I’ve always had a not-very-uncommon outlook at life. Growing up, I’ve always wanted to be fiercely independent, paying my own bills, repairing my own TV, fixing my own mess and the like. I’ve always wanted to be the best in any room – the smartest, the funniest, and the one who everyone would want to talk to. Add to this, I grew accustomed to a certain lifestyle, one that was only fuelled by my desire to make my purchases, big ticket or small, without taking a peek at the price tag. Like I said – a not-very-uncommon outlook.
While I was studying for my Master’s degree, I stumbled upon the professionally enriching and rewarding world of content writing. Honestly, for starters it was no big deal – just a couple of hours each week and I would add some shiny bucks to my monthly allowance. I continued to work as a content writer after graduating, and took on a few projects while I was working full-time as a brand manager at a nutraceutical start-up. In fact, my profound love and passion for this side hustle was so intense that it was one of the (many) reasons that led me to leave the full-time job.
I took a break for a few months, spending my time productively (read: binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and working on content projects with a few clients. After about three months, I got a job as a research analyst with a well-known media/publishing giant, and I was quite pleased with how things turned out! But I still held on to my side-hustle, because hey – I’m human; and humans can get greedy pretty easily. Moreover, a greedy human is incorrigible.
I would leave to work at ten in the morning, get back home at nine in the evening, open my laptop at nine-fifteen and work as a freelancer until three in the am, sleep till about seven in the morning – this cycle continued for a long time. In the beginning, it was manageable. So I had to give up meeting friends every week and skip family-time every evening. Meh. They’d understand why I’m doing this, I thought. I was sure that they would. The funny thing is, they did understand, but after a while I didn’t understand why I did this.
As the weeks went by, I added more clients to my little side hustle. What began as just a handful of deadlines grew into a horrendous monster of complex schedules and seemingly unreasonable timelines with an insatiable appetite for whatever little time I had left for myself. Soon, I was compelled to limit my meeting friends to every other week, which soon reduced to once a month. Then once in two months. Pretty soon, I forgot how they looked. As for my family, I was slowly phased out of the more recent family photos. Add to this, my health started taking a turn for the worst – dark circles and migraines were only the tip of the iceberg. I became a cranky, sleepless mess of a woman who was always on the edge, paranoid that I might at any moment get a client call in the middle of my day at work asking for something to be submitted immediately.
Weekends meant forty-eight hours of pounding away furiously at the keyboard. Phone calls meant clients asking for more work to be turned around in unbelievably short timelines. Sleep was a luxury, and the outdoors became my Holy Grail. While the money was making its way into my bank account, I realised that it was leaving me faster than ever. The more I worked, the more I earned, and the more I spent. I spent on clothes that no one would see me wearing, I spent on shoes that I’d never dance in, I spent on commute because I was too exhausted to ride to work, I spent on pampering sessions to destress from self-induced stress.
I wasn’t living anymore. I was functioning, breathing. But I didn’t have the one thing that in a way, tells us that we are alive. I didn’t have time.
Thankfully, I’m a quick learner. I pride myself on learning from my mistakes, picking myself from a fall and cleaning myself up fairly well. One day, I realised that all this was too much for me to take. All this was too much for anyone to take. I remembered reading an article about an investment banking employee, a 22-year old lad who lost his life working his ass off. I did not want to end up that way – have my life end before it even began; particularly over something that I created myself.
So the very next morning, I made a few calls and sent emails to most of the clients telling them that I would no longer be able to work with or for them. I did retain two clients though – this was mostly because I did love writing, and continuing to work in this field is something that I see as an investment for my professional life. As soon I as I hit ‘send’ on those emails, I felt light. I felt liberated. I felt in control of my life.
Here’s the thing, ladies and gents. We are taught to give it our all and work our hardest. This is fair. We are also told to put work above all else, because our work is what defines us, because our careers will supply us with financial rewards – the only fuel we need to camp among the stars. This is totally false. I feel, and this is something I’ve learnt the hard way that while working hard is crucial, working smart is what we need. I’ve learnt that financial rewards have a limiting quality to them – they limit our time, and in a way compel us to choose between what we truly love and what is merely a mirage.
I had to nearly lose my mind to find my way back. I had to cry myself to sleep, not because I was sad or hurt. To be honest, there was no coherent reason for my tears; I think it was just my soul responding to my human greed. We are not infallible. By God, we are a flawed bunch! But we are flawed for a reason. So I won’t be a toe-in with the conventional definition of the best in any room. As long as I have time and the people I love by my side, I think I have achieved my true dream – contentment.
Sometimes you have to lose your way to find yourself.