It has been a year and four months since I stepped out of the corporate world after almost 6 years. In these last few months I’ve met many between the ages 25 and 35 who wanted to do the same – leave their corporate job and do something of their own.
For most part of the first 6 months, I was “de-stressing”. The stress of going penniless in the future was far worse than the stress of a job at one point. Yet joining self-healing groups helped me deal with this fear moment to moment basis. I also faced a lot of criticism from within which got reflected in my parents who are skeptical of my choices, but for most part, I discovered I was happy.
I thought of writing these life lessons that have been molding me post quitting.
1. Ambition is the biggest stresser
In the corporate world, if you are not ambitious, you are frowned upon and the collective message you are given is – “There is something wrong with you if you don’t want more”. But what if… what if you really are content with the work that you love? There is hardly any place for that. When you leave the industry (whichever industry that is) for doing something you love, it can be quite a change or challenging to figure out that you don’t want more. The way this hit me was when I was comparing myself with someone who had a lot of clients (a heavy payment for working in the corporate world is that you develop a strong comparing mind) and a part of me was content to have 3 sessions a week. I essentially didn’t want to scale up. I found it ridiculous at first – how could this be?! Slowly I realised that healing, the ‘profession’ I undertook, required an innate tuning of my own mind, body, soul and some more – universal alignment. Every time there was an inner feeling that I “should” be having these many sessions, my system shut down in some way. I learnt to replace ambition with intention. Intention is a way of working in collaboration with the universe. The highest intentions, I learnt in this process, were feeling-based intentions rather than objectified intentions. For example, instead of putting the intention of earning a certain amount, it felt more expansive to have the intention to feel provided for, more than ever before.
2. Being productive
While I hung out watching television for the first time in years, I would constantly have a nagging feeling at the back of my mind. It was as if I was supposed to be somewhere else, doing something else. Whether I went for long baths, or even travelled at the beginning, this feeling persisted. I sat down one day asking myself what this feeling is about and where it came from. I realised it was the constant pressure of having to be productive, where productivity is measured in terms of outcomes. In the corporate world we are taught to make every hour count. We offer time-sheets for every hour spent and therefore there is a constant inner check about how we are spending every hour. In the first few months that I left IT, there were hardly any clients and I felt the pressure to perform immediately. Through the self-help group I mentioned above and after doing loads of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), I was able to forgive myself for not producing results immediately. In this phase I was thankfully living alone. This saved me from the guilt of not doing anything that I often take on unconsciously when I’m living with my parents.
Being in a world of competition means that you set yourself up for constant comparison in your head. A comparing mind cannot be grateful. After I quit, this comparison would still be there. If not coming from outside with my own parents comparing me with their friends’ daughters, it would come from within, comparing myself to high standards I had set up for myself. In that space of mind, I could hardly feel grateful. Though I taught gratitude, it would be a hit and miss game for myself. After a particular incident when someone accused me of being greedy and ungrateful, I looked within to find where it was coming from – a well-developed comparing mind. Slowly I joined a group where we had to chant atleast one 108-bead mala (rosary) of “Thank You” a day. I had to force myself into gratitude at times. This practice slowly eased me and is still something I keep going back to often. Gratitude is indispensable for cultivating an inner sense of happiness. Of course, happiness was never that important in the world where I worked. Getting things done was.
This may never be said aloud, but it is a subconscious message I received across all the organisations I worked for, whether it had special privileges for me or not – being a woman means you are not enough. As a woman, you have to prove twice as much that you are as good as a man. For the longest of time, I had trouble trusting my own healing abilities. I still have that trouble every so often. At one point in this last year of transition it had got so severe, that it caused me an emotional breakdown when I was asked to trust. I just couldn’t. I felt disabled. This was because I was taught to rely on my rational mind. In fact during the last months as a software developer, I would intuitively know where and what the problem was without analysis. But when I had to explain how I had come to finding the problem, I was often at a loss of words. Going deeper I realised that it was also the education system which didn’t teach you to take into account your ‘feelings’ about a problem. After researching I was not at all surprised to find that the current mainstream education system was built at the advent of industrialisation – we were raised to work mechanically and logically. Can it be surprising then how women have become so masculine over the years? Not just women but the feminine side in a person has simply no room. After all how can one ask this feminine mind to produce a painting only every Wednesday from 11 a.m to 12 p.m and then focus on understanding and solving a geometric theorem between 12 p.m to 1 p.m?
