Sisyphus, Happiness and Calling it Quits.

Fay Weldon for The Atlantic's Books by Heart.There’s this beautiful new project by The Atlantic called Books by Heart  which I came to know about this week through Tumblr. I’m posting my favorite graphic because at this point in my life, it makes the most sense.

I turned 25 last week–it was a Friday–and on the Monday that followed it, I handed in my resignation letter. There’s nothing wrong with my job. In fact, if I played my cards right and really maximized the general potential present in my current occupation, I would have been deemed “successful” by a lot of people. But then, there’s success and there’s happiness–the former usually being defined by one’s capacity to achieve the latter. When I was a teenager, I wrote my goals down and told myself that when I’m 25, I’d have to be self-sufficient, living alone and having a grand adventure. Sure, those are dreams of an idealistic teen who at the time knew nothing about taxes and bills–but as I contemplated those goals whilst sitting on my desk, on a regular 8-hour workday, it hit me: I just wasn’t as happy as I could be. It felt like the greatest disservice to myself and this nation that I so longed to serve to have to inflict my unhappiness upon it.

And before you think that it’s because I didn’t “do my time” or endure long enough–or before I’m deemed a quitter, let me just say in my defense that I’ve been in government for close to four years now. I kept my current job for a year but the previous ones have been served in varying capacities at different levels too. Why am I even defending myself? I really shouldn’t. We’re always taught that government work is about endurance, not speed. Here I borrow a concept from long distance running. We’re made to believe that work here is an exercise in futility and also the kind of business wherein returns on your investment only come when retirement is near–if it comes at all.

Truthfully, I have to disagree and compel people, especially those who like me are still young and able, to realize that usually, what stands in the way of making a difference is precisely this dogged belief in the way things are. Our mindset is our own enemy and the key (Jeffrey Sachs was right!) is still persistence. I had to pinch myself every time something happened that proved this so–because I too was really wont to think that it would take a long time before quality reform could be implemented. But it happened and I can’t deny that.

…Burnout happened too. I feel ashamed admitting that the system actually wore me down. But looking at it objectively, it wasn’t the system so much as it was the individual cogs that needed oiling that made work so stressful. That and maybe I’m not the best at convincing others? But more than self-doubt, the real kicker here was hearing from someone a few years older that actually, I didn’t have to endure–I just had to do what I needed to do to be happy.

Sounds vague, I know. Why do you think I have to write about it? Isn’t writing therapy too? But seriously, when I think about happiness, I think about adventure, travel and learning. I also think about stories and writing–and when I’m brutally honest, I often think about service and being a good civil servant.


The amazing thing is that the Universe seems to be working toward making me happy. Not the first time it’s happened but still a very pleasant surprise. The day after I quit–Tuesday, it was a holiday–I was congratulated for winning a contest. Who knew that a simple blogpost would make India a possibility? My contract ends on the 30th of the month and India is scheduled to begin on that same day.

Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps what the Universe would like me to acknowledge is that Sisyphus was indeed happy–contrary to what we might have been made to believe. And extending this further, perhaps it’s really true that if we pursue that which enlivens us and offers happiness beyond our own imagination, we might actually become better at whatever it is we choose to call our work.


11 thoughts on “Sisyphus, Happiness and Calling it Quits.

  1. I’m thinking blogging will bring me possibilities as well. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. As long as we put in our best effort, that is all we can do. Do contribute to genpassport when you have a chance.

    • I will. Just realized now that this is exactly what you asked for–a work post? But let me ponder a better one where travel is not the escape and more of the driving force. 🙂 Looking forward to what you end up writing too!

  2. I am in this same place in life. Last month I turned 28, with a young family struggling to keep our heads above the water. I realized, why should I wait until the end of my life to see the world? Why not just make it part of my current life? Sitting in one place turning in circles does not satisfy our souls! Good luck in your journeys~

    • Thank you, Becca. I’m so amazed at your courage and determination to see the world despite having kids! I’ve been taught to think that kids are a threat to our vagabonding lifestyle and though there’s some truth to that, it’s refreshing to hear another young person think the opposite! See the world and raise the kids out there–wherever the road takes you. 🙂 And tell us all about it so we can muster the courage to have kids too!

  3. Congratulations once again! Your experience is such an inspiration. I think it’s funny the way you phrased it when you said you thought happiness is also being a good civil servant. Brutally honest? I think that’s a fantastic thing! I know that helping another person or even helping to better society really contributes to your own happiness. Roughly paraphrased from Nichiren Daishonin- “When you light a fire for another, you light your own way as well.” That’s so great that the Universe is moving in ways to help you! That’s a concept I’m struggling to have faith in though my experiences have told me otherwise: No one is out to get you! The universe wants it to work out, and as your determination deepens the Universe will work that much harder to help you make it happen.

    • It really does. I read another saying once: What you desire and what the world needs are essentially compatible. That’s why I was told to listen to my desires. But I like the quote you used more. 🙂 Yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes we have to make an effort in order to help the Universe open doors for us. It just feels strange sometimes because it works in ways we don’t often understand. That can be frustrating.

      BTW, are you a practicing Buddhist? If so, would you know where I can (re)start learning allabout it?

      • That can be SO frustrating! There are def times where I am like, seriously, what is happening right now??, in terms of challenges I’m facing, but I’ve also learned through my Buddhist practice, that looking back, even if it’s after a few years, everything you faced happened because you needed it at that moment in your life and it brought you that much closer to your goal. 🙂 Yes, I am practicing Nichiren Buddhism with a lay Buddhist organization called Soka Gakkai International. You can find information on the organization’s website at in the Buddhism sub-section. Also I think you’d really enjoy, which is an on-line magazine put together by SGI-USA with articles about lifestyle, arts, and education from a humanistic and Nichiren Buddhist perspective. Feel free to reach out to me with any q’s!

  4. Nash!! I’m just updating myself now with your life, I remember you mentioned thinking about quitting your job–congratulations! 🙂 Looking forward to hearing more from you!

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