I have vivid memories of that moment. I had just read my 5th appreciation email from the top management of my unit. It was for a presentation delivered by me during an important tour, and the accolades were primarily due to the fact that I was roped in for something that critical at the eleventh hour and managed it successfully.
I knew that this would be considered as an extraordinary achievement in my next performance review and I should have been exultant about this. But, though I felt satisfied and triumphant, I was not exactly jumping over it. It was unlike me and I could not fathom why. All I knew was I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. I was fatigued due to the frenzy of the last few days before the tour but, more than the exhaustion, something else was plaguing my mind. I shut my eyes and went into trance imagining myself dancing under a spotlight in a dark room. As bizarre as this may sound, this did happen and this is precisely what provoked me into thinking about what I wanted from life. It was such a conspiracy that I fell very sick that night. The night went by with a flurry of thoughts in my brain for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, with some questions and many more answers in my head, I spoke to my husband the next day and dropped the bomb. Yes, I wanted to resign! This decision was influenced by multiple factors. I was prepared to face a scandalized husband but to my pleasant surprise, he was extremely cool and supportive. We did our calculations and concluded that we can survive on the salary of one earning member in the family. The next step was to speak to my managers and one of them, whom I admire and respect immensely, suggested that I take a long break instead of resigning. I was grateful because that would give me some time and space to figure out which road I wanted to pursue my journey on.
I never knew that this decision would prove to be the turning point of my life in multifarious ways. My passions had started pulling me hard towards them and all I could do was submit myself to the hilt. I got back dancing into my life like never before, enrolled myself for Shiamak Davar summer workshop, traveled a lot, launched a cookery brand for my mother, joined a NGO as a volunteer and did everything else I always wanted to do but never could. There were some nagging people who thought I was “wasting” my time and education. I was also called foolish for having left my white-collared job for “random” activities. Some even went a step ahead and transgressed by commenting that I was enjoying life on the earnings of my husband. But, I felt amused and all this discouragement never deterred me. Finally, by the time my break was nearing its end, I had found the answers to the unresolved questions of my life. I owe a great deal to my corporate job and loved the entire experience, but it was time to move on to my true calling. As most of you know, eventually I forayed into the field of dancing professionally while getting involved in some other pursuits in parallel. I immersed myself into my new “work” life after resigning and discovered that I was always self-motivated. After all, my passions were doing the job of driving me so I never found it taxing to push myself.
My objective behind narrating my story is not to advise you to quit your job and follow your passion. It is not in my place to offer any advice because everyone has different expectations from life and what works for someone may not work for the other. I had the financial assurance from my husband to pursue my dreams whereas someone else might not have that luxury or might not be willing to take the risk which is fair. However, I have occasionally noticed, based on my interactions with friends and family, that we stick to something because we are expected to and not because we ourselves are convinced about it. At times, what may seem like the most natural thing to do is not our own belief, but a reasoning that stems from the society’s presumptions and line of thoughts. It is very important for our society to understand that a corporate 9 to 5 job (though it is not 9 to 5 anymore with our current work culture) is not the only “real” job and lack of it is not “wasting” education. If you think there is no education required to become a home-based entrepreneur or to work on social causes or to raise a child or to be a home-maker or to pursue a profession in any art form, you seriously need some education. If I had taken heed to the words of those pulling me back along the path I had chosen for myself, I would not be the person I am today. So, the first thing that you ought to keep in mind when you are at crossroads in your life, is not to let the naysayers affect you in any way. They are not going to come and pay your bills, or fix the broken pieces for you. Do not get bogged down even if it might mean upsetting those close to you, because the ones who genuinely care will come around when they see you happy.
A standard scenario when women face the dilemma of whether to quit or not is when they become a mother. Some feel guilt-stricken when they get back to work after maternity leave and some feel a loss of self-worth and confidence if they decide to be a stay-at-home mother. If the pressures, struggles and madness of motherhood is not enough, people start judging you for a reason such as your decision to continue to work or not, making matters worse for a new mother. I was shocked when a friend once told me that she recommenced her job after delivery because of the taunts of everyone about having it easy at home. Is parenting ever easy? We know the answer. And then I have friends who were forced to stay at home for many years because they were made to feel guilty about “abandoning” their child for their own ambitions. How hard it is to understand that leaving the child with a trusted and reliable caregiver for a few hours is not the same as abandoning? If you are obligated to join back work due to financial reasons or want to toil for your own aspirations, remember that you are still parenting when away by working towards a better life for your child. Without mincing words, one thing I would say straight up is that whatever you decide to do, you cannot have best of both the worlds. Each situation has its perks and throws its own challenges. If you resume office, you might miss out on some special moments and milestones of your baby. In certain instances, the caretaker in your absence might not look after your baby in the way you might have preferred and balancing between work and home can be stressful. If you decide to stay at home, you might not get a breather from the baby leading to frustration, feeling of redundancy and exasperation. Your career might get affected and whenever you get back in future, it can be a struggle. If you plan to work from home, it is a humongous challenge in itself to work with a baby around affecting your productivity and possibly leading to more tantrums from the baby for your attention. Ask the relevant “Why”s, make an informed choice and before getting into any situation, set your expectations accordingly as this will go a long way in helping you stand by your decision. Learn to let go of the things which figure low in your scheme of priorities.
The crux of the matter is that there is no right or wrong, and it is all a laudable choice if you are happy with it. Your happiness is important to spread happiness as one cannot pour anything out from an empty glass. Do not go to office because someone else thinks it is your worth, but because you love your job or need the money. Stay at home, not because someone else thinks your child needs you all the time, but because you want to focus on your child. Start a venture at home, not because someone else thinks you are idling away time, but because you have a penchant for it. The cynics will find something to comment on irrespective of what you do. Parenting is not about the number of hours you spend with the baby. You could be there for all the while, yet doing it all wrong. What is of significance is that you spend quality time with your child and create memories for life. People say that children of working mothers learn to be independent faster and appreciate working women better. They also say that children of stay-at-home mothers learn various skills quickly and are more disciplined. None of these hypotheses are really true if you survey around. Children learn by an amalgamation of factors – the environment provided, what they observe and our thought processes which they imbibe through conversations with us. So they learn independence, skills, respect and empathy for others, regardless of a professional choice.
In essence, decisions of your life must be driven by your situation, your priorities and your philosophies. Let us not limit our minds to a one-dimensional understanding of what is perceived as “work”. The most essential need is to keep evolving as a person, and each person has different means of evolving. There are numerous diverse parameters in life that matter to every individual differently. It could be learning a new skill, traveling somewhere to broaden horizons, a promotion, social work, improving fitness levels, being a great parent, and this list can go on perpetually. It is on you to decide the permutations and combinations, and the weight of each of these parameters in your life that determine your value for yourself. And if you are still perplexed at a defining juncture, toss a coin. When the coin is up in the air, you will know what your heart is secretly wishing for 🙂