I went to Chile in July 2016.
Going to South America was the best decision of my life. That vibrant continent added an additional layer in my personality. It was like discovering rosemary suddenly.
I learned so much in those nine months that I would not have in many years in my home country — India.
I started speaking a new language — Spanish, made friends from all over the world, taught English, lived with complete strangers from different continents, ended up loving them, experienced the Latin American culture closely, traveled to places that I had no idea existed, and met people who continue to love me.
The Spanish accent in Orange is the New Black was the initial pull but there is a difference between the fictional world and the real one. In fiction, everything looks glamorous. In reality, it is not.
Except that it was.
South America gave me a new energy and a new outlook.
I did not know all of this when I left. Then why did I leave?
When I worked for an investment bank, throughout the day I used to count the number of hours I had spent there that day. I used to rush back home to do everything that I had been missing all day long.
I was not only unfair to myself but also to my colleagues and my work. Not because I was not doing the job — that was never an issue— but because I never wanted to put an extra effort.
I was there but all I could look forward to was leaving.
Stoics — Marcus Aurelius and Seneca rightly said that your job is to give your best, to do what is asked of you in each moment.
In that job, I was not able to give my best in most of the moments.
I was disappointed and that disappointment had persisted for years.
I wanted to see the world. I wanted something fresh.
Then I thought — why not?
A few months ago, I had got to know that my friends were going to South America for a teaching program. Applying to that program seemed like the right thing.
You are 30 years old, still single, paying a home loan, your parents call every day to talk about marriage, you have a stable and a well-paying job, colleagues who depend on you, friends who are getting married, a rented 1 BHK that you got fully furnished, a car, and more.
How could you leave this complete ensemble to go somewhere completely unknown?
I had to answer family and friends. What about the approaching 30, shallowing eggs, and a fat cheque that I had decided to ignore?
For something as temporary as a volunteer-ship program to teach English in South America, an unknown world. Apart from a few duo lingo words, I was not skilled in Spanish.
The question was — What if I was making the biggest mistake by leaving everything that I knew for something I had no clue of?
I just needed a thumbs up from someone, from anyone.
Instead, my parents were furious, dramatic, and disappointed. They were scared and the least supportive: by supporting me they must not have wanted to encourage me in this craziness that I was pushing for.
I took a leap of faith. I booked a one-way ticket to South America when I hadn’t even applied for a visa.
What was going on during the time when I had decided to leave and when I left?
My parents called in for groom bio-datas in the matrimonial section of a newspaper. I half-heartedly said yes to some of the biodatas. I even took a paid subscription to a wedding website after a series of frustrated phone calls back home. Ridiculous, eh?
But I think we all knew it was not going to work out. No matter how many times the family astrologer said that I would get married that year.
Account expired, I de-registered. Emails from the newspaper stopped coming.
I was furious at my family for pushing me so hard.
I was nervous and angry and sad — for wanting to do what I think was right for me.
There was this knot of anxiety in my stomach for unknown reasons.
Now I know — it was the fear of unknown.
But would I go back and settle for this instability all over again?
When you are taking scary decisions — ask yourself — what is the worst that could happen?
This question answered many of my questions.
Professional and personal decisions could become as complex as you make them. But they could be as simple as deciding dinner and breakfast. Don’t force anything. Do what comes naturally to you.
In India, we become engineers and doctors (a post on career conundrum in India is due) and then decide what we want to do. People around us design our lives and we implement.
Then in the middle of the implementation, we realize that the design does not fit us.
My design was also an ill fit. So I had to redesign and start the implementation all over again, which could be intimidating.
Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “Look round the habitable world, how few know their own good, or, knowing it, pursue.”
Others — even your parents — might not know the best for you.
Life is not about making your parents or anyone else happy. It is about doing what seems right. Because then you are peaceful and can make others happy. A cliche but true.
Trying a new road could take us anywhere but how would you know until you take that diversion?
And if you do take it, your horse cart wheel might get stuck in the mud when you are alone, and you are the one who has to push it out.
Such is life — some stuck wheels and some smooth breezy downhills.
The world beyond your own is challenging, intimidating, and unknown.
But if you could set up one life, you could set up many more.
Have you been asking yourself the following:
What is it that I want out of life?
What kind of learning opportunities am I looking for?
Does what I do currently suits me?
If you feel that what you do does not add any meaning to your life except giving you money and you feel hopeless — you can change that.
Be open to the idea that something else could be better. No matter how many changes it involves. Starting over could be the answer.
Don’t run away from life, don’t go to the Himalayas to find yourself. You would have to come back. Find yourself here in your work, with your friends, and family.
Fix meetings with yourself. Get your priorities straight. Stay honest with yourself. Otherwise, it would cost you later.
If you like expensive products please do not resign or look forward to freelancing.
Everyone’s reasons are different. I was miserable. I thought that I was made for something else. That’s why I left.
I had prepared myself to leave — mentally, financially, and logistically.
You might have to break a few hearts and maybe yours along with them — be prepared.
Maybe, you have your reasons and preparation. Then what is stopping you?
The numbers that society keep throwing at us?
Age of marrying, bearing babies, buying a house, a car, having a stable job, becoming a manager, going out for drinks, staying up till five — everything is defined by numbers.
Aren’t these numbers and the concept of right age a heavy generalization for such a vast population?
Physical and emotional characteristics, eating habits, priorities, family, geography, friends, and many other features make us such complex creatures that no generalization could work.
We are human and not the access machine on the door of a defense building — only accessible by numbers.
Do not be restricted by numbers or concentrate excessively on them. Pick your own.
You are still doubtful. You always have two options,
- You can either listen to others and do what they think is right — which could be right.
- You can listen and still do what you want to do — and figure out if you were right.
If we had kept following what has been told to us — then there would have been no evolution or discoveries or innovation.
Elon Musk should forget about Mars then.
Don’t change your job or country or travel because everyone is suggesting so.
But also, don’t follow the design document because it is there.
Find your own way to that calm which comes when you are doing something which suits you and eases you. You were meant for it, you feel settled, and want to continue.
Don’t be miserable for too long — shake off the fear.
We are not getting out of here alive. And if you are immortal — you would have enough time to fix every damn thing you do.
It is tough to believe in yourself when no one else does. Don’t lose heart in those scary and hopeless moments.
Remember Marcus Aurelius said, “Life is an opinion.”