“So what do you do here?” the uncomprehending visitor asks, waving vaguely at the surrounding lack of an office.
It is not just a question of income. It is a question of identity. Most urban professionals define themselves by what they do. Work is identity. I recently met a city someone at an event. We spoke for 5 minutes and I knew enough to create his linkedin profile : McKinsie, Genpact, teaching at a B school … the works.
I knew everything about him. Or maybe, I knew nothing.
The past 18 months is the longest I have been without a full-time job since college.* Quitting full-time work creates a vacuum. I think it is easier for my wife since she worked limited hours in the city and works limited hours here. Harder for me. Right now my answer to the “work” question is a long winded “Oh I do some consulting and write a blog and am working on a book, and am getting my website off the ground … and so on”. It used to be much clearer when I just said “I run a company called HCL learning Ltd”. Clearer – even in my own head.
Now, there are 3-4 things that I do – not just to earn an income (some of them – like this blog – earn nothing) but to find meaning. I do some consulting work. I am working on a schooling website called Kyaschool. I am working on a book, and I write this blog.
“Is it easy to quit full-time work?” You ask. My answer depends upon who you are.
If you are a city type looking for inspiration or a hero to worship, I will happily oblige with a nonchalant “No big deal”.
But deep inside, there is anxiety. I am no longer a CEO / President / whatever. I have given up the label that used to define me, so who am I now?
Author? No – to earn that title I should’ve written something I feel truly proud of. “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” doesn’t count. And this blog is too young.
Start-up guy? Hmm – but the site I am putting up is a duct-tape and bubblegum effort with a virtual team, and little expertise. There is a fair chance the whole thing will bomb. Or www.Kyaschool.com may be reduced to just a collection of Videos and Blog Posts.
Consultant ? Okay. It is a vestige of who I used to be. It is also the safety line back to full-time employment if I ever were to seek it again. Makes me feel less “left out” and a little more connected and relevant. So my resume (which, Insha-Allah, I will never need) does not have the dreaded “gap”. In many ways it is clinging to the familiar, because letting go of everything known is scary.
It is so hard to just be me.
It is not the worlds labels or expectations I am dealing with. It is my own (dis)comfort with being this new, free, unlabeled person.
Don’t get me wrong – work matters to me. Thing is, I want to do work that matters. Over time I hope I will be able to let go and shift away from the security of the familiar into completely new areas which I know nothing about, but which matter somewhere deep inside. It could be waste management. Or something education related. Or writing.
I would like to think that eventually my work choices will stop being driven by familiarity or fear and turn into choices driven by passion. Gabriel Garcia Marquez says in “Love in the times of Cholera”:
“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
I agree. But I do wonder how long the gestation period is for rebirth.
*This blogger relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas from Gurgaon, and the fun stuff he does besides trekking, writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .