A Choice for Life

choice-for-life

Three years ago, I completed my schooling. I was ready to start spending my life writing away. I walked in to interview for an internship knowing I knew enough to crack it. And then came the question.“What do you want to do with your life?”

“What do you want to do with your life?”

It seemed obvious to me. After all, I had chosen to write and I interviewing for a writing job. Why then would they ask me what I want to do with my life? Not understanding what the world hurled at my face, I stifled my mirth at her question. But someone had to think straight and my interviewer and potential teammate worried I was throwing my life away.

“I want to write.”

And if there’s anything scarier than saying it, it’s doing what I said.

Writing, like art, is a hobby. No one believed I could do that for a living. It couldn’t be a career choice. At least not one that pays well. Most people I know who write, also have a day job that’s not writing.

They write when they can, they say. And that means they’d write something sometime in between 9 hours of work each day, 3 hours of Blacklist reruns, and a weekend filled with booze and buzz.

Still, when I said I wanted to write, I had no idea what that meant to me in the long run. And sure enough, my interviewer knew I didn’t. She tried to save me, help me see sense, and chase me off to get a degree in something I could fall back to when things turned nasty.

My family and friends couldn’t agree more. Almost everyone was certain my choice would go bad. I wasn’t too confident either. When negativity encapsulates you, knocking the breath off your ribs, you can’t help but give in. And so I told my father it would be temporary. Six to eight months — it was just an internship anyway. I’d soon know my standard and could go back to the typical career timeline of college after school.

I hated my first day at work. People were cold.

I was nineteen in a city too big for me to grasp, and worried I was too fat. My doctor had advised me to lose weight and my family to lose my job.

For my first assignment, I wrote a bunch of articles. My teammates suggested we print them out and mark the parts I should rework on. They ended up underlining almost all of my work. Except, perhaps, a few ands and ors.

I was furious. I had put my soul into words and an unknown person swept them all away as if they were flies on his cheese. He had no idea how long I sat in one place, stringing words together in proper grammar and (almost) precise punctuation.

No one had any right, whatsoever, to meddle with my writing. I had been writing personal blogs for two years before I started working. I had experience, and it annoyed me when they treated me as a novice.

According to them, everything I wrote was crap.

It took me more than 6 months to feel better about myself. They still pointed out faults in my work, but I had grown to enjoy talking about it. After I’d been around for a while, my colleagues were open to sharing their opinions, and I was open to listening. They helped me work out strategies, they gave me ideas, and I realised that no two people read a sentence the same way.

That was a revelation. I saw the marvels of varying perspectives and unintended interpretations. While some thought it was fine to end with prepositions, some people abhorred the idea. And as always, the Oxford comma sparked discussions that transitioned from face-to-face debates to chat messages well into the night. Some chose the Chicago manual style over the AP style guide. And some others just ignored everything passive.
And then I saw it: What’s crap for one person isn’t so for another.

Everything came down to perspectives. I had chosen a career that was so unstable and wavering that even industry specialists had made peace with their disagreements.
And while I sunk neck-deep in learning the nuances of a semicolon and wondering if I should use words like “nuances,” my internship ended and I became an official employee.
The city felt old now, and I no longer was nineteen or fat.

But my father remembered my promise and began nagging me. My life seemed fine at the moment but I should have something to fall back to — when things turn nasty. They wanted me to get a degree for a career I could live on.

For some weird reason, my family didn’t think I was already living. They acted as if all I had done was extend my internship. And so to please them — to get them off my back, rather — I signed up for a course in literature.

It seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to write, and what’s more natural for a writer to study than good writing itself?

I thought myself mature, but I had been naive about the quality of our education system. It didn’t take me long to realise it was a waste of my time. My parents, however, were hell bent on getting me through the course.

As a result, my degree in literature killed my passion for conventional literary education. And in the process, it convinced me further that a piece of paper stamping me qualified for employment is just society’s way of circulating money.

It got me thinking. According to my society, a career in arts isn’t worth pursuing because there’s no future in it. As for Engineering, medicine, and now MBA — they are future-proof courses. Plus, they have a heavy “return on investment”. Nowadays people only speak in economic jargon because life’s all about what pays you well.

It’s funny because people are passionate when talking about Italian art museums and French sculptures, and how we should protect ours as well. But they also discourage any child who puts a brush or a pen to paper.

Alas, I’m not immune to the rest of the world and its changing fancies.

From my parents who think I’m in ruins and relatives who claim to love me, to people I called my closest friends, everyone’s told me I need a backup plan—any plan beyond my stigma for writing.

However, when people ask me what I want to do with my life, I still say the same thing: “I want to write”. I began as a content writer, and three years later, I’ve morphed into a content marketer. And that gives me hope. I may not become the greatest novelist the world has ever seen, but I’ve been writing.

