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.
I’ve known V for over five years. When I walked into the campus scared and nervous, she assured me everything would work out well. She guided me to the restroom so I could wash the sweat and tiredness from my face after a 45-minute commute in the dusty local trains of the city.
Everything was new—the scorching heat of the city, the slums on its edge, the barrenness that exemplified the smoke issuing from vehicles so old they shouldn’t even be on the street. It was my first time in the city, and I knew within minutes that I’d have a hard time living here, if at all. But I was also eager for the job interview to go well—it was an excellent opportunity, and I didn’t want to mess it up. And V’s simple gesture was a tremendous comfort.
I got the job, and since, the company’s employee count had grown over four times. V and I, however, are still here. It’s strange, but although V was so nice to me on that first day, we never became close friends. We were in different teams, under different supervisors. Our roles were different—she a developer and I a marketing writer. We shared no common whatsoever except an employer.
However, if we ever cross each other’s paths, we’d smile, and I’d oblige to some small talk.
That was the problem—the small talk. I’ve grown less interested in crossing paths with V not because I developed a disliking to her, but because not everyone’s satisfied with just a smile—the inherent human quality to frolic in frivolous conversations stretches awkwardness to new extents.
And now every time I see her dread rises from deep within me, and my mind entertains thousands of possible topics we could discuss, each punier than the previous.
And that’s why I prefer a longer route if I can avoid running into old friends like V. I don’t want to humour meaningless exchanges over other people’s careers when I could just sit and stare at space.
“So I heard you have a habit of writing every day?”
That’s the clear winner if there’s ever a contest for the silliest thing you can ask a writer.
And yet it still confounds many that a writer would, after all, write. Although I can see how the confusion arises, it’s surprising that we’re now part of a society where corporate copywriters aren’t writers in real life.
It all started with a colleague who raised their eyebrows as I admitted to writing every day. They couldn’t understand the reason. Why would I spend an hour or so every morning writing, before I started work which was also—writing?
As I stood there, stumped, I realised I didn’t have a ready-made answer. No, it wasn’t because “I love writing” or because “I’ve always imagined myself a writer” or because “I don’t know anything else.” Although those statements ring true in many ways, it’s also true that they’re resumé answers—something you’d say to impress a potential employer into giving you the job.
I have different reasons.
For one, it was my writing habit that landed me a career as a copywriter. And despite writing countless types of pieces at work, I still don’t write what I want, the way I want. And for a good reason, too, because a corporate copywriter shouldn’t possess a powerful personal tone that disrupts the business’s tone. Therefore everything I write depends on the company, its offering, and audience. When I come home after a day of such scrutinised writing, all I can think of is work. Not only do I don’t have time for myself, but my thoughts revolve around work as well. The mind goes around in circles in constant debate and debacle—”perhaps I should’ve used a better title for the blog, or added a banner image, or tweeted it out with a GIF.”
Dabble in this long enough, and you’ll wane. A writer who’s lost the ability to expand beyond work isn’t far from losing the ability to write altogether.
Consider those who write only emails all day. They become accomplished at conveying their purpose in an email, but when asked to write something different—a comment on social media, a guest blog, a webpage, or even a catchy advertisement—they’d crumble under pressure. The reason? They no longer have the creative spark to think outside email jargon.
A full-time copywriter isn’t any better. The longer they seep in familiar territory, the more comfortable they become. They get used to using certain phrases and styles and avoiding others that don’t sit well with the business they write for. And it’s often already too late when they realise they’d forgotten how it feels to come up with something unconventional. When a writer foregoes the spine-tingling sensation that results from framing an excellent metaphor, or the jubilance that emanates from dropping a witty pun, a writer ceases to exist. What remains is the shell of a person who can create ideal corporate content.
That’s why I write every day—to keep the chaos within alive. I don’t write flawless pieces in my blog. I don’t put forth impeccable grammatical sentences or distinguished vocabulary. What I do write, instead, is random thoughts, scribblings, and haiku—all the things that help me remember why I still write.
Last time I was in the US, I presented a talk to a roomful of people who intended to hear me speak. And I delivered that presentation across four cities. It was a work thing and I, along with my colleagues, helped customers figure out better ways to use our product.
It wasn’t my first time, so I wasn’t as stressed as I thought I’d be. On my first time, however, I spent weeks sleepless, burning myself out, almost to the point of hallucinating. But even then I managed to stand my ground facing an audience of about 75-100.
And during yet another trip, I attended an event called ISTE. It was a global conference for educators, and my goal was to talk to as many people as possible, understand their pain points, and identify ways to pitch our product to them. I initiated conversations with hundreds of strangers without creeping them out.
I want to say I was tall and skinny at thirteen, but I wasn’t. I was short and quite plump, and I enjoyed school life. The internet wasn’t in my life then so I had plenty of time to spend watching cartoons, reading, musing about my life, and creating random verses I called poetry.
At seventeen, things had improved a little. I was online at last and made my first contact with the alien world of Facebook. Not long after, I set up this blog (thanks bro for naming it and paying for the domain). I soon transitioned from journal writing and self-pity poetry to more general writing. As if in an epiphany, I realised I could write about anything and with practice, become good at it. Every day became a hunt for a writing prompt, and I craved more to publish blog posts than to meet friends outside of school. Social life? Near non-existent.
