Hello my dear readers!
It’s been a long time since we spoke last. Hope you’ve been doing great (though I also hope you’ve been missing me a bit 😉 ).
Today we talk about regrets.
When our editor, the inimitable Chiradeep da, presented us with the upcoming Candles Online blog topics a couple of weeks back, I thought the chance to talk about regrets couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
Today I stand at a unique point of time in my life.
Tomorrow is my last day at work with my current employer.
“What’s so special about that?” You might think.
Nothing except tomorrow is also (what I hope to be) the last day of corporate employment in my life!
Yes, dear friends, tomorrow I become a proud career-shifter!
“That’s all very good but how is all this related to regrets?” You must be thinking.
Let’s get to that.
In case you remember almost a year back I poured my heart out to you, talking about the all-encompassing sense of ennui that had engulfed me, mainly due to things not really working out in the professional front. Life had become a “futile series of repetitive actions” to me. Meaning, fulfillment, a sense of achievement, alignment with my values – essential elements of a successful and rewarding professional life – were all missing from mine.
To be honest, the signs had started to show at quite an early stage of my corporate career stint (Ooooh the joy of that edit!). As early as 2012-13 I was already toying with various ideas of alternative professions. I would ferret out details of illustrious alumni of my alma mater in alternative careers (i.e. non mainstream corporate/start-up) like the current director Dr. Ashish Nanda, Prof. Ravi Jagannathan, Rashmi Bansal, Sidin Vadukut etc. I had considered everything – from becoming a school teacher, to becoming a CAT/MBA coach, government servant, full time blogger… (I already took a few steps in this direction, and www.loveinindia.co.in is the result!). You name it, I’d thought about it. I considered academia too, but the 5 year gestation period in the form of PhD studies was a deal-breaker. Or so I thought.
And then that fateful day happened. I describe a particular experience at work in my earlier article:
“That was the day I cried. I was finally at a point where I was being told my performance was not up to the mark, was allowing my basic human dignity to be taken from me in the name of performance-orientation, and was being penalized for having ethical standards.
After more than three long years of spending a disappointed, perpetually demotivated, depressed life, I had finally hit rock bottom.”
What I didn’t mention then is that that special day was also the day it suddenly struck me like an elephant in the room – academia was the only way to go for me. 5 years, 10 years… whatever the expected PhD duration, it couldn’t be worse than wasting the rest of my life in a cubicle having zero impact on the world and zero meaning to myself. Suddenly it all started to make sense.
I had never liked anything better than the pursuit of knowledge.
Things like math and coding gave me more satisfaction than any other activity.
Everyone in my immediate and extended family is an academic. There are few people more familiar with and influenced by the academic way of life than me.
OMG! How could I not have thought of this obvious path earlier? I was going to pursue doctoral studies and eventually a career dedicated to research and teaching. It’s evident right?
Today, exactly a year from that day, do I have regrets to have wasted 5 of the most productive years of my life in cubicles being a keyboard monkey? Yes. As hard as it might be to admit that to myself.
At a deeper level, do I regret having invested time, money, and humungous pre-admission preparatory efforts in going to the top b-school of the country to earn an MBA? Absolutely yes. I’m a lover of science at heart, and doing an MBA was definitely a WRONG decision. Did I say “wrong”? Wrong!
You probably realize how challenging it was to admit those giant, weighty facts to myself when we, as a family, first took the decision that I was starting over.
It’s extremely hard to acknowledge regrets, ’cause that usually means largely irreversible suboptimal life decisions, the repercussions of which would affect us for the rest of our lives. It freaks us out. But I’ve learnt it’s important to guard against falling into the all too common vicious cycle of telling yourself lies in a vain attempt to avoid regrets. If you have made a mistake, the sooner you accept that it was a mistake, the better. If you tell yourself this was somehow “meant to be” you risk being stuck with a suboptimal life! And that’s a bad kind of forever.
I believe this was part of the reason it took me so long to accept the truth, let sunk costs be sunk costs, cut my losses and move forward. I, like most, had spent too much time trying to tell myself that I didn’t have career regrets and it’ll all somehow work out. But you can’t square a circle and you can’t teach a fish to fly.
Yes 5 (work) + 2 (B-school) years of my life were basically… umm… let me put it this way – a waste. Well apart from the life lessons, the whole coming of age coaching which 5 years of corporate (I guess any kind of) employment gives you. Oh and the road trips around Mumbai. 🙂
But here’s the thing – I’m glad the waste is 7 years and not 37 years. It could be the latter. I could’ve accepted life as an everyday drudgery like the thousands of top MBA graduates, who, like me, realize a few years into “real life” that being a corporate high-flyer is a daily challenge, and not in the way you think. Even if you earn a ton of money, which many (not all) of us don’t, if you take into account the cost of living in the megacities where the highest paying jobs are, like Mumbai, London or the San Francisco Bay Area. Just ask any MBA who has graduated within the last 7 years.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself about which ones are your real regrets and which ones aren’t. If you make a mistake here, you might again be stuck with wrong decisions.
For a long time I thought I was just going through a “grapes are sour” syndrome professionally. Maybe I was bitter I couldn’t bag a plush day zero job? Maybe I didn’t have what it takes to become the most successful in the corporate world, like a CEO, or a partner or something? And then I tried to place myself in their shoes and asked myself, “What would I feel like if I were made a partner tomorrow and I was earning 5 crores a year?”
I really tried to picture that.
I would still die with my only achievement being probably improving the bottom-line of a few companies. Most of who sell soap. Or steel. Or software.
“Today I die content to have helped sell a million more sachets of shampoo in India than would ever have been possible without me! Oh and I helped create the brand identity of a totally new detergent!”
PS: Incidentally, yesterday I had coffee with the same ex-boss referred to as Bob in the last article, upon his invitation, “for old times’ sake”, before leaving Bombay for the foreseeable future. Lol. (Did I say “permanently”? Did I say “forever”? “For good”?? Boy I can hardly contain my perhaps foolhardy excitement. Goodbye isn’t always a bad word. And some goodbyes are meant to be forever. They signify happy endings. I wish my farewell to corporate employment is one of those.)
Author’s Bio: Sulagna Dasgupta has been writing about self-improvement and relationships for more than 5 years. Her website “www.loveinindia.co.in” is India’s first dedicated relationships & marriage blog, also offering FREE unlimited anonymous relationship counselling. Her mission is to facilitate more open thinking about love & relationships in India in the long run.