we can hold as a preoccupation and use that to see the world around us.

For instance, I don’t know the language of music. I identify sounds and enjoy them. But I know the language of communication. I look at everything around me with the communications lens. And I find that communication is everywhere, in everything we do. In that process, I really look forward to gathering as much knowledge as possible every single day within the realm of communication. Towards this, I have built pipelines of information for me to keep track of what is happening in the world of organized communications – public relations, marketing, advertising, corporate communications, journalism, and so on.

If those are the knowledge gathering process, I also look forward to partaking in the expression. Much like the film critic I referred to above, I frame sentences in my mind when I observe instances of interesting communications as to how I would share my perspective about them.

The constant cycle of gathering knowledge, learning, articulating engages my mind tremendously and makes each day worth living through. Of course, there are many other things I do any given day including playing with my kids, doing household chores, client work, listening to audiobooks, gardening, watching some TV show, run for 5 kilometers (every day!), and so on. While I immerse myself into each activity, there is always an undercurrent of seeing them too using the filter of communications.

For instance, while playing with my kids, how we talk to each other is a form of communication. Gardening is communicating with nature. Running my daily 5 kilometers is communicating with my body. And so on 🙂

Such a preoccupation with something makes the minutiae of everyday life more interesting and enriching.

What is your preoccupation? Or, what are you preoccupied with? Is it also your occupation? Then, consider yourself lucky. If not, do not fret – find a preoccupation to use as a filter to see the world around you. From my experience, I can tell you that it is very useful.

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