There was no planning, no thought, no deliberation, no process.
Just like that on a searing late April evening in 2012, my two-month notice ended and I simply stopped working a job.
After having worked across the country at various newspapers, including launching two English language dailies and relaunching another two with a new look, in my 12 years in the industry all of a sudden I was not deciding the following morning’s headlines that hundreds of thousands of people were going to read.
I was just 32 at that time with the financial acumen of a 14-year-old and had no clue what lay ahead for me.
At that particular point in time, I didn’t even care.
I had swapped my newsdesk role for business reporting a year earlier and it was soul sucking, boring work.
Nothing as exciting as the newsdesk where there was nonstop excitement most days till midnight.
Moreover, at the time I quit I was learning how to, literally, fly at a paragliding school in the company of a dear friend. I was, so to speak, on the top of the world.
But neither I, who had moved jobs and cities at will, nor the people close to me, in our wildest dreams, had imagined that day in April 2012 would turn out to be a significant milestone in my life — the day I retired. (Since I am just 42 as I write this, I ought to clarify, “retired for the first time.”)
I realised that only much later in 2017 when I was chatting with a runner on a frigid November morning in Staten Island at the start line of the New York City Marathon.
But one thing I realised almost immediately after I quit was that not having to report to work at a given time whether you had any work or not, not having to toe an organisation or boss’ line, or pretending to work when you had none, doing things that you didn’t really enjoy (like making a story out of a press release) or not having to stay in the corporate rat race was a wonderful feeling.
It was liberating.
I was rather good at my work and enjoyed most of it. Yet, there was a constant strain to remain relevant, productive or useful and one was forced to chase the KRAs for a pittance of an annual raise that didn’t even beat the prevailing inflation rates.
When I quit, these niggles, that I didn’t even seem to actively think about while working, simply disappeared.
Along with that omnipresent need to prove myself at work went the stress, worries and constant hustle that I didn’t even realise I was experiencing.
The sudden absence of routine, which work forces you into, can be a difficult void to fill.
The first few weeks after I quit happily disappeared in learning to fly and getting my paragliding pilot’s license.
Then I was busy all through summer with training for my first marathon, which I was going to run in Amsterdam.
It was only after the marathon that I was first faced with the dilemma of how to fill up my days now that I really had nothing to do.
After a few weeks you can’t even sleep all day nor go on an unending telly binge. All friends were busy at work all week.
I was at sea many points in time over the last decade waking up often not knowing what to do.
But I could argue that the millions who hold onto jobs or run business also have such days.
This constant need to be productive can drive one nuts to the point of a breakdown. I simply embraced such days, literally did nothing and didn’t feel guilty or wrong about it.
Apart from the pressures and challenges that come along with any job, the one thing no one can’t escape while working are the small tussles that an office environment inevitably gives rise to.
These tussles of office politics gnaw away at even those who steer clear of it. They don’t only have a devastating impact on your mind and soul, but also impact your physical health. (Ever found yourself drinking or smoking too much? )
Then there is the balancing act you are forced to carry out between your ambition, the deliverables at work, others’ expectations of you, your desires and social and family obligations.
These exact a heavy toll on your mind, body and soul.
Burnout, meltdowns and breakdowns are real and brutal. I have seen my friends suffer yet brave on with a little help from their shrinks.
I had spent a good 12 years in full-time employment before I walked away; I had a great network of colleagues and friends in several industries.
It was around this time that gig economy was just taking off and I benefitted from it.
I learned new skills like how real estate works, saw first-hand how business negotiations progress for weeks and then could collapse over a disagreement over a sum as seemingly insignificant as a rupee.
I co-authored a book on fitness which was published by Penguin India. I also got to use my M Phil degree and lectured at colleges and universities in India and the US.
Friends and friends of friends also paid me to train them for marathons and to get fit. I always wanted to work as a bartender and got a three-week gig at a heritage pub in London.
Had I been employed with a newspaper, I’d have never been allowed to cover the Fifa World Cup 2014 in Brazil or the Rio Olympics in 2016.
I not only covered both events for multiple publications, I also worked with the Local Organising Committees on both events as a volunteer.
I had enough work, so to speak, most times and that has allowed me to lead a fairly comfortable life.
Despite that I’d say I have thrived in every way possible.
While working I used see the world on my computer screen, since quitting I have actually seen the world by being there. The “been there, done that” kind.
I travel six to nine months in a year and have spent a lot of time enjoying, understanding and experiencing people and cultures in more than 50 countries that I have visited since I quit.
Meeting people of all kind from across the world has helped me expand my world view and improved my understanding of the world, its people and humanity.
I don’t need to rely on WhatsApp university messages to know that truck drivers, nurses, fork lift operators, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics in the west can afford and take holidays.
They can live in the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants and drink at the same bars as doctors and engineers— something that doesn’t happen in India.
Yes, today I count among my friends truck drivers, nurses, dive masters, bartenders as well as lawyers, educationists, crypto traders, bankers, marketing gurus and business heads too.
It’s only thanks to travel, I can happily report that I have found that love and kindness far outweigh the dangers and hatred that many people, stuck in protected cocoons, suspect the world to be full of.
Though my friends admire my life and never miss the chance to remind me that they live vicariously through me, I would be the first to admit that it hasn’t been perfect and I’d definitely do a few things differently.
One thing I’d certainly do differently is negotiate harder for the salaries I was offered at my jobs, be better with money and start investing early.
I wish the basic lesson of “making money work for you instead of you working for the money” was taught in our schools; that would have been such a helpful lesson and I might have started investing much earlier in my life than at the age of 30 when a friend decided to intervene and helped me build the corpus that keeps me going despite no steady income for a decade now.
Most importantly, I wish I had paid more attention to my health and fitness while I was in my 20s; once compromised, regaining your health and fitness is a lot more difficult than rebuilding or restarting your career (which is an idea I am toying with at the moment).
I come from a middle class family but since I have had a lot of time out in the real world I have come to realise that is also a privilege plenty in our country, where more than a billion people live hand to mouth each and every day.
Like Elon Musk (no I don’t have $300 billion nor do I try to buy Twitter for $44 billion), I don’t own a home. Or even rent one. Just like Musk I live rent free with my friends and family.
I go a step further than Musk and don’t even own a car. I don’t intend to buy either as long as I live.
This, I know, is possible because of the privilege I have had thanks to my station of birth and the fact that I haven’t wasted the opportunities that came my way.
What this does is let me live my life without any fixed monthly financial burden such as rent, paying off home/car loans or the monthly amenities and maintenance bills.
All this combined, I feel, has been key to living the life I lead without much trouble.
(Shrenik Avlani is a newsroom veteran on a break from full-time work since 2012. He is a location independent writer, editor and journalist and co-author of The ShivFit Way, a book on functional fitness.)
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