There is a thing called gratuity in India. It’s a rather large sum of money that an organisation you work for gives you at the end of a five year period in lieu of your pledged loyalty. Those of you who have clocked in at least five years in a job will know what it means. I always missed it. The longest I clocked in was four years. I attributed it to the Gemini in me who thrived on change. My marriage lasted six, and yes, there was gratuity in the form of my child.
It was my dream to earn gratuity at least once in my lifetime. Both my parents earned it at the end of their 30-35 year old stints at the same job and were eternally grateful. I wanted to feel that sense of gratitude, so I always prayed at the beginning of any job that its relationship status should change to “in a relationship” soon enough. With most of them, they remained flings, and I got over them faster than I thought.
My threshold for a new job was the same as a new boyfriend: six months. If I lasted six months, I could do a year, and then two years. Everytime I changed my job, it was like a new relationship – I would give it my all and one day, run.
There are three distinct memories of my going to work days: One is when I couldn’t wait to get to my office. The other is when I couldn’t wait to get home. The third is when I couldn’t wait for lunch hour.
I am told that job hopping is the new normal and millennials change as many as four jobs by the time they are 32. Clearly I was born at the wrong time.
It was always normal for me to change jobs when I was bored and I feel a bit shortchanged at having been labelled flighty and unfocused. Or perhaps I was just the messenger. Every time I hopped jobs, I travelled a bit, sometimes holding out as a freelancer long enough for my savings to dry up, before I got in line again for the next one. And the next one. I like to believe that I am no longer in the market for jobs, but I still go for interviews whenever I am summoned, just so I am in touch. Five minutes into the interview, I know what I am not missing and I am grateful to go back home and brew myself a pot of orange tea, as I wonder what to write next. As someone who has spent 20 odd years at various jobs, I think I have earned it.
Here’s the thing about work: it should always be satisfying in itself yet leave you happy enough to want to do other things – they could be zentangling or rappelling or spending time with your family. Work is being largely perceived as the means to finding yourself apart from providing you the means to live. What do you do is probably the first question a stranger or acquaintance might ask you, as if that is the only way to figure out who you are. But if your work leaves you angry and takes you further and further away from yourself every single day, you need to take a close hard look at it and find a way out.
I never took my job home, and when work people called me after work, it bothered me. It did even when I was a rookie.
There are various things that decide your comfort level in a particular job: the level of air conditioning, the state of the loos, the quality of water cooler conversations, availability of subsidized meals, and sometimes, coupons to buy groceries. Another useful bit of information is whether the company does interesting offsites or if they throw you into the banquet hall of a suburban hotel whose carpets stink.
Of course there are things like the quality of work, job satisfaction, learning curve, the amount of bounce you feel every morning while going to work and the friends you make at work. And that’s one more thing to be said about people who change jobs – they make many more friends. Although in the time of Facebook, this may not seem like a big thing, but it is.
Finding the right job is like finding a bra that fits well; it feels just right, yet doesn’t remind you constantly that it’s a job.
One question that I still find difficult to answer honestly in an interview is: So what is it that you really want to do? Well if I really wanted that job, it’s hard to answer this.
Because what I might really want to do is carpentry. Or move to a country where I can live in a tree house and write while someone pays my bills. That’s what I’d like, right? Or I might want to style people – give them different looks, change the way they dress, their hair (I believe every woman is just a haircut and an ensemble away from looking gorgeous). Or that I want to redesign kitchens (again, no experience, but I am sure I can wing it).
When I was in advertising and walked to work (I lived in a working women’s hostel then), I used to be one of the first people to show up and naturally wanted to be one of the first people to leave as I always had other interesting things to do after work – like catch a play, a short film or just my dance class. I realised then that people (mostly in advertising) pulled rank by displaying how long they could hold an entire office to ransom before they pulled out their brains for an alleged “brainstorming”.
Three agencies later, I decided that unless I was reporting on national calamities, these timelines just didn’t make sense. I then went on to be a journalist and worked for the newspaper and magazine industry, where although the work was far more rewarding (and it had my name on it, yay), the need for face time beyond human ability was still annoying. Your place in the organisation was chiefly a reflection of how long you could keep someone waiting for an approval.
Last year, I got rejected for what I thought would be my dream job. It was the first time I found myself saying “we” effortlessly about an organisation, the first time I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. Unfortunately I don’t think they took me seriously when I told them that the job could be my happily ever after.
Excerpted with permission from The Whole Shebang: Sticky Bits of Being a Woman, Lalita Iyer, Bloomsbury.