Tuesday, May 03, 2011

46/100: Where Do I Go From Here

Hi Supriyo,

Trust all is well with you.

All is well with me.

Have been trying to bring a long dialog with myself to conclusion, and have had recent
breakthroughs, largely thanks to your posts about your journey.

I stepped out of my "job" a month back. In your words, "I am not looking for a job." Doing nothing more significant than creating more debt and having a good time at home with family.

Have been through a good bit the last two years. Terrible stuff but very instructive.

Haven't been happier.

Would like to see 46/100 if you think it is ok.

Best regards and lot of gratitude,

S.

This is the first mail I saw when I turned on my Blackberry on my way to office. This is from a friend whose words made my day. He has taken the leap of faith; whatever I said in my blog, I haven't reached there yet.

Today was a somewhat special day for me. Exactly a year ago, I walked out of my job: A job that I hated, but was one I could have held on to. I walked out, foolishly, without a job in hand and in the middle of a terrible job market. But I did so as I thought time is somewhat more important than money, and I must follow my heart.

I was prepared for the worst. I was ready to go back to work in some cash-in-carry. I mentally prepared to go back to India if I can't sustain myself in Britain. But I was no longer ready to waste time on someone's vanity project which was going nowhere.

So, on the 3rd of May 2010, I returned to England from my last business trip and spent the day thinking about my priorities. I wrote to all the people I could possibly turn to, looking for a job. I created a budget for my expenses, and listed things I could sell off, like my car. I pledged not to buy any books from Amazon for three months (this is one thing I shall successfully do, and realize how much money I spend every month).

The best I could do is wait, stay home and enjoy the break. I had to catch up on pending work, like washing the car, sorting out various bits in the house, catching up blog writing and emails that were sitting on my mailbox.

It was a bit of a wait, and then responses started coming. There were three distinct sets of emails. The first was from people who I thought were quite close to me, but suddenly, they were quite distant and inaccessible. They made me realize that it was my position they cared for, and as I left, there is nothing much I could offer to them. The second set were from people in India, my backup option: They told me that there isn't much I can do in India and they value me as I am in England. Basically, this was the moment of truth: An understanding what mattered and a bonfire of my vanities.

But, then, there were this third set of people. Some of them I don't even know, they are Linkedin connections rather than real life friends. Some reads my blogs. Some I met in real life but did not think they were very close. And, indeed, some close friends. They came back with concern, care, words of support. One person offered me a job, then another. Soon, in a couple of weeks time, I was considering different offers. My fears were behind me: I was making a fresh start in an industry of my choice.

This was a sort of a life-defining moment. I have had these big moments before: When I left my first job to start a business in 1998, or when I left India in 2000, or when I landed in Heathrow in 2004. I could talk about all these moments as me being heroic, taking decisions, staying the course. But I have learned two things about such events that are worth confessing too.

First, there were always other people and their random kindnesses that make such life-changing moments possible. My first months in Britain were tough and focused, but without my friend and benefactor from Bangladesh stood by me all the time; today, any story would never be complete without mentioning him. These acts of random, unexpected kindnesses shaped my life-defining moments, exactly as it did to me a year ago. Someone I knew only as a casual acquaintance - I tried selling something to him once but never succeeded - responded to my request for a job and took me in. I am quite certain he was trying to help as much as he was looking at my experience and expertise, the standard stuff people consider while offering someone a job. This is again an act of random kindness by a relative stranger, which, if I count, always underpinned the most significant moments in my life.

Second, while it sounds rather heroic to stay on, keep my head down and start working from scratch yet again, I was too afraid to run away. As the English proverb goes, this may indeed be the essence of all heroism - but certainly this was why I did what I did. Most of the time, when I moved from one stage to another, I burnt the ships - hence there was no going back. My plans to go back to India was somewhat fanciful, though I must admit that the key reason was to be able to live close to my family in Kolkata (and this is why it is fanciful, because it would have never happened). But I was too afraid to walk away from my dreams, even when it did not make sense. I was too afraid not to fulfill the promise that I somewhat made to myself, to escape my provincial past and to live, work and learn in different countries of the world. I was too afraid to abandon my journey, and disappoint, above all, myself. So, I didn't go away.

As I look back, there is a sense of happiness in having survived the year, in being able to do what I wanted to do. However, I am at another point of inflection yet again, when something different must be done to move forward from this point. I may or may not be any closer building the 'global' business school I wanted to build, and at this time of taking stock, I am trying to assess what I have got and whether I shall be able to get there at any point of time. We live in a time of great change in the British Higher Education sector, and the point about being at such times is that one needs to take the opportunity as and when it arises. Sitting on your hands and waiting for things to happen is possibly the worst strategy people could adopt at this time.

But, in the end, the point S. got so clearly, it is about happiness. It is about overcoming the fear that keeps us sub-par and makes us do what we don't want to do. And, finally, it is about achieving the freedom and independence, so that we can become what we should become. This day, being a sort of an independence day for me, was already special: My friend's declaration of independence made it even more special - and encouraged me to go on.

3 comments:

Niti said...

:)
That's very well written.

Although what would you call someone who never even tried getting a job because they wanted to do things a certain way? A lazy ass.

I guess it is a phase.. you have to get into it to get out of it.

And at least I am very thankful for my difficult times. It has taken away the crowds from around me.

Happy independence day, though. To you and your friend!

I, however, has had a free life. And I don't regret it.

Niti said...

And also, I totally love the bookshelf behind you in that pic!! :)

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Thanks Niti. I am loving my book-filled room: It is cramped and unorganized, exactly as I wanted it to be.

And about someone who don't want to look for a job? That's defying a social stereotype that evolved from the industrial age, but now completely out of touch and out of date. You are right: You pass through it, and if you can finally overcome the fear, you discover there are so many meaningful things you can do with your life. Indeed, most of what we end up doing that way will be socially disapproved, but who would care about what the neighbours say when we are trying to rebuild the world one life at a time.

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