Thursday, March 16, 2017

FOMO

I had many fears when I quit my full time job after 7 glorious years of fancy titles, fancier company names and unmentionably low salary increments: 
1. How would I finance my monthly shopping frenzy, one. Answer one: that itch died along with the need to be constantly seen in something trendy, because my new wardrobe was rapidly rotating pyjamas and those seasons last years, you know
2. How would I continue to be financially independent and hold my own in important decisions at home, two. The cash well, so to speak, was not empty, yet. Like the swan singing its last song, I was free to assert my opinion as long as it numbered > 0
3. What would I do with my time, three. This turned out to be the least of my problems. There always were movies to watch, afternoon naps to take and friends to catch up with. And the occasional "business development" for new projects, of course

Nine months to myself and some of my deeper malaises are floating to the surface like dead fish: 
1.1 The worth of my CV, which I had painstakingly and strategically built to its impressive (as of June 2016) state, one point one. Another year of sitting around, dreaming and I could kiss any chances of getting another full time job worth my time goodbye 
2.1 In five, maybe ten years all my peers, especially the ones I would refuse to be in the same meeting room with, will be VPs, CXOs and oh-so-definitely investors, two point one. I would be exactly where I am now, slightly worse the wear
3.1. Aforementioned VPs and CXOs will send their children to fancy international school holidays for "study tours", and eventually to Norway to study "design", three point one. I would scrape through something to support living expenses of my progeny for a merit seat at a local college
4.1 In their early fifties, people my age will be talking "early retirement", four point one. I will still be searching for my calling

On the other hand, I know in my heart of hearts, as I have known for every single day of the past nine months I have spent outside of the workplace, that I belong elsewhere. Even on the worst days - the days when I had no new clients, nothing new to add to my latest piece of writing and when everything seemed dull, I did not want to go back to work. 

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings fame speaks eloquently and passionately about how anything worthwhile takes time, and laments our culture that values productivity and money over real immersion and following our hearts. She's lucky, I think, she stumbled upon her calling like one trips over an uneven stone on the footpath. I am too tired to study something completely new, too old for fanciful thinking, and too close to the ground to ignore the monthly bills. Then there are the others, my colleagues turned ex friends, moving on to better paying jobs while looking at me as a trapped bird would at the sky. 

I don't know which is the greater fear: never tasting freedom, or not knowing when and where (if at all) real, life altering inspiration is going to strike. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Being Female

This is the first time I have given voice to a topic that has been close to my heart since I left home for college, and spent time in the close company of the opposite sex. 

I realise with bitter clarity one reason for me to have taken so long to get to this point: for almost a decade I had been all bluster and no essence. For the first half of my life I was content to do laps in my shallow end of the pool, since I didn't know any better. I spent the next ten years or so seething. First quietly, then in fits of words, like an overloaded washing machine leaking its excess. Now, I am tired. Or rather, my body is tired and is dragging my mind along with it. Hence the action. 

My first learning is that a bulk of my limitations or restrictions are self inflicted. As an impressionable teenager, I had looked at other women - older women, younger women, more popular women, successful women - and decided to be a little like all of them. My shackles were in my mind, into which I allowed just about anyone whose words fell into my over sensitive ears. In all that cacophony, I lost contact with who I really was. Now, the only rules that matter are the ones that I make.

My second learning is a practical one - for better or for worse, we live in a society where men hold more power. It is natural that they will do things the way they know. If women had been in power, maybe men would be blogging about their rights, too. I want to focus on navigating this tide, rather than trying to turn it in my favour. Of course, if a few people get sensitized along the way, great. Otherwise, they will be made more than aware simply by watching me stand up for myself.  

My last learning is that preaching to the world is a waste of time. Everyone has emails to check, families to feed and FB to update. I have my little world, which is in as much in my control as it could possibly be. I need to effect the change in this microcosm. Then I can blog about it and send it to a few people who matter to me. Maybe they will do something in their worlds, maybe not. Either way, change will happen in its own time.

As a disclaimer, I am just writing about what I know. I don't want to get into an argument of "buts" on how I am privileged to be where I am, since lakhs of girls get killed in their mother's wombs, lakhs get married off as mere children and millions continue to suffer a plight that is the definition of subjugation. All of that is true. What I think is also true. To me.