I also met several women in my sessions who suffered from what Sangeeta Bhagwat also calls the Superwoman Syndrome coming from their corporate culture. They felt the pressure to excel everywhere all the time. What’s more, in the very collective consciousness of the organisation there was no space to be vulnerable, forget expressing yourself from that space. One had to put up a strong, collected face all the time. Where was the time or possibility to allow hormones to do their work of emotional clearing? I don’t promote weepiness at the drop of a hat but rather doing away with the morphogenetic cloud that emotions must be avoided that commonly prevails in organisations.
As employees we are given recognition or salary perks to keep us motivated. When it came to things like writing and singing which are gifts I like to hone, I found that for quite some time I avoided doing those just for the fulfillment they gave me because my mind was set on making money, and these two didn’t serve me in that direction. That is when I became aware of this inculcated belief that money is motivation for doing something. Truthfully, if that belief is given up, one would see that the real motivation is the love you experience in the process of doing something. Even more alarming is the achievement-driven mentality we hone through our job. I was playing with an 8-year old one day who told me that though she is good at drawing, she doesn’t sketch in vacations because there is no one there to appreciate her or hang her drawing in a public space. I found my own gap in self-appreciation reflected through this. Perhaps we are not being taught in schools how important it is do something for its own sake, rather than to achieve something. After I understood this, I began writing for my own sake and singing what I felt mattered to me. Not surprisingly, I receive mails, messages and sometimes people even mention in their calls how much they connect to and love reading this blog. I am truly grateful. In this process I picked up that excellence is a natural thirst when you are in love with the process of creation. Perfection on the other hand is cultivated or taught, and is outcome-based. It brings down the value of experimenting that is necessary to lead you into your own subtle layers.
6. Going beyond roles
In most organisations, your role comprises of certain responsibilities which are given to you almost implicitly upon joining. However when you are managing your own project, or your own time, you have to often wear many caps and think like different people. Over these last few months I learned how to promote my blog using online marketing strategies, how to re-invest the money I was making back into my own healing work and all this needed that I stepped out of my shell, my role as just a writer who wanted to sit in the quiet of a home and focus on writing or healing. I also learned in the process to ask myself critical questions to go beyond the “shoulds” in my mind so as to experience full satisfaction out of whatever I was doing at the moment.
Apart from the above “unlearnings”, there are a few lessons that I discovered have left their mark on me for the better.
7. Being your own boss
For some of us being self-motivated comes easy, while for others breaking down your vision into simple small achievable steps feels like a big task. Doing something on your own for a long time requires you to put on a boss’s hat and think like one. Sometimes it also requires you to wake up, make different decisions and change course from what you had initially set out to do, trusting your decisions implicitly, giving yourself a pat on your back and set goals. For me it was challenging for the longest of time to set goals. I saw no point in it until I realised I had been procrastinating on some tasks for a very long time. When I dived deeper into this with the help of my brother who is running a start-up venture, we discovered that I could not break down my vision of what I had in mind into small, definable steps, and so I avoided setting goals altogether. Now I set goals even if they feel trivial. I also experiment with behavioural psychology to help me achieve goals consistently, through 3 Tiny Habits. It saves me from the disappointment of not having done anything and helps me to use time efficiently. It also helps me to set out guilt-free, free time to just pander around doing nothing.
8. Finding your own community
Working 8 hours and more alongside people gives the illusion of having people around. It is easy to escape loneliness, an inherent feeling that is present in most of us, when we are working in an organisation. But when there is no work to bury yourself in, nothing exciting or “showstopping” to share with your friends and ex-colleagues, this loneliness or a sense of isolation becomes a looming presence. For the longest of time I struggled with facing this loneliness – the feeling that I have to deal with myself all 24 hours rather than be able to escape into busyness. More and more I got in touch with people like me who are in their 30s and in transition (or have crossed this juncture), the more I felt relieved about the pace of my growth. Joining a spiritual group which had people who were also in this transition helped me to get over the feeling that I was the only one with this mindset. I also consciously began to reach out to people in different careers.
