I remember as we were growing up, we idolized people for their success. What was success? Money, fame, popularity, shiny cars, big houses, jewelry, and expensive vacations – did they signify success? Yes! We studied hard to get good jobs in well-known organizations. Life was meant to be lived in the fast lane. Hang around with glamorous people, be seen and heard with those that are in the limelight, travel abroad were all part of the aspiration game. With passing years, the aspirations got bigger. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger gadgets, more expensive watches, international schools for the kids, more grueling 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, “You are important! You are always busy.” You have arrived. You run and run, till one fine day, you are just too exhausted to even get up. You feel 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. All that time away from family even when at home is alienating you from the ones you love and taking an emotional toll on you. Huge bills and EMIs have shackled you completely in their clutches. That camera, the guitar in the attic, a long forgotten MontBlanc that is a gift from your father beckons. You are torn between what your heart desires and what the world expects from you. 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 paying scant regards to our family 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 answer to.
As for the confused souls, there are some who take an unpaid leave and just take a break and try to figure out exactly what they want to do. There are organizations 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 divergent field after their interest. 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 gotten into only after a lot of soul searching especially in a bad economy.
But, the essence of my post is that, it is important to recognize that money will not always give you happiness and mental peace no matter how much you want it to. 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 that of others who have taken similar steps.
Along with this comes a realization 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. You may also not feel the itch to own the latest gadget despite not really needing it. A trip to the zoo with the family or a vacation in the hills may suffice instead of foreign jaunts. You may give up on many ‘lifestyle’ choices yet strangely you will find yourself more peaceful and content. That is not to say that sometimes, many times; it will pinch you about what could have been. Choose this path only with utmost conviction because it is not easy.
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 might not always find success but 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 reach out and pluck their dreams. And to the 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!
This post is my acknowledgment and 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.