Voluntary Unemployment

I finally quit my job.

I’ve done this many times before – different jobs, I mean – and it’s different every time. There’s always some sadness, but there are always so many other things mixed up with that. This time, there’s a dry sense of frustration, and a sense of resignation in addition to the sadness: sadness that I had to leave a great company for the sake of a lousy boss; sadness that in three long years here, there’s probably nobody in my team that I’d really like to keep in touch with; frustration that my skills, instead of being honed or extended, have been forced to rust; and resignation that a small, faraway voice, however persistent cannot change the way a biased, stubborn mind or an elephantine organization works.

It’s the second time that I’ve quit without knowing what I’m going to be doing next. In a way, I’m more apprehensive about it now than I was last time. That time, I thought I was on my way to making all my dreams come true. This time, I’m not so sure.

But I know one thing for sure: it just doesn’t make sense to keep doing something that’s giving you absolutely nothing back. Other than a pay cheque, I mean. In my current job, I have no challenge, no opportunity, no growth, no stimulation. It’s a brain-dead job in which I have practically no responsibility. It was good to start with; in the early days, I had a lot to learn. But then, the learning dried up, and so did the challenge. I knew a long time ago, that if something didn’t change, and soon, I wouldn’t survive long. In the past two months, though, I made a serious effort to force a change. And yet, finally, the “change” that was forthcoming still required me to work with my current boss, and that, I know, is just not a long-term solution. I can’t work with a boss whom I’m constantly battling and trying to outmanoeuver.

With this decision, maybe, my corporate career is at an end.

Ten years of working life has taught me a lot. I remember when I was younger and stupider, idealistic, passionate… I used to get into the thick of office politics, standing up for whatever I thought was right, and vociferously at that. Ten years has taught me to change all that. Now I simply talk to people I like and trust, stay away from people I dislike and distrust, do my job and go home. It is comfortable this way; so what if it is less fulfilling than the other way – when you are intensely, passionately, and completely involved in your work and thoroughly dedicated, committed, and loyal to your organization?

  • First, I worked for the money – as a college student, Rs 4000 or Rs 5000 a month was a breeze!
  • Then, I worked for the work – sales jobs didn’t suit my temperament, so I switched to journalism; the money, Rs 2000 or so a month, was a joke – even back then, it hardly paid the fuel bill.
  • Then, I worked for ambition – I set out to prove myself, to achieve, to excel, and to be seen as one who did.
  • Then, I worked for passion – I loved what I did, I immersed myself in my job, I enjoyed it, I was defined by it.
  • Then, I worked for stability – I just needed a nine-to-five that would keep me busy and pay the bills; I didn’t have to enjoy it, I didn’t expect to be thrilled by it, I didn’t care if I was merely mediocre at it. I had realized that there were other things in life than work.

The thing that strikes me most in this progression, is how at first money grew in importance, then waned as I looked for more satisfying work; then grew again, as I chased fatter and fatter pay packets, which were to me a symbol of my “success”; then waned, when I realized that the fat pay packet alone is not only no indicator of success, but is, moreover, insufficient motivation to persist with a plum boring job. As the saying goes, all pay and no work… well, it’s not as much fun as it should be.

When I first started working, I cherished every rupee of my miserable little income; later, relatively “flush” with funds, I spent my hard-earned money with gay abandon; still later, with more money than sense, I tried to spend wisely, save wisely; and now, my salary having at last crossed all bounds of what seems reasonable and fitting for one of my skills, I value money so little as to actively set about terminating my handsome income on the flimsiest of grounds. (I mean, really, who ever heard of anyone quitting because they didn’t have enough work? Almost as mind-numbing as someone quitting because they’re getting paid too much.)

Of course, as far as money goes, it’s easy to speak from a position of plenty – I know that even if I don’t work and earn, I will survive, and in a fair degree of comfort at that. But that, in itself, is sad, because it takes away one great motivator in life. The need to earn is an important factor, not only in one’s career, but in life in general. There’s a strange rootless-ness in knowing that you don’t “have” to do anything to survive. No wonder kids who are born obviously wealthy often grow up a little wonky.

As for me – if I find myself going a little wonky, I can always go back to work, corporate or other. But that would be a kind of defeat – that would mean that I hadn’t been able to work on other stuff, the stuff you don’t get paid for, the stuff that makes a difference to you and – if you’re very lucky – a tiny bit of difference to the world around you.

Doing a routine nine-to-five (or eleven-to-four, truth be known) till you drop dead of boredom is the easy way out. It’s easy to sink into a kind of vegetable stupor. Getting oneself out of that is tough. After so many years of it, I don’t know if I have – or if I ever had – what it takes to achieve anything that’s important to me. That’s the scary part. But, well, like it or not, here’s my second chance to try.

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