You are not your job

You are not your job

 When you don’t have a life outside of the chilling confines of your workplace, it’s time to pause. When your job becomes the excuse for not being able 

to do things that bring joy to you and your family, it’s  time to rethink, writes Jisha Krishnan.

Work is her passion. She can spend hours at the laboratory, often skipping lunch, for that elusive ‘eureka’ moment. Given that research in the field of infertility is still in its nascent stage in India, Dr Priya Selvaraj has been keen to make a breakthrough.

Other than an annual vacation of not more than seven days, Dr Priya has never really taken a break from work in her 14 years of clinical practice. So, it came as a huge surprise – even shock for some – when she announced her plan of enrolling for a four-week film-making course in New York last year. 

“It wasn’t really a spur of the moment decision,” she says. The Chennai-based infertologist, counted among the country’s best, first took up an online scriptwriting course offered by the New York Film Academy.

 “Then, I sold my two-year-old Audi and put down that money for the film-making course,” she shares.

In the four-weeks away from the lab and the patients, she experienced an entire gamut of emotions ranging from extreme helplessness to utter confusion and sheer exhilaration. “It was like going back to school, except that my classmates were half my age and more at ease with their iPads… There were days when the tears just wouldn’t stop rolling down my cheeks as I walked back to my apartment after class,” recalls the mother of two, who is in her late 30s.

In retrospect, Dr Priya doesn’t want to trade the “learning experience” for anything in the world. The making of Strawberry Fields, her short-film – proudly uploaded on YouTube – is testimony to her journey from being a ‘Type A’ personality to trying to incorporate some ‘Type B’ traits. 

It’s a journey that lesser mortals like you and I cannot make. Or so we think. Our jobs are the centre of our universe. Whether we love what we do or loathe it, the fact remains that we can’t really break free of its shackles.

 “How I wish I could take a break!” is the common refrain of young professionals married to their jobs. 

Here’s some breaking news: You can. You must. Take a break. Otherwise, it’s not just your back that you’ll end up breaking, but also your morale, mental health and relationships – if you have any left. 

The sad truth is that most jobs no longer are a 9-5 business as they once used to be. “When the company gives you a fancy laptop and hi-tech phone, the implication is that you are on the job 24X7,” says Dr Arti Anand, consultant, clinical psychologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi.

Not surprising then that mental health professionals are seeing an unprecedented rise in the number of young adults suffering from anxiety disorders, depression and relationship problems.

“This is true not just of the big cities, but also of smaller towns, where aspirations are soaring high. It’s a highly competitive age that we live in,” maintains Dr Arti.“Burnout” has become the buzzword. High cortisol levels, or stress, over a long period of time are known to cause exhaustion and diminished interest in work. In other words, the more you take on your plate, the lesser is the likelihood of you enjoying the work or doing it well. And that makes logical sense, doesn’t it?

“The problem is that everyone else is willing to give up their personal lives, family time, annual leaves, in order to get ahead in the rat race. So, you have no choice, but to follow suit. How else will you survive?” reasons Vinayak Salve, a software engineer.

The witty American actress Lily Tomlin had given an apt response, many years ago: The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. And that still holds true. 

Ask Archana Prasad, who after years of slogging her butt out, realised that she isn’t really indispensable. Work doesn’t stop; if you aren’t there, somebody else will fill in your shoes. 

“Despite being down with a chronic backache, I refused to go in for physiotherapy because there was just no time. You see, I was heading this important project at work that only I could handle. But guess what? One day I just couldn’t get up from bed and had to be hospitalised. In no time, the project was handed over to a colleague, who, as it turned out, managed just fine.”

The moment of truth, as Archana calls it, has been a blessing. It has motivated the corporate communications professional to rekindle her love for adventure. “Almost every weekend now I go for treks, rock climbing or bird watching. I think it’s helping my work too. I’m less stressed and definitely more positive,” she states.

That sense of contentment comes only from doing things that one enjoys doing. Jobs are not fun - not for most people. They are, often, little more than a means to earn one’s livelihood. “I do my job and I do it well, because it pays me a huge salary. But I don’t really enjoy the work,” confesses Omkar Kulkarni, manager with a banking IT firm.

What he is really passionate about is travel. Not just travelling per se, but also planning other people’s travel. So, in July 2011, Omkar started a travel consultancy, My Tour Consultant, and has till date organised over 50 tour packages. “The first year, it was mostly for family and friends. Later, by word of mouth, we had other customers come in. It was never really about the money, but you know what, it’s actually fetching us decent returns,” he says.

Whether or not someday he’ll get into full-time entrepreneurship, Omkar is certain that he’ll always make time for things that he wants to do. “I don’t follow hard and fast rules. But I make a conscious effort to ensure that while I excel at my job – a promotion is soon due – I also enjoy my life. I think it’s all about having the right attitude and priorities,” he affirms. 

Of late, many international organisations are beginning to rethink the demands they make on their employees. Volkswagen, the German automobile manufacturer, is said to have installed virtual dams to prevent work-related emails from reaching stressed employees at home.

While it may take some time before companies back home take the cue, we, the employees, need to reclaim our lives and our identities. Dr Priya has already enrolled for a month-long course in film production this August. The logistics at work are yet to be figured out; she’s keen to make to make it happen, though. 

Whether you work as the manager or the office boy, you are not to be limited by that, you are so much more! Did you know that our new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, loves writing poetry and has, in fact, got some books published? Why he has even held a photography exhibition! But that was almost two decades ago. The challenge for the PM now would be to make time for his artistic pursuits, even as he fulfills the many promises made to the nation. 

As the American poet Robert Frost succinctly puts it: “By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be the boss and work twelve hours a day.” Is that all you aspire for? 

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