How, regardless of all that, I landed a writing internship at nineteen is rather surprising. But I took it, and eight months later, joined the company as a marketing copywriter.
By the time I was twenty-two, I had presented in front of an American audience. For the first time, circumstances thrust me into a room full of people I’d never met before. And it was fine.
I’ve come a long way since my high school days of scrawling in my journal. From being a timid teenager who preferred to stay away from people, who believed the stereotypes of introversion and revelled in being one, I’ve seen a drastic change in myself.
I’m still an introvert. I sometimes even take the long way to avoid running into people or stay in on weekends instead of partying with friends. But I no longer try and fit myself into other people’s opinion of an introvert.
There’re countless articles online that try and decode an introvert’s behaviour, all the while enforcing new guidelines for being one.
My work life changed my perspective on introversion. Being forced to meet people, I learnt that I enjoy working with various personalities. I saw that I was even good at making lasting connections. “Understand the introvert” type of articles will tell you most writers are introverts, that we live in a bubble, and aren’t conversation starters. That’s not always true. I write for a living, and I don’t shy away from extending the first word, but that doesn’t make me any less of an introvert.
We all face apprehension in life. I did too when it came to communicating with people. Tying that to introversion is unwise to say the least.
Introvert or not, some people need time and exposure to become a better communicator. Simple as that.
I’m not as well-travelled as I’d like to be, but everywhere I’ve been to, I’ve been with other people. Even my three visits to the US were work trips with colleagues close behind me. However, when we weren’t working, and when it was time to explore, I’d leave them to their plans and fly solo.
I’ve always been that way, and I’ve never felt bad about it either. My reasons are simple enough: I don’t want to go to the same places they do, and I don’t want to do the same activities as they. When I’m travelling with colleagues, no matter where we’re at, they will always want to go shopping. Which is fine by me, except they have people to give things to and I don’t. I’ve never been much of a shopaholic or the typical tourist, but my colleagues are. And that’s the reason I head out on my own. Of course, it’s unfair to ask them to spend time with me on activities they’d rather not indulge in.
With such strong reasoning, I discovered the joys of travelling solo. And it taught me a lot of great things too. For the first time, I was responsible for myself. And it wasn’t as scary as my parents had told me it’d be. On the contrary, it was fun. It was, of course, little unnerving at times, when I struggled to figure out the way ahead or how to handle situations, but I got through them fine. And I realised the benefits of solo travel far outweighed its negatives.
The inevitable factor about social living is that we have to compromise. And I did compromise in my work trips, with the flight preferences, hotel reservations, seats and transport modes, and sometimes even food. But as soon as I ventured on my own, I didn’t have to compromise anymore. I could take the bus if I wanted to or save time eating a bagel on the way rather than waiting for my co-travellers to finish a five-course veal meal. I could, most of all, stop where my heard did.
It was the best feeling ever—freedom in every sense of the word. Since I didn’t have to endure their endeavours for souvenirs or their selfie experiments, I got more time to do what I like—whether it’s window shopping at a bakery or hiking up a hill for the breathtaking views, I loved having complete autonomy.
While I was basking in the glory of travelling alone, my teammates planned a team trip. And I was to go along with about ten other people. I had misgivings even before we left. Unused to going along with others, I didn’t know if I’d manage it. I even asked myself if it’s worth going at all, knowing full well I won’t have a good time.
But I went anyway. And I wasn’t all wrong. It wasn’t easy for me to adjust to others’ routines and plans. It wasn’t the best experience squishing seven people in a five-seater car or listening to music I don’t like all the way on a road trip. Although most of us wanted to go on a sunrise drive, I hated waking the reluctant others at 3:00 am. It pained me to be the plant eater in a meat restaurant watching the group order piece after piece.
Regardless of all this, every time we were out together, at a waterfall or a bridge, or a street walk, I enjoyed myself in spite of myself. Sure, I wish we hadn’t taken so many group photos and selfies or spent so much time waiting for the others to get ready, but I also had small moments I cherish to this day.
I didn’t have to be the only responsible one throughout. Or watch behind my shoulders all the time. Or ask for directions or pay for every meal. For once, I was part of something bigger than myself. Yes, I had to check we were heading in the right direction, and stay awake talking to prevent our driver from falling asleep, but at the end of it, it wasn’t only about me, and that didn’t feel so bad.
Go with the flow
I’d visited countless waterfalls before. But for the first time, I showered in a waterfall during the team trip. As I saw my colleagues run into the water, I was happy to join them without worrying who’ll watch my stuff (lucky for me, some of my team-mates are afraid of water).
I learnt to let the inevitable flow of events engulf me, and to my surprise, I had fun. I laughed more than I thought I would, made friends of unexpected people, and even had someone interested in taking my picture. Travelling with a group, I realised, isn’t so bad after all. After all, you get to know for real about people you thought you knew.
Solo travel makes you feel like you own the world, while group travel makes you feel belonged.
Which is better, though, is subjective. I’ll always vote for going alone, but I wouldn’t negate the thrill of travelling with others.