Sure, life hasn’t been as perfumed roses. I’ve written plenty of poor prose and pathetic poems. But every time I sit down on a mission to tether words to meaning, and meaning to sentences, I feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. And I realise: There’s a good chance I’d never become a published author.

There are countless writers out there with a passion for words and parents with money. And I see myself scavenging my purse for coins at the end of every month. My family could be right, and life may turn nasty; I never can be sure it won’t.

Nevertheless, one thing I’m sure of — as long as my lungs can hold air, I will write.


Cross-posting from my Medium blog.

A Lesson From a Friend

“So? She must’ve liked it.”

I sat chatting with my friend, A when another girl informed us that J had worn multi-coloured sneakers to school that day.

A brushed it off with a shrug and an uninterested statement. J was the class weirdo. She had moved in from another state and had a different way of doing things than we did. And it bothered most of us in class. All except A.

A would never comment on how J wore her pinafore, her hair, or how she’d crack her knuckles hard enough to crack them.

Even when the rest of the class huddled in a corner making crude jokes at J or sneering at her walk, one scathing look from A shut them up at once. She was the only person who didn’t join in. But she never told anyone to stop tormenting J either. I was her best friend, and I’d laugh at J too. She had even seen me a few times at it.

Still, she never advised me to stop or threatened to break my nose if I didn’t. Even when we hung out together — just A and I — she’d never mention J.

Though A made no violent gestures, she was always on J’s side, a silent supporter, watching her back.

As primary school went by, I got accustomed to A’s nonconforming behaviour. All the teasing made her uneasy and hated to disappoint A. I grew less thrilled about the “J’s a fool” club.

We moved through middle school, and then on to high school, but the name-calling didn’t change. I had, though. I couldn’t tolerate it. We weren’t friends or even lab partners, but J no longer was a weirdo to me. She was just J, my classmate.

And one day, just before the summer holidays began, A and I sat in class making plans for our vacation.

“Hey guys, we’re planning to dump mud on J’s head. Wanna come watch?”

Before I knew it, I had stood up with my hands clenched. I was ready to defend J even if it came to a fistfight.

She deserved respect, and I had grown up at last.

A Wrong Move

Chain store queues,

mid-afternoon blues

“Regular or Diet?”

Make a wrong order

and the wife panics.

Engineering Encounter

A few days ago, I met a handful of Engineering final years. It was a work thing, and I had to see if they’d fit into our team.

It was all professional and serious until I got bored. I wasn’t used to interrogating people, trying to assimilate their love for words when I knew in the back of my mind that the sole reason they faced me was because they didn’t clear the developer round.

One after the other, they narrated their resumes word to word, even as I held them in my hand.

And that’s when I realised: they were just kids. They haven’t got their life figured out.
And if we expect them to walk out of their graduation party all decked up and society-ready, we’d be disappointed.

I’m no mind reader. But from what I figured, these youngsters need reality checks. Their parents and teachers have pampered them far too long in the guise of nurturing them. And what’s worse, they’ve gotten so used to it that they have no idea of the shitty world they’d step into.

Not all of them were as naive, however. Some of them understood they need to hard sell their way in out of college and into a job. And they put on a good show too. With confident smiles, they tread as if there were no ice to break. But underneath a layer of mysticism and offhandedness, their eyes reeked desperation to impress. They were stuck in life but didn’t want to come off as such. They’d chosen Engineering either because they thought they’d be good at it, or because their parents had swallowed its bloated potential.

It was evident that none of them knew it then — which is natural — but they had all settled for what they had been thrust into.

They had taken their parents’ word because that’s what children do. Three years in, however, they know now that that’s not their calling.

They sought the tipping point where they could find a home for their soul while keeping their parents happy, too. They knew they had whiled away on something they didn’t want to, but they were optimistic. It was a sad sight.

They had walked into their first year in Engineering hoping they’d be good at it. And as they reached their third year, they had concluded they weren’t as bad as they could be.

They came to like Engineering.

They adapted; they had begun to slaughter their dreams.

But somewhere deep down, they seemed to know it was their final chance to get out. They had been doing what they didn’t want to do for so long that it had messed with their heads. They almost believed they loved what they didn’t.

That’s when most parents suggest they complete their MBA. And from experience, I know MBA graduates are stronger and more convinced about their career choices. They would have graduated as Electrical Engineers, and followed it up with an MBA in Finance. And in their interview, they’d declare their passion had been for numbers all along. They were convinced because they had adapted.

But the soon-to-be Engineering graduates sitting in front of me were not there yet. They were struggling to get there, trying hard to impress, and masquerading confidence.
They didn’t have their life figured out. And that’s a good thing. They were vulnerable and that made them valuable. They were ready to accept that their Engineering certificate may not feed their soul.

They were rusty professionals with patchy expectations, but they were hard workers willing to find their calling.

And for me, that made all the difference.

A Step Forward

It seemed quite easy

to leap and never look back.

Alas! Sans courage.