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.