Why I Quit My Corporate Job, and Why You Should Probably Too
Let me preface this by saying that this article is intended mostly for people who are stuck in the wrong job and don’t even know it. Just like I was. And also just like the vast majority of the “engineer or bust” generation of India to which I belong is stuck today.
This story begins way back in 2005 when I had just finished my 10th grade exams. For those of you who aren’t aware, this is the point at which 15 year old kids get to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Yup. Kids who for the most part have been raised by conservative parents of a very different generation where progress was akin to settling down in a slow but steady job. An exam oriented education has made sure that they understand how to beat the system and get to the dreaded pass marks. The CBSE schools especially excel at making this brand of “can pass, doesn’t know shit later” students. These kids have barely had any exposure, experience and expert counsel. They have of course developed the ability to work their way up the grades one way or another, but annual exams that determine their promotion have ensured that they “really need to work hard and study” only for about a month or two each year.
This is where, in most schools throughout India, you get to choose between three courses — “Science”, “Commerce” and “Art”. Mind you, that order matters, but we’ll get to that in a bit. “Science”, “Commerce” and “Art”. Isn’t that a bit too broad? I can honestly say that I had no idea what students of Commerce were expected to do once they had a college degree. As for Art, the word in the school was “you can become a History prof or maybe an unemployed musician”. Science was for the toppers. If you managed to get good scores in your exams of English, Hindi, Social Studies, Maths and Science, you have pretty much proven that you belong in a scientific pursuit of happiness. And Science for me was the only option because hey, I get decent marks. Let me explain. The ones who didn’t do great at their exams went on to Commerce and the ones who just managed to scrape through (and most of the girls) went into Arts. There’s your order of importance right there. Science, Commerce and Arts. At one point later when I was about 6–7 months into my Science course, I asked my parents if I could be in Arts for a couple of weeks to see what it’s like (my school was generous enough to allow for that). And the response my mom gave me was “Sure, just make sure you start sweeping the floors and washing the windows during that time to prepare yourself.” Ouch. Even if that is discouraging, it is sound advice from a parent because it reflects the reality of the country at that point, but certainly not today. But let me just say here that my parents have been very understanding and supportive, a luxury most of my peers don’t have. Only goes to show that mindsets can change and evolve even if they seem rigid at some point.
So basically, I got into the Science -> Engineering route without much knowledge of what other options I had, much like my peers.
So in my engineering, I got an above average job offer in my final year. Let me be clear — I did a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. I got a job as a Business Analyst in a Data Analytics and Consultancy firm. Somewhere between the four years of my course I decided that toiling in the sun to construct roads and small buildings for corrupt contractors was not my jam. Luckily, companies in India know this trend and hire from across engineering disciplines all the time. Chemical engineers become Software Developers. Biotech graduates become Sales and Strategy experts. Civil engineers become Data Scientists. That’s why these companies have to spend a lot of effort, money and time into training these graduates into something they can actually use. Nonetheless, for the most part, we do fine at our jobs. We were taught to scrape through to the next promotion, remember? We know how to understand the system and exploit the gaps in it. We make our way through. That’s why students who were mostly getting good marks in their board exams also do well at their jobs. The education system does have its benefits.
But you must also recall that you weren’t happy studying in school, were you? You got the good marks and your parents and teachers were happy, but those two months of studying for the annual exams were the worst part of the year every year. I was great at my job. I was ahead of the curve, appreciated by clients and bosses alike and in my short tenure of a year and a half, I was already heading teams of new employees. And I thought “hey, what do you know, things worked out. I may not need to satisfy my creative side at all.” Oh how wrong was I. What I hadn’t realised was that my job had trapped me in a vicious circle of ignorant bliss. I worked about 12–14 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s slightly above average for a first job for engineers in India. It kept me occupied and it kept me ignorant of any inner dialogue trying to reach my conscious mind. As I explained in my first article, I’m pretty sure I’m mostly governed by my subconscious mind today. Every night I would reach home late at night and would have time only for an hour or two before I had to crash in time to begin the next day. My weekends were spent exercising the philosophy of “work hard, play harder” which meant I would be having too much fun to actually care about some time spent alone reflecting on my thoughts. This went on for 18 months. I was decently well paid, I was well appreciated, and I was well on my way to “corporate success”. And then things changed all of a sudden.
