I remember as we were growing up, we idolised people for their success. What was success? Money, fame, popularity, shiny cars, big houses, jewellery and expensive vacations -- did they signify success? Yes! We studied hard to get good jobs in well-known organisations. Life was meant to be lived on the fast lane. With each passing year, the aspirations got bigger. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger gadgets, more expensive watches, international schools for the kids, more gruelling hours in the office and at home, more EMIs for more possessions.
You are making money, lots of it. When you exchange notes with your batchmates, you have lofty titles to display against your name. You also have the expression on your face that says, "I am important! I am always busy." You have arrived. You run and run, until one fine day you are just too exhausted to even get up. You feel an emptiness, a longing, a burnout, a bone-deep fatigue and a desire to break free.
Projects don't look as exciting. Travel begins to feel numbing. You can't connect with your family even when you're at home. Huge bills and EMIs have shackled you completely. That old camera, the guitar in the attic, a long forgotten Montblanc pen that your father gave you beckon. You are torn between what your heart desires and what the world expects from you. You decide to act.
"Projects don't look as exciting. Travel begins to feel numbing. You can't connect with your family even when you're at home. Huge bills and EMIs have shackled you completely."
Some are bitten by the bug to do their own thing, start their own enterprise. In a nutshell, people hit a phase when they want to "follow their heart!" It used to happen by the itchy 40s, the much-maligned middle age. But these days, even people in the 30s are giving up everything they slogged for to chase a dream.
And this tribe of freelancers, entrepreneurs and people on a sabbatical is growing rapidly by the day. Is it a reflection on the jobs we do that seem to demand every minute of our waking time? Are companies doing enough to keep the jobs challenging and the employees motivated? If everyone cribs about a bad boss, then where are the good people? Did we really choose the
fields that we never liked to begin with? These are interesting questions to seek answers to.
As for the confused souls, there are some who take unpaid leave to figure out exactly what they want to do. There are organisations that give you such breaks and yet have a job waiting for you when you get back. There are some who just quit and get into a completely different field that matches their interests better. If they are single, have less monetary obligations or have a working partner, it may be easier taking this step than if they are the sole breadwinners of the family. The more debt you have, the more difficult it is to have the courage to do something this drastic. It is a huge step and must be taken only after a lot of soul searching, especially in a bad economy.
"[S]omewhere along this new path, you will shed the conventional paradigms of success. You will find that an old car does not pinch as much."
But, the essence of my post is that, it is important to recognise that money will not always give you happiness and mental peace. In my opinion, it is a hygiene factor in Maslow's hierarchy. You need some of it to have basic comforts and basic happiness. But too much of it does not guarantee an exponential increase in happiness. Somewhere along the line, the inner you will find its voice to reach your mind. Not only do I speak from personal experience but also from observing others around me.
Along with this comes a realisation that somewhere along this new path, you will shed the conventional paradigms of success. You will find that an old car does not pinch as much. The latest gadget may not have you scrambling for your wallet. A trip to the zoo with the family or a vacation in the hills may replace foreign jaunts. You may give up on many luxuries yet strangely you will find more peaceful and content. This is not to say that choosing this path is easy. You may still feel regret, rue what could have been.
To the families of those who quit the rat race, I say, "I know what you have been through." But your spouse is not only a money-making device. It will be difficult, and they may not always find success. Allow them the opportunity to walk the path they desire. They can always figure their way back if need be but give them the encouragement and trust to follow their dreams. And to those who must keep slaving away (generally men), I say, I have utmost respect for the kind of strenuous jobs you put up with only to keep your families running. Our cruel society allows its women to take breaks or even give up work without batting an eyelid. But God forbid, if a man does that!
I do hope that your work is your path to contentment no matter what you choose to do!
I also want to express my admiration for all those I know and read about who give up a set path to pursue what their heart desires -- the social workers, the writers, the school teachers, the freelancers and the entrepreneurs.
A version of this post has been published on Rachna says