When I chatted with Dev Aujla, he was sitting at his desk in his Brooklyn apartment. Behind him was an incredible bookcase with books leaning their shiny spines against one another in a chaotic fashion. It was impossible for me to not feel slightly distracted by the books and my initial inquiry in our conversation was about his relationship to reading. Dev grew up amidst bookworms, holds a degree in literature, and had just finished editing his second book a week before we spoke.
Not only is Dev an author, CEO of a recruiting firm, and creator of the website 50waystogetajob.com, but he has also been secretly converting an old bookstore into a small sorted library. This library will be the type of place that individuals gather to be in community and hold—as Dev so eloquently puts it—“sustained inquiry.” Because the library only contains around 3,000 books, participants will be invited to ask a question on a topic they are interested and then sort through books on philosophy, philanthropy, psychology, anthropology, etc. in order to piece together a unique understanding of their question based on their personal research. It’s a brilliant and an empowering way for people to think outside of the box in an effort to answer their own questions. Without knowing much about him, I can feel that Dev fulfills Rainer Maria Rilke’s request in Letters to a Young Poet,
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
After the 2008 recession, Dev co-authored the book Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World with Billy Parish. This book was yet another inquiry of trying to understand how to rethink work as a means for social enterprise. This project led into the development of the website 50waystogetajob, as Dev was curious about the various tactics, tools, and exercises different people used to pursue nonlinear career paths. With a lot of researching, interviewing, and exploration, his second book, which is in process of being published, lays out his findings for anyone looking to find and create untraditional work.
At this point in the conversation, Dev shares a story of when he had lost touch with his inherently curious, inquisitive, and instinctual side of himself. A few years ago, Dev was living in Toronto and writing his first book when he was offered a job with a company in New York that he thought “had it all.” It was a social enterprise company—completely aligned with the ethos of his writing thus far—and the organization was well-funded. However, about eight to nine months into the job, Dev remembers walking up the stone steps to his apartment after a workday, stopping to notice a ring of dust that was covering the steps. It was peculiar, but it was also something that someone wouldn’t necessarily notice if they didn’t have a tendency toward vivid observation. What Dev realized in this moment was that he had stepped over this peculiarity day after day without observation. Although this may feel like an incredibly small detail, this was out of character for him. He was feeling uninspired and transactional in the work that he was doing at his “dream job” and felt himself losing some of the special spark that makes him who he is.
Later that week he was called into his manager’s office and let go. In the days following, he began to practice and utilize the exercises that he had documented for 50waystogetajob and discovered how important it was for him to do work in which he is able to build relationships over the long haul. He notes,
“There’s this beautiful thing that happens when you just know people over the long arc of their life ... That to me is the way you build the movements, person by person, and you can realign money, resources, time, [and] ideas to create the world that I really believe we can have.”
Our conversation then moves into Dev’s concept of a person’s “center of gravity”—the one characteristic that everyone has that changes the way that we each experience reality or the way that things happen to us. It’s the part inside of all of us that can either hold us back or propel us forward dependent upon how we are in relationship to it. When I listen to these thoughts, I can’t help but feel that the more awareness we build around our own unique center of gravities the less stuck we may feel in our lives.
In concluding our talk, Dev and I return to the topic of relationships that are built over many years. I can see how important this is to him—giving time and space for a relationship to evolve, deepen, and grow. It feels similar to his affinity for sustained inquiry, holding something for long enough that you get an expansive breadth of experience. I project that for him, those relationships—the ones that you can’t rush or be strategic about—are the ones that allow him to stay connected to his center of gravity, his place of deep, intuitive inner knowing that allows him to reclaim his instinct and lead the life he wants to live.
Dev Aujla is the CEO of Catalog, a recruiting firm that has provided talent and strategy for companies that make money and do good. He is the creator of the website 50waystogetajob.com and is currently writing a book of unconventional job advice for the modern career seeker gathered from the 400K+ people that have used the site to identify their next steps. In his spare time, Dev runs the Sorted Library, a small independent reading space in New York.