Friday, September 23, 2016

How to Ride the Wave

It was the fourth dive of my trip and the tenth dive of my life. Visibility was spotty, and combined with my slug like grace 14m under the blue, blue ocean it was turning out to be a tiring and mildly boring dive. 

The instructor gestured for us to head back towards the boat. Not much use hanging around when we could barely see our hands in front of us. It was only after a couple of minutes of flailing about that I realised that everyone else was doing exactly the opposite. There was a strong current which luckily for us, was moving in the very direction that we wanted to go. As experience amply showed, all the other divers stopped moving and focused on breathing evenly. This ensured that they retained neutral buoyancy, conserved energy (and consequently oxygen), all the while moving towards their destination. 

I thought of this incident today, while contemplating the seesawing nature of my once predictable life. It was wake up, get ready, work, work, work, get home, sleep, sleep, sleep. Then it's weekend and soon it's Monday. So wake up, get ready, work, work, work, get home, sleep, sleep, sleep. Then it's weekend and soon it's Monday. For 7 years (I know that many people have done this for 23, 53, 60 years. For me 7 is a lot in a way that half yearly anniversaries are celebrated by the newly married.) I recall the ups and downs of work life, good one day, disastrous the next, snooze worthy on most days. Post my 6th year, I learnt the hard way (and thanks to A's brutal advice) that getting all worked up over every small blip on the excitement screen was a wasteful expense of energy. Growing older helped. As did losing sleep. What I detested the most was my overall powerlessness in making or breaking these things. Hard work rarely determined the output. Neither did sincerity, saving for a rainy day and calling wolf. These sound pathetically naive to me now, but at that time I was out of options. 

There are so many things I want to do, starting with determining how I spend my time. I want to be on time, no, 5 minutes early to meetings, movie shows and family dinners. I want to read sleazy romance novels for 30 minutes everyday before sleeping, in the warm comfort of my bed. I want to create something with my impossibly high standards; something perfect in my eyes. Then I want to share it with the people who really want to see it simply because they are curious, not because they are being paid to or because they accepted my meeting request when they were high on self importance. I want to write of course. 

Nothing can get me as close to what I want as I would like, whether in a controlled environment like a workplace, or out of it. Not by doing it my way, at least. Each day is a like a wave in the ocean. It comes from somewhere deep inside the world, created by many tiny thoughts and actions each adding up to the curve. It it continuous, day after day, but no wave is alike. I cannot determine the wave that would lap at my feet or prevent it from sinking me under. But I can ride it. Take steady breaths, achieve neutral buoyancy, and drift with the current. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Put Everything at Stake

When I recently completed two busy years at my ex employer, my LinkedIn inbox flooded with ‘congratulatory’ emails. You know, the one that LinkedIn has so thoughtfully penned so that we can just hit the ‘Send’ button instead of actually typing something useful, or god forbid, personal. 

After limboing for more than two weeks, I finally updated my current position on LinkedIn to a savvier version of ‘unemployed’. In case you are searching your ignorant brain, it is ‘Independent Consultant’. By that time I had lost the rest of my sparse bravado and was sweating at how my established and much secure peer group would react at this coup de idiocy.  Now, LinkedIn’s profile format mandates that we enter the name of the company we are working at, so I checked the only option that I was prompted - ‘Self Employed’So now I am, if one had to make a sentence out of this as we would of any full time job, independently working at employing myself. 

Then I forgot to toggle the button that proclaimed ‘yes, publish an update to my network about my profile changes’ before making said edits. Might as well shout out my potential pennilessness to the world. Que sera sera and all that. 

