Step out of the rat race

Step out of the rat race
What constitutes a happy life? A high-paying job? A steady income? A mansion? Or, maybe a car or two? This might be true for the majority of us. But meet members of a new tribe of people who believe in something more tangible than materialistic desires and accomplishments. Conventional aspirations of earning more money and making great strides professionally are just stepping stones in their journey. Here are four members of an ever-increasing set of people, who are finding happiness without the standard combination of ambition, money, career and comfort.

Out of the fray

As a youngster, Shuvajit Payne had quite a predictable life: graduation, MBA, and finally finding a job to pay off his loans. But it all seemed pointless to him, when he realised that he was wasting the most energetic years of his life making a multinational corporation rich. He quit and got into the SBI Youth for India Fellowship programme. Little did he realise that he had just stumbled upon his true passion in life: education. He currently handles all the educational initiatives of Barefoot College, and is in a happy and comfortable space today.

Avinash Giridhar is a 29-year-old electronics engineer, who after building a start-up, quit to work with Ashwini Charitable Trust in Bengaluru. When he realised his skills and abilities could be used in a better way, he decided to make his volunteering stint at the NGO a full-time occupation. Today, he’s the programme manager at the NGO, and is working in a space that gives him a sense of contentment.

Vishal Singh is a postgraduate from IIT and the former dean of Centurion University in Odisha. When he found that the villagers in the vicinity of a premier institution like IIT were living in abject poverty, he realised that his education was worthless if he couldn’t use it to empower socio-economically deprived people. Today, he’s transforming the lives of many people in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha.

Smita Kamath is a former IT consultant from Bengaluru, who left her cushy job to work on sustainable projects in rural areas. You will find her working in her farm in Channapatna, where she practises eco-friendly farming and minimalistic living.

So, why did these well-qualified people leave a comfortable life for a world that offered them nothing but hardships? As it turns out, the new world promised to offer them something more. No, not more money and comfort, but a sense of contentment and happiness. Through the course of their careers, they all came to a point where they wondered if their abilities were being put to good use. And their hearts echoed the same answer: ‘No’. So, here they are in the world of social service, where other people are still exploiting their talents, albeit for a good cause. But it came at a price: they had to bid goodbye to the comforts of their previous life, though they didn’t blink twice before doing so.

A difficult transition

Avinash talks about the turning point in his life, “I could easily spend Rs 4,000 when I am out with my friends drinking. But after working for this NGO, I realised that the same amount of money could cater to a child’s educational needs. That’s when I started to evaluate things objectively.” All the suffering around Vishal made him realise that the current system of education only taught a person how to move ahead professionally and earn more money. “People earn money today only to fulfil their materialistic desires, but not to help the needy,” he says.

Smita, on the other hand, underwent a spiritual transformation of sorts. “When I was on a trek in the Himalayas, the amount of plastic I came across in remote areas baffled me,” she says. “That wasn’t natural. I realised our current model for development wasn’t sustainable.” But in a country where a majority of people still associate happiness with loads of ‘paisa, bangla and gaadi’, voluntarily moving away from them is a crime second to none.

Vishal agrees, “People would often tell me that I should focus on my career, and that I would gain nothing from all this social work. ‘How will you manage to run your household?’ was their main concern.” Shuvajit adds, “My family was quite uncomfortable when I quit without a plan. But gradually, as they realised I was not really wasting my years doing nothing, they gained confidence in me. My relatives thought I was mad to have left a job in London!” As tough as families can sometimes be, Avinash is of the opinion that they can also be your biggest strength in such situations.

But opposition from their families is only one of the many hurdles that these changemakers encountered during their transition from one world to another. Shuvajit explains, “Imagine the challenges a city boy faces while trying to mingle with a community in a remote town! And when you move ahead, the challenges become more pertinent to reality — how do you instil ambition in students? How do you make someone else dream big? How do you measure success when your objective is not profitable?” Vishal says, “Initially, we spent almost eight hours every day interacting with the villagers, trying to understand their needs. There were times when we worked without proper food and water. Our confidence used to take a big hit every day. But, the fact that we are doing all this to improve someone else’s life makes it all worthwhile,” says Avinash.

Finding happiness

Yes, our world is inflicted with a number of problems. And someone has to take the initiative of cleaning the mess. Who better than young, qualified professionals who, with their expertise and digital know-how, can help bring some change in the largely haphazard sector of social work? But many of these professionals realised that working in the social service sector is a two-way street. While they slogged to change people’s lives, the work also made them re-evaluate their philosophies and ambitions in life. One thing all the four unanimously agreed on is gaining a new perspective in life.

They all have realised that the concept of a ‘secure life’ is something that only exists in their minds and could be changed as per one’s wish. Shuvajit explains, “A high income cannot be your ambition in life — you need to know why you want to earn that money! Your life goal cannot be job security — it will just take away some of your worries, freeing up mind-space and energy to do something more meaningful.” But what about all the comforts that a well-paying job brings along with it? Shuvajit states, “It’s a misconception that people working in the development sector live in abject poverty. I do earn a living that pays my bills; yes, it’s less than a full-fledged corporate job, but it is sufficient to lead a healthy life with peace of mind.”

Smita reveals that her entire lifestyle has changed, which is why she doesn’t feel the need for the ‘comforts’ of life. “My needs are minimal today. And I find that I am happy with the bare minimum.” Avinash adds, “I am doing this because this works for me and I am happy with it. And it’s not like I will stop being an electronics engineer. If I want, I can still go back to the corporate world. That’s why you have to be absolutely clear about what you want. You should be strong, especially when people are questioning the sanity of your step.”

As the world is inching closer towards the tipping point thanks to all the competitiveness out there, there are people like Smita and Avinash, who are voluntarily stepping out of the race to help those in the sidelines.

They might not be able to boast of vast wealth in the bank or a luxurious car to drive around in, or professional achievements to flaunt, but they can certainly boast of being happy and content with their lives today.

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