Arun Kumar
3 min readSep 23

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Career is not that different from the boiling frog metaphor

Arun Kumar

We all have heard the metaphor of a frog in a pan of water sitting on a burner and temperature is slowly being raised by a fraction of degrees every so often. The metaphor goes that the frog, being a cold-blooded animal, whose body temperature keeps pace with the ambient temperature, would not feel the slow rise in the temperature, will sit placidly in the warming water and will eventually die as its cell functions gradually fail.

Whether the metaphor is true or false, it does not really matter. The point is that this metaphor is used in various contexts that humans, even with much higher levels of cognitive ability compared to a frog, also fail to recognize slow changes even if those changes have adverse influence eventually.

Take the debate about the potential influence of climate change on humans and the environment. A 2oC change in the mean temperature over 100 years falls in the category of meh, what is the big deal.

Indeed, it is true that gradual changes are hard to perceive on a daily basis, nonetheless, every instant they are happening all around and within us. The basic tenet of living organisms is continuous change.

A few weeks ago, I went on a trip for ten days. When I returned, all of the summer plants in the garden looked so much taller. It was as if they knew I was not around and together they conspired to grow faster and surprise me on my return. And they did. The first sentence I said when I saw them was — look much taller they became in ten days.

I am sure if I had stayed home and watched those plants every day, I would not have perceived their gradual growth. The impression after ten days would have been different, and I would have muttered to myself — are they ever going to grow and bloom before the summer is over?

Life looked through a series of snapshots separated in time gives a different impression than if watched continuously.

I am a victim of imperceptible changes without recognizing their consequences in another important way that catches many of us by surprise. It is how over the years, gradually the work life becomes all-encompassing and ends up becoming our identity, our purpose, and our meaning.

Looking back, I have no idea how and when this transformation happened. Slowly the tentacles of work life edged out other engagements in life.

I used to have time, and an interest in reading and used to read at least 20 books in a year. As years of working life went by that number kept going down. Reading ended up merely flipping through a stack of unread issues of Time (that kept getting deposited in the mailbox on a weekly basis) that I would carry with me on work travels to someplace.

The consequence of complete takeover of work over all aspects of life became clear when the prospects of leaving work (i.e., retirement) started to become real and the notion that one day work life will no longer be there came as a rude shock. The realization was like when sometimes we wake up after a deep sleep and for a few moments do not know where we are.

There are no regrets though. Work, and what I did was fun. It was an intellectually satisfying period, but it did happen at the expense of edging everything else away. That tide is now receding. It is time to clean up the debris left behind and to pick up the elements that fell off from the former life and stitch them back together.

Only now my eyes and mind are slowly adjusting to a new paradigm in which work is a room in which I enter through a door and at the end of the day leave the room through the same door for a different world.

Now I do not check the emails after hours or on weekends and make a concerted effort to read each day even if it is a few pages.

Talking about the frog there is another bit of scary trivia. How does rise in temperature by 1 Deg impacts human body? It raises the metabolic rate by 10%.

Ciao.

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