9. Concise, to-the-point communication
Being a part of groups where I had to communicate a lot post quitting, I realised that I was able to get my point across in a very concise and straightforward way. The flip side of being a writer is that you can tend to get roundabout and singsong about the most mundane things, which doesn’t serve a useful purpose when you have to deliver something crisp. Moreover, in a few groups, I also noticed people writing from a very opinionated front, going on and on about what they feel, rather than communicating about the task they were assigned. This helped me realise that I might have fallen into the same trap had it not been for my corporate training over the years. It has honed my communication to intuitively gauge the person’s requirement at the other end, get into a non-judgmental space, express disagreements from a neutral space, maintain boundaries and plume out the inessentials. Another place it helped me was in organising workshops. It helped me to bring transparency to both the parties involved regarding their comfort and put things down in mails so that there was no room for misunderstanding.
10. The importance of structures
The paradox of being very creative is that you need to set a structure to squeeze that creative juice out of you. Being my own boss was initially difficult for me. There would be days when I would write a lot, and weeks when I would write nothing (Facebook posts not counted!) Soon I missed having regularity, missed the urgency of pushing through time and getting things done. It wasn’t for the adrenaline, but rather for the satisfaction of completing something that I wanted to, or having something to show. I decided to join a writing class that would help me bring method to the madness. Writing every Sunday based on specific constructs with blinkers on my eyes for 4 straight hours has been a greater source of joy for me than anything I’ve done in the past few years. It has taken me back to those classroom days (only the enjoyable ones though!) where we had to write a certain kind of a piece in a stipulated time. After a few weeks of this class, I am learning to set aside time every day to write something at a specific time. It may go up on a blog, it may be just free-writing, practicing fiction or plotting out a story line based on a dream. It serves the purpose of giving me a structure, to give creative output space to manifest.
11. Loving challenges
It is a cliché that you need challenges for your growth. But I understood this experientially when I learned to drag myself out of bed at a specific time even when there was nothing to do. I had been lazing as if it was vacation time and feeling very distracted by the day end for months on an end. I had no external disciplinarian and consciously had to face this challenge of learning how compassionate self-discipline is. I had to also learn how to work with a one-pointed focus and was taken back to The Pomodoro Technique. Gauging how much time I would like to spend on an activity is my latest challenge, “timeboxing” as it is called. I know this challenge is essential for me to meet if I have to write a film that successfully conveys all that it is meant to in a specific duration. It is giving me an opportunity to see and address myself as a Creator, and go beyond the feeling of being a slave of time.
12. Voicing problems and solutions at the same time
In the last organisation that I worked, this was one of their principles. Whenever one had to voice a problem, one had to also propose a solution at the same time, however improbable or abstract it might be. In the groups that I was a part of and in developing my own skills in something, I found myself going back to this philosophy. It is very easy to point out a problem, even to yourself many a time, but it takes conscious work to see what could be the possible workarounds or turnarounds. When I started applying this for my writing, I found that I wanted to get more structured, but had no one to guide me. So I started reading articles online and found how to get the editor in me out only after the first draft of writing. I started making notes of what resonated about certain blog posts or blogs that I instantly loved. This also turned my attention more towards what is good and working and how it can get better. Of course, as with every first step you take, it was much later that I came across the writing class I so fondly mention above.
There is one last aspect of learning.
Money was a monthly occurrence and would often get spent on luxuries when I was working in IT. It was also the reason for working at anything at all. In this last year, my relationship with money has become more conscious. Not just that, it has given me an on-the-ground insight of how a majority people in India live. I became more vulnerable to the changes in economy and actually felt the pinches of inflation. It was like I was pulled down from my ivory castle into the fields. In the wake of this sensitivity, it also made me realise the value of socio-cultural movements such as Giftivism, which aspires to create a value system of generosity among the urban crowd rather than charity. It encouraged me to be available to people on a flexible payment system and balance it with honouring myself. In the process it brought out my patterns of stinginess, unworthiness, the inner disconnect I felt between spirituality and money, my instinctive resistance to receiving unconditionally and lack of trust in the universe’s giving, which helped me to refine my understanding of abundance. It brought out beliefs such as one mustn’t be paid if one is in an act of service, one shouldn’t hold money for one’s own interests and helped me to observe them for what they are – mere beliefs that were being released for my highest growth. In hindsight, in the cushioned corporate world I might have never faced my beliefs truly in the context of money.
For those who are about to leave their corporate job or are thinking of it, or have already done it, I intend this article gives you clarity to find some grounding where you are.