Before barrelling into the much anticipated self flagellation on this seemingly unreasonable decision, I agreed with myself that I now had a lot at stake. I had given up my only source of regular income (not to mention the emotional security of a job and all its attendant benefits like free lunches), so I owed it to myself to make better use of my time. If I squandered this period of my life I would have no one else to blame but myself, for a change. If one turned this statement around (the mathematical equivalent of its contradiction being true if a statement was true) it would be that employed management professionals in the mid-senior level have notoriously less to lose. I have a weakness for Victorian era stories, so I see a strong parallel here. During the late 1890s, the aristocracy ruled most of Britain. They had so much wealth - immovable assets like land and farms which generated income - that maintaining it was in itself a lifelong job. While a few exceptions multiplied their holdings and therefore their wealth, a large majority lived a life of decadence: singing, dancing and wining their lives away. The ton, as this set was fashionably called, was known for its unforgiving attitude towards anyone who crossed the line of propriety in any form. To me the only plausible explanation for this uselessly rigid behaviour was that they had so much of material comfort, that the only thing that mattered anymore was their reputations.

To cut to the present, whenever I have socialised with my peer group, the only thing that has mattered was where everyone was working. What was earlier a vocal exclamation of pleasant surprise and not a little envy (because I had worked at what was viewed as a 'happening startup'), now I see a casual shrug and a not so covert move away towards someone with whom they can do corporate speak, and maybe further their 'network'. 

It is no surprise therefore, that more than 12 hours after I mistakenly told my LinkedIn network my new job, my inbox remains bereft of congratulatory messages. Here’s my vote for a message template that reads: “Congratulations on following your true calling. Hope you have fun and write about it someday.” 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Conform or Perish

The road to a job change, or for that matter any change, is a thorny one. It's no wonder then that we have all, with such alacrity, stuck our butts to our plush office chairs with Fevibond (the ultimate adhesive!)

The day I quit my full time, obscenely high paying job felt liberating. For exactly 3 days. Then 30 days of a free floating feeling with the soft cushion of the ocean on my back and the sun on my face followed. As the first month drew to a close, I filled the next 15 days with the purposeful vigour of determining the path that would catapult me to overnight superstardom (because that is my destiny, duh). I am now in my last 10 days of my job and feeling like the ground I am standing on is rapidly depleting. 

I don't think I am fated to be famous; I am snowboarding towards the abyss of a cracker that showed tremendous potential, only to fizzle out. The least I can do is to take a detour so that I can atleast pay the bills that pile up every month. 

My reasons to become independent were not because I had an idea that I was passionate about, or because I wanted to change the world, one person at at time. I admit it. I just got tired. Of people telling me what to do, over and over and over again. Of stupidity that got paid to be more stupid. Of obsequiousness and pandering and oily palms. I didn't think it through. I just thought enough to realise that I was unhappy in the present. The amount that got credited to my account every month was supposed to make me feel better, but it didn't. So I opted out. 

Not wanting to limit the options in my future, I pressed every button that would get me a call. Any call. Only to realise that I was not ready to do anything than talk to myself. My first interview went somewhat like this:

Interviewer: Nivedita, I think you are obscuring the contribution that you have really made to your team. Don't worry, I am not going to get confused if you get into details. So what I would really like to hear is how you solved this particular problem, using a framework. You see, I love frameworks and it would be great if you could use this approach to explain your work to me. 

Me: (Grinding teeth and punching my stuffed toy's face) Sure. Can I take 2 minutes to compose my answer, please? 

The worst thing a criminal can do is to create more criminals. That's why today's prisons are not exactly the epitomes of rehabilitation. Needless to say, I did not make it to the next round. Frameworks are for dudheads who don't know anything about action but know everything about talking. My personal opinion, but hey, I am entitled to one, right? Oh, right. Am not!

My second call was with a recruiter, who, after calling me at 9.30pm on a Thursday night, proceeded to apologise for "calling late" in the most insincere tone I have ever heard. He asks me if I have "2 minutes" and when I affirm he asks me, "Can you tell me more about what you do currently?" 
Now, both him and I know that this is not a 2 minute question. So I decide not to oblige, because "I want to put my best foot forward", and well, I am just not ready to interview on the fly. He insists. I insist right back. I finally request him to call me the next morning. It's been a week. 

The reason we are all the way we are is a complex network of incidents, experiences, influences and a whole lot of other things that scientists and thinkers today are all still trying to decode. What we have done, with this absolutely unique, precious and highly evolved science is to dumb it down to conformation. A rigid set of rules. 
A + B + C = Smart
D + E + F = Stupid
A + C + G = wait, what's this? Oh, ok. Stupid!

