Hold the brakes

I don’t take breaks often. I’m so used to working 12 hours a day and still being available for questions after hours. What’s more, I’ve spent entire nights working, forcing myself not to fall asleep and ignoring the rest my body needed. All because I felt work was my primary concern.

And then I moved across the world. I relocated to Australia, and for the first three weeks, I had to put a pause on my work. I didn’t want to, of course. But I had no choice—I didn’t have a laptop. I felt crippled, but I had to deal with it in silence. It’s only for a few weeks, I assured myself, even though my inner self rejected all assurance. Regardless, being helpless about the situation, I realised one important thing about myself and my work.

I was way too uptight.

Having worked for almost six years without a proper vacation, I didn’t even know what it meant to be free and rid of work pressure. For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t do anything about the work that remained back in the office. My managers were so understanding and supportive. And to be fair, there was already a well-equipped team covering for me. And most of my tasks weren’t urgent either—they could wait well until settled and was ready to take over again.

And yet—it bothered me that I couldn’t work. That’s when I understood how much I was addicted to my job. I work as a marketer and writer for a software company. My everyday tasks involve creating content, reviewing, managing social media and customer support, and answering any questions the new members in our team had. I was missing all that action, and it made me uneasy.

To my utter surprise, however, I survived. I got through over three weeks of doing nothing, and I was still sane. In fact, not only did I spend three weeks unscathed, I was relieved even. It was the first time I wasn’t feeling overworked, and with every passing day, I sensed, as the temperature fell, I also cared less and less about my work. I still appreciated and loved my job, but unlike before, I wasn’t consuming me. I started to see work as just that—work. I realised I could have a complete and enjoyable life outside of work, which I was once so obsessed with and dependant upon.

So—take a break. Please do. It’ll help you distance yourself from your fixations and see that the sky is far brighter than you’ve seen. But then again, I moved to Canberra, and of course, the sky here is bluer than Chennai, south India, (where I lived before) could ever imagine.

Advertisements

Town hopping

From one place to another
hopping towns all the time
just for the sake of work
scraping fun on the side
oh, what a life it must be
wonder people every where
widening eyes in jealousy
hoping for a bargain swap
pursing lips some scoff
showing off hatred so clear
oof, who cares, wave it away
work’s hard and so’re trips
good food, and great scenery
but who else hears the drama
of early morning scrambling
or rushed midnight madness
who knows the searing pains
or the teary, runny eye balls
from a heavy lack of sleep
and an overload of coffee
oh, the world never hears
jet lagged hallucinations
or the airline knee pains
so’s the life of a traveller
who hops town for work
and hopes for pleasure too

Little things

Although I hate it, I’m a workaholic. I have trouble letting go of work even after official working hours. It’s got a lot to do with not having fixed times or shift times. I’m used to seeing colleagues show up at work after noon and leave at midnight or arrive at 8 and leave at 4.

I’ve done it plenty of times myself. Sometimes I stay up late watching a movie, cleaning my room, or chatting with my roommates, oversleeping the next morning. Come to think of it, some of the stringent time rules in many workplaces are insignificant since they don’t consider the frivolousness of human nature.

Or that’s what I used to think.

I love having flexible work times—after all, isn’t that why everyone wants to be a freelancer? People think freelancing is the ideal way of life—PJs, late night snacking, mid morning brunches, and still damn good money. Alas, I now know that that’s just a stereotype the internet has inflicted upon us. Nothing about freelancing, or working flexible hours, is any more fun than working regular hours.

It took me over five years to realise this.

A few weeks ago, I was at work lounging—it was rather a quiet and uneventful day. I’d finished most of my tasks for the week and had plenty of time to kill. I’d been working so hard the couple of months leading to that day that I felt a gaping emptiness when I didn’t have anything to occupy myself. And so I succumbed to the YouTube temptation, watching a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in the North Eastern coast of Australia.

It’s a three-part documentary, each running about an hour. And as I watched the camera pan across the ocean waters, and heard the narrator’s voice ring through my headphones, I realised how ignorant I’ve been about the world’s most gorgeous and vast spread of natural phenomenon. I had no idea it stretches over 1400 miles. Or that there’re 900 islands spread through the Reef, or that the Reef wasn’t formed until 10000 years ago—or that almost 40 percent of it is destroyed already.

Sure, I knew the Great Barrier Reef was a natural treasure undergoing an unnatural devastation, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I never had the time in my life to watch documentaries or read articles online about the world that surrounded my immediate office and work.

In a moment of shame and disgust, I understood how blinded I’d been by my work routine. I’d awake, exercise, go to work, return, and engage on social media before going to sleep. I read during the weekends and every other chance I get, but that’s limited to fiction, online articles, or general nonfiction. I’ve never spent time appreciating the magnitude of the world’s events outside of the realm of my work. I’ve been so obsessed with meeting my personal requirements that I’ve been missing the finer aspects of life—like widening my eyes in wonder at a coral reef, or experiencing the joy in my mother’s voice when I make time to chat with her.

I spent the last couple of weeks with my parents, and I made conscious efforts to indulge myself less in office work and more in my surroundings. And it’s served me well too. Now that office work doesn’t dictate my day, I’m noticing small things about work that don’t matter as much as I’d thought. Little delays or mistakes that would’ve upset me earlier don’t anymore. After all, there’s a lot more to life than the pay check.

Downtown Miami

Pressure

As chlorine water

smothering from deep within

suffocating life

Moving on

Some might say I’m heartless. That I don’t care for those I’ve known for over five years working with through some fun-filled campaigns and stressful product releases. Some might say that I’m so stoic that I can’t even feel sad about leaving.

I’m not sad.

I’m moving to a new place. That meant letting go of my benefits as a full-time employee for a life of freelancing. Although my physical location is changing, I know that in this age we are never out of touch with anyone. There’s always something or the other that’ll pull us back into each other’s paths. I’ll still be working with the same crew, for the same company, and be a phone call away.

Sure, I’ll miss my current work style. I’ll miss not waking up at the same time every day, walking to work, nodding at my friends at the security desk, and devouring the free office munchies. Who wouldn’t? I’ll miss chatting with colleagues across the desk, laughing and pulling pranks on each other, and sharing ideas and experience with people much more knowledgeable than I.

I’ll miss the droning regularity of office food; I’ll miss expecting the clock to strike 4 for snack time; I’ll miss walking 10 minutes, all way across the campus for a 20-minute meeting; I’ll miss the sound of construction workers drilling on Saturdays, and the banging hammers all through the week. I’ll miss concocting my own coffee and wincing when I get the proportions wrong. I’ll miss the office gossip and complaining that there’s too much gossip.

I’ll miss work, and there’s no doubt about it.

However, I’m also happy for what lies ahead. I’m excited to figure out my life as I go. There’s sadness about leaving my routine of five years behind, but there’s also the delight of exploring the next part of my life. I don’t want to cry over one chapter when I know there’re more to come in this large book of life. After all, in the end, it’s a bunch of varied chapters that constitute a book.

“What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.”

Robert M. Pirsig says it well in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.