A friend describes it as “manic confidence”. But most people use unsure euphemisms such as “brave”. A few months ago, I ‘renounced’ a fairly well-paid UN gig in Geneva. There were several reasons, but none more powerful than the need to take complete control of my time and my life. I was unabashed in my enthusiasm for this decision.
It has been a few months, and my sense of optimism remains undiminished.
It seems that I was heading this direction for a while, but I was not really paying attention. A 13 hour boat journey on the Irrawaddy in December 2013, spurred a few dormant, radical ideas. I was reading this life-altering book called Quiet, that introduced me to myself. Apparently, I had not fully recognised that I am an introvert. And that I treasured working alone to tap into what I really wanted to do.
I turned 35 this year. And somehow that felt, extremely empowering and a great milestone to cross. I wanted to actively take steps to shape my life – and to make my life “simple and slow”.
I had worked as a freelancer when I first moved to Switzerland a few years ago. It was incredibly tough, and frustrating, since I had always worked as a full-time reporter till then. But those experiences actually emboldened me, for it seemed that I had already faced the worst side including finding gigs that were not sustainable and chasing people for paltry sums. This led me to maniacally pursue well-paid positions in other sectors. I sought them, and won.
But it turns out, that there are diminishing returns on money. It just did not matter after a point, how much I earned. I had hit middle-age, it was too comfortable, I could effectively not jog my brains, go to work and get paid. I had forgotten what it was to think.
I believe one of the toughest questions to answer, in life is – really – what is it that one wants to do. I took several months, (perhaps even years subconsciously), to articulate a well thought out, considered, deliberate response to this question.
By this stage, I knew what made me happy – a basic standard of living, some books, some food and solitude and most importantly the latitude to do what I wanted.
Being an immigrant imposes several limitations. But there are different, equally constraining limitations back home. So on balance it is pretty much the same. So this excuse was eliminated in my mind.
Years of facing unclear job prospects due to local language inadequacies, economies in recession, and a media industry in turmoil, had made me vulnerable, but it also taught me to live with uncertainty. Before I realised, there was a mental shift that had taken place – to be ok without the reassurances of a regular income. I believe, that was deeply liberating. Yes, there is insurance and pension to think about, but the challenge really is to define what you perceive as success – after cutting out noise such as position, power, business trips, big bucks and a professionally defined identity.
I quietly went about acquiring skills and getting another master’s degree, and working out of my comfort zone. In the process, gathered enough confidence and insights into how the world works outside of journalism. It was fascinating, but I was often guarded and watchful about what I was doing, despite meeting with reasonable success.
Soon I realized that I was not telling a story that I was meant to tell (not entirely clear yet what that exactly is!) I was not able to craft my work the way it interested me, the way I thought about the world and my role in it – with minimum middlemen and women, in some sense.
Given my multi-disciplinary interests and my inter-disciplinary academic background (which is such a burden in a world with strong disciplinary vocations, by the way) – I decided to go solo. It is alright to have diverse interests, it is alright to be bored working on only one thing, it is alright to be me. Quite simple actually, come to think of it. But it took several years in preparation to reach this point when I could kick the bucket and take flight.
I have not felt as alive as I have in these last few months – as I did, when I first started out eager to make a difference of sorts. It has been such a warm, humbling experience to accept limitations and yet work everyday as if there are no limitations.
I am fortunate to have a mobile profession, where all I need is motivation and an internet connection. I do not require tools, teams and machinery.
Another big part of this happiness is finding an amazingly quiet place to work. I feel like a citizen of the new world, by working alongside my “co-workers”. We are living this 21st century approach to life and work, that apparently first originated as a concept in San Francisco. Worknshare is one of the many co-working spaces here in Lausanne close to the lake in this beautiful city. I work alongside scientists of all stripes, developers, and others like me, who cannot be categorized into a box.
I read more, I write more. While I am concerned about money, I am peaceful. I have reclaimed myself to some extent. While the searching has stopped, the yearning has just begun.