I refuse to conform. I have spent too much time and energy trying to be A+B+C, feeling like being packed into a 2x2 carton. The only upside was that no one asked me any uncomfortable questions. No one noticed me either. 

I refuse to perish. Like animals in captivity who lose their inborn skill of hunting, I refuse to forget what I have painstakingly built. Sure, it doesn't fit into a financial model and doesn't massage anyone's ego, least of all mine. But I don't care. There's got to be a way out and if I spend the rest of my life digging myself out of this tunnel, so be it. That, at least, will not be a life in vain. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The (Un)fairness of It All

I feel embarrassed to admit that it has only been a week since I accepted that the world is not a fair place. I know, I know, it seems obvious and practical and realistic. But to me, it felt boring, this feeling. It rang of resignedness, of giving up, of failure (my least favourite word). I resolved to redeem myself from this tragic fate: I was going to stand up for what I believed in. Break, but never bend, that would be my motto for things I considered important were involved. 

Thanks to circumstances currently beyond my understanding, I ended up watching Alain de Botton's charmingly witty and stealthily harsh TED Talk. It was about success and failure, mainly, but a bulk of the justification for not getting swayed by either was his argument that society and the world at large were too complex for a neatly ranked list or a normal curve. So we should be less quick to judge others, and infinitely more gentle when we pit ourselves against the world.

For someone who claims to be in touch with her instincts, it took a vaguely probabilistic allusion to convince me that Failure was heading my way, one way or the other. Then Hugh MacLeod took 49 PDF pages and around 100 of the normal A5 ones to tell me that the pain of making sacrifices will always hurt more than I think it would. I tend to feel sadness and anger way longer than happiness or joy. Maybe because I feel completely entitled to all happiness but not sadness.

If the Present is a Gift that I don't like, can I give it back?  There are times when even the mathematically sound logic mentioned above does not help. I wallow in the Unfairness of It All; in the hollow certainty that there will be people who should have gotten more and even more people who should have gotten less. Maybe the notion of karma was created to address this thorn in our side. After all, as highly intelligent beings, we are more likely to accept something we don't or cannot understand. It is comforting to know that justice would eventually prevail in the universe. So what if I could not see it? He can. 

It is stupid to expect to get what we deserve; what we think we deserve is our measure of our own worth, of, for a 30 year old, having spent 946 billion seconds with ourselves. The maximum someone like a parent or a sibling could have gotten with us would be half this number. Decisions like marriage or job options are made in a fraction of this time. How is it, then, that we can expect the world to give us our due, or worse still, constantly surprise us with its generosity? 

Hence the copious literature available on defining our own measure of success; standing up for what we believe in; following our heart, da-da, da-da. In reality, it's the least resistant path to Failure. The difference is this: I think this path can be flipped that to get the most resistant path to Happiness. It's a surest shot of a path out there, and so, definitely worth taking.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thirty

It's the age that most women dread meeting, like bumping into an ex boyfriend at a friend's wedding after an acrimonious break up. It's the threshold of being 'young'. And when you work at a place where the average age of the girls walking by in swishing skirts is 23, it feels a lot older than 'not young'.

Here's a strange thing - nothing happened to me when I turned thirty. Well, nothing outwardly noticeable or obviously bone tingling. Yes I could make jokes about 'turning old' and the afore mentioned twenty somethings would laugh politely. I could preen and mime when someone assured me that I did not look a day older than 25 (mostly because they wanted to get some work done, but never mind that.)

Yes the body ages and yes, the eggs die. So now was the time to do something about it, if I really cared. It seems pithy that a society spawned notion could spark anything in me, particularly such a transformative flip. Then I remembered what I had told a friend who had laughingly confided that his best writing had come from the times he had fought with his parents as a perennially angry teenager: It's the inspiration that matters. The source is irrelevant.

Someone wise once said that the most important things in life are not spoken; they are felt. What I felt when I turned thirty was         resolute. Now I had a reason to make every minute count. I felt bolder, more in touch with my inner self, because there's nothing left to judge. Nothing that I cared about, anyway. Most importantly, I felt happier. I knew what I wanted and I was going after it. Just like that.

To turning thirty.