April 10, 2009 34 Comments
I wasn’t a cool kid. I wasn’t a hip teenager. I was perpetually confused, secretly angsty and with no Lakshya. I had no life. But I had a plan. A decade later I look back and wonder, How ever did things turn out so differently?!
I dropped out of college for a year so ended up graduating a year late. Still, I thought I’d make up for it with extra effort in that last year. I almost made it. I missed getting into the b-school of my choice by 2 points.
I also managed to get my heart broken and shattered to smirtheens (some of the shards have still not been recovered) by the person unlikeliest to hurt me – my best friend. The worst bit was that I had resisted him for years, knowing all along that it would ‘only end in tears’. It did and knowing that beforehand didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
I still had a plan and at that time I couldn’t think fast enough to change. So I decided to give it one more shot and just revise my schedules by a year or two. Everyone advised me to not spend that year sitting at home and studying. So I got a job. My first job changed my life in unimaginable ways.
First and foremost when I fixated on MBA, I decided that with my innate interest in human behaviour (I used to cut physics classes to sit in on the psychology courses or reading popular theories on human interactions)…human resources would be the place for me. In the seven months that I worked for a marketing agency, I realised that my interest and my skills lay quite elsewhere and thus came the first change in my gameplan. I switched my preference from H.R. to Marketing. It’s a change I’ve always been grateful for. I think I’d have been miserable as an HR professional.
Secondly I was working (still driven insanely by a desire to prove myself and leave the failed year far behind) and preparing for the entrance exams together. In that very fine balance, I somehow tipped over into work and at the end of the year I was even further from that prized college admission than I was a year back.
So I squared my shoulders and decided a change was in order. I reasoned that it did not make sense to spend more than 2 years preparing for a course that lasted 2 years (no matter how prized the degree/diploma may be). It was the first ever big desicion of my life and I remember it clicking into place practically overnight. I brooked no arguments from family and friends (all eager to see me follow in the footsteps of my high-achiever cousins) and (quite surprising to me) no one asked me to consider changing my mind. I had never thought of myself as a desicive person and it was odd, how right that felt.
So I started my post-graduate program at 22 instead of 20. I was still keen to stick to the plan.
I never anticipated the dot-com crash, the twin towers falling and the economy dipping so bad that there were no jobs available when I finally finished b-school at 24. I also did not think (not in my wildest dreams) that I, of all people, would fall into an abusive, destructive relationship. These two things are inextrobly linked in my mind as the causes of the most tumultous phase in the last decade of my life. At 24, I was drained out of every drop of my hopeful, cheerful, inspired energy.
On one hand, it was a stomach-twisting experience to scrounge for jobs (when I’d got my first one with practically zero effort) after an MBA (and I thought it would actually enhance my prospects) and when I did get offers, it was for half of what I had earned as a fresh graduate. On the other hand there was the acrid, heart-burning sense of humiliation during the relationship and the residual low self-esteem and hopelessness after it ended. I felt like every single positive emotion of love, joy, happiness and hope had been wrung out of me and stomped to death. All that was left was an empty shell of a human being with nothing at all to look forward to.
I finally got a job six months after the b-school graduation. It was an triumph and an angry triumph. Not a happy celebration but an ‘up-yours’ answer to the placement cell I had walked out of (on a matter of principle, such pride I had in my beliefs in those days), the classmates who’d borrowed my notes for two years and then refused to acknowledge me at the farewell meet because I didn’t have a job and everyone else who’d written me off as a failure.
I also found a man, not the love of my life, not a steady relationship but the love that healed me. The difference is the same as that between a nourishing, hot meal and a life-saving drug. He salvaged what was left of me, the real me, the one that could feel..and for that I will forever be grateful to him. But I did not fall in love with him or find that elusive soulmate connection in our relationship.
That experience blurred my definitions of love and relationships. Timing stopped being a part of it after that.
At the end of that year, I realised that it was a miserable job, one I hated and that drained me of whatever little joy I was managing to dredge up everyday. In the second no-two-ways-about-it desicion of my life, I quit my job and career, indefinitely. It was the biggest and best desicion of my life. My parents asked me when I was planning to go back to work and I replied,
I’m sure that didn’t make them very happy but I was all out of the make-other-people happy ingredient. I’m proud to say that I continued to pay my own bills and didn’t even need to cut down on expenses in those paycheck-less months. I’m also happy at the memory of the next alumni meet I went to, where the same bunch of people who’d followed me through college, ignored me at farewell, sucked up to me again as soon as I got a good job, finally had no clue how to react. One of them said,
You’re on a break? Wow, lucky yaar. I wish I could do that.
Why don’t you? Have you taken any loans? Are you married or supporting someone else? Haven’t you saved anything from the past two years?
Once again, that ‘up-yours’ feeling but laced with a little less bitterness. I don’t know if I was growing up but I think I was definitely starting to be a little less intense about other people’s reactions. Not forgiving of them, (oh not yet) but at least accepting that some people would be jerks and cowards and miserable louses.
I think I did put the 5 months to good use. I wrote a lot. I took long walks on the beach by myself. I fell in love once and let him go, with complete peace and not a leaf of anger or injury. I learnt to read the tarot and even wrote a blog about my spiritual experiments. I blogged and discovered that I had a captive audience.
Then I woke up one Thursday morning and said to my mother,
Today I’m going to get a job.
And it really was as simple as that. I drafted my resume and mailed it out. In less than 24 hours, I had a call lined up. I trekked across the city for a written test, stayed back for an interview and was offered a job before I even got home. By Tuesday next, I had accepted and was poised to start my new job in 10 days.
In those ten days, I finally actualised something I had dreamt of since I was 18. I got a tattoo (which went on to become my personal symbol and logo). On the same day, I watched the love of my life get engaged to someone else. That week, I severed the longest, most poignant (and poisonous) relationship of my life and walked away, vowing not to shed another tear for him.
I was 26.
So much has happened in the 3-odd years from that time. The only thing that’s been constant (apart from change, as the Gita would remind us) has been the company I work for. I’ve been promoted twice, had 3 bosses, changed office locations twice and made an internal transfer. I still don’t know if I’m ‘someone important in the workforce’ as I’d hoped but I can reasonably entertain such illusions.
I still love kids and continue to hold out for the dream that I’ll be a mother some day. Maybe I’ll adopt, maybe I’ll get a donor. Or maybe my plan will just shift by oh, about a decade. :-)