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Worm's Eye View: The joys of quitting

Worm's Eye View 

My otherwise restrained flatmate Dee let go of his inhibitions the other day after he had smoked an “excellent hookah” (his words — I couldn’t make out the difference). “Now I will get sentimental,” he warned. But instead of juicy details about his last love affair, Dee only disbursed scraps of his disenchantment with his job.

He works for a leading IT firm and has been at this place for the past four years. Now 25, he no longer wants to continue in the IT industry and is desperate for a change. In the last four years, he has risen steadily to become team leader. He keeps 11-hour days because he is often called upon to deal with crises that get “escalated” after a teammate messes up.

My other flatmate, Sid, is a scriptwriter who is busy polishing a horror story for which he hopes to find funding. Our house in general is a hub of filmmaking activity with strugglers, models, wannabe writers and the like visiting and bouncing off ideas and prospects.

The bug has bitten Dee too. “I want to do something creative,” he said, “but don’t know what. My manager has no life. He stays in office till midnight and expects us to do the same. He says he rarely sees his daughter because she is asleep by the time he reaches home and has left for school when he wakes up. What a loser!”

“But I don’t have the guts to quit,” Dee continued. “I want to do something different, maybe start a restaurant chain. When I raised the idea of changing jobs, my parents baulked. They are conservative. They don’t understand why I need to be in a job that I enjoy: ‘You are earning well, what’s the problem?’ they say. For them, it’s a matter of esteem. They speak about me with great pride to their friends and others in their social circle. I can’t ruin it.”

This is a familiar story among my friends and acquaintances. When I left a cushy, well-paying corporate job to start teaching at a Common Admission Test (CAT) coaching institute, most of my B-school friends thought it was a break before I returned to something “real”. When I told them this was something I might do for a long time, they snivelled into imaginary handkerchiefs. “Do you plan to do this for the rest of your life?” they questioned in horror. “I might,” I said with a dramatic flourish. The rest of my life — the term itself makes me want to throw up. I hated interviews where I was asked to pontificate on where I saw myself five years down the line. Five years? Hell, I don’t know what might catch my fancy tomorrow!

I may not teach forever but I certainly don’t plan on returning to a typical corporate job. I am singularly unsuited to navigate the byzantine politics of corporate life. Not that I am some wide-eyed babe in the woods, but I simply don’t see the point in wasting my life conjuring ways to somehow earn the next promotion or the next “certificate of excellence”. Like Dee, who counts his hours before he can get back home, I could not wait for the day to end at my earlier job. None of that bleeding anxiety any more.

Parental and peer pressures prolong the agony. Dee would jump at a new opportunity if he had his parents’ approval. They paid his engineering fee and, of course, “raised me”, so he feels beholden to them and their vision of happiness. He won’t admit it but these expectations tie him down considerably.

“Dee,” I said, “I know your parents provided you with all the resources you needed and that you are a source of great pride for them. But it’s your life. You have to find your own place. And they must accept it. They have to. If they don’t, well, tough luck! You can’t keep living a life you don’t like in fear of how they will feel.”

Dee nodded. He is the quiet, decent sort. “You think I should study further?” he said.

“Yes, absolutely,” I said. “Why don’t you prepare for CAT? With your experience, you would make the perfect candidate. The IIMs are now more interested in people with work experience. You are an engineer, so Math will not be a problem. And we can work on the Verbal. A B-school will bring you in touch with people like yourself — young enthusiastic sorts who want to do something of their own. Maybe then your idea will find wings.”

Dee’s head bobbed up and down. He has thought about taking CAT earlier but not found the time, or motivation, to start preparing. Now that he has time (CAT is conducted over a 20-day window in October) and oodles of motivation, he might just take the plunge. “I think I will,” he said, “but you will have to help me with vocab. My vocabulary sucks.”

“Starting tomorrow,” I smiled. Dee took a large, full-chested drag on the hookah and drowned into the bean bag in relaxation.

The author has switched too many jobs in the past and hopes he can hold down this one

First Published: Sat, August 11 2012. 00:47 IST