In my 16th month as a now “Senior Business Analyst” (the carrot and the stick work great, you corporate puppeteers, kudos!) I suffered a major injury. I tore a ligament in my left knee while playing football. As I found out, this would need me to get a surgery if I wanted to walk properly again, as well as 3 months of bed rest after it. C’est la vie. My boss was kind enough to offer me as much time off as I needed to recover, but I chose to work from home instead. I had to head back home to live with my parents so that I could get that surgery done and recover under their watchful eye. I was prepared for the surgery and the long recovery process: I’d done enough research online to know what to expect. What I hadn’t expected was how the lack of distractions would affect me.
My work schedule went from about 12–14 hours a day to 5–6 hours a day. My weekends were now mostly just sitting around at home waiting for something interesting to happen. I couldn’t spend too much time on the internet because my parents had really slow internet and it gets boring after a while anyway. TV was out of the question because TV sucks. I hadn’t carried my guitar with me on the trip because I assumed that I’d be back to Bangalore in a month or lesser. So, I was essentially left to my own thoughts for most of the day.
Does that sound scary to you? It should. It was scary. I was constantly tormented by my conscience telling me I had betrayed my dreams as a kid. I wanted to be a musician since school. Hence the two weeks in Arts, hence the guitar classes and hence the relief of getting a job I enjoyed. All I could think of was how I was doing something I really didn’t care about and spending so much time and effort into it everyday. I was wasting away my life. “How did I get here?”, I thought to myself. I discovered that it was because of all the small decisions I took right from 2005 which kept nudging me away from my desired path one degree at a time. I constantly told myself “if everyone around me thinks it’s a good idea, it must be a good idea” and kept distrusting my inner dialogue which asked me to bank on myself. I had constructed a safe bubble of a hectic job and party filled weekends for myself by paying no mind to my deep lying interests. Ignorant bliss.
Along with this realisation came the burning desire to change my life. I was going to quit my job and do something in the field I’m interested in. People have asked me “where did you find the balls to quit such a nice job, man?”. To be honest, it has nothing to do with being courageous. I had simply reached a stage where I knew if I continued on with my job, I would be unhappy and dissatisfied for the rest of my life. I wanted to be better than what I was. There was no option, it was very simply “go back to this hollow meaningless life or go do something that you might actually enjoy”. That’s a simple decision to make, don’t you think?
Today I am a co-founder of a media company called Momo Media that works with freelance artists and we do all we can to make an artist’s career more feasible and sustainable. Get in touch with me @AnantMomo on Twitter if you want to know more. I have to say it’s not easy, but rest assured, it is 20 times more satisfying than any corporate job I have done.
So this is what I want to say to you. If you’ve been through a similar route in life and have a similar job as I once did, maybe you’re in a bubble too. Maybe you aren’t giving your inner dialogue the stage to speak to you. Maybe you’ve taken small, seemingly inconsequential decisions all your life which have led you astray from the path you want to be on. Think about it. Reflect on your situation. Don’t brush the dust under the rug for another day. Face it, examine it, understand it and find out what you want. Trust me, it’ll be much easier to know what you want to do once you try to ask yourself that question without any noise around you. You don’t need an ACL tear and 3 months of bed rest to do it. Make time to sit by a window and think about your week every Sunday. Get a hobby where you can lose yourself and reflect upon your thoughts. Don’t ignore the urge to write if that’s what you want to do by telling yourself “it’s going nowhere anyway”. In the end, it all comes down to what you want and what you don’t. Don’t be afraid of the void, trust in yourself and take that plunge. You can do it.