A lot of self-help articles that come my way dwell upon ‘quitting your job and following your dreams’. This is especially true of articles and books written by Western personal-growth gurus and authors. Whether it’s a piece about finding happiness in the moment, taking better decisions or just being more joyful, this phrase often turns up in various forms, casually dropped in or meaningfully dangled for your attention: “Your job is a contradiction of your dreams; give it up and start really living the way you are ‘supposed’ to.”
As someone who got her first ‘real’ full-time job at the age of 30, I happen to lie on the other side of this belief. I had had a brief fling with ‘working’ before I got married at the age of 20 – if four to five months of sitting pretty behind a bank counter filling up draft-request forms for those who couldn’t do it themselves counts as a real job. Then came the next eight to 10 years of the ‘Dark Ages’ of my life when I stayed home and did nothing (well, to be honest, I did care for the kids absent-mindedly, avoided cooking while keeping up appearances of a smoothly run home, got addicted to the newborn Internet, imprisoned myself emotionally and physically, cried a lot, and went to the doctor every week for some ailment or the other). By the time I began writing my beloved poetry again, at the age of 28, working was something to do with ‘other women’, women who came from another planet where freedom and choice were a given. Not in my world.
And yet, ‘working’ crept up on me like a surprise gift in the mail. I got a job without doing much about it. But it came with a price. Within days, my marriage began crumbling, and within months, it fell apart. But it would be wrong to say that my job led to my separation. It may have been the last straw on an already crumbling marital back. But it was 100 per cent responsible for my strength and sense of self-worth that kept me going through those difficult years and beyond.
I can’t blame Westerners for their point of view about jobs being drudgery: the recent downturn in their countries has been a wake-up call for those working without passion or heart. But in my case, my job was my passion, my heart. The very idea of stepping out of home, going to an organised place of work, sitting in a chair at a desk assigned to me, working diligently to my personal satisfaction whether or not anyone asked me to — these little details that working people take for granted were for me tremendous gifts and privileges. Every time I climbed up the stairs at the Penguin office to my second-floor cubicle, I felt worthy. I felt like I had value no one else could take away from me. Those few thousands I earned back then, in my first full-time job, represented freedom and joy in a way the millions in my husband’s or dad’s bank account couldn’t.
From then on, of course, I kept rising and growing, faster than anyone else I’ve known, despite my personal challenges at the same time. It was a matter of finding my niche, my forte, my raison d’etre. Nothing was too menial or too boring for me. I pored over medical directories for wayward commas; I taped print-outs for the boss; I ticked away furiously at the odd missing space or colon. I read and re-read proofs as if my life depended on it (and it did). Later, when I moved to the media, I punched away at keys and scrolled the Indesign pages of my magazine with love, tenderness and a mother’s firm fist. My job came first, even before my kids at times. It was my lifeline, my need, my soul. While others grumbled about the low raises, small bathrooms or lack of cabs, I drank up my experiences thirstily, revelling in every little little one as if it were a precious piece of heaven.
Gradually, of course, even I became blase. Even I lost my enthusiasm, and became a typical ‘working mom’. But even so, I would still never say I want to ‘give up my job to follow my dream’. As an Indian woman who was destined to be a housewife, being able to work itself is a dream. That I am in a job I love, is nothing short of nirvana.
I don’t think it is the job that is to blame for stifled dreams. After all, people choose those jobs willingly for whatever reason. They follow their priorities. Our jobs are actually a reflection of our own life condition. They mirror our own truths and inner realities. If we don’t like what we see outside, we need to look inside for what needs fixing. Joy can be found anywhere — even in dusty old law books or crooked text boxes on computer screens. As Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
I saw God every day, in all my jobs. Did you?