An Ode to Finding a Passion Outside Work

Photo by Pixabay

Recently, I talked about the distress I experienced due to excess work. I felt exhausted, working day in and out, and was in severe need of some me-time. I had been “at it” for two years since the start of the pandemic, and I was close to burning out.

Thankfully, I got some time out recently – when my manager went on vacation. I was ecstatic at first. There was no urgent work; it almost felt like I was also on holiday. But then I started experiencing something that I had never experienced in my two years of pandemic-induced erratic work hours – the insufferable boredom that comes with having no work. Was it a withdrawal symptom, a side-effect of having burnt a copious dose of after-work oil? When you finally get some breathing space, you have no clue what to do with it. You are left grasping at straws.

The first few days of zilch micromanagement felt like a dream to me. But by the second or third week, boredom took precedence, and I started actively looking for tasks to self-initiate. A few questions that crossed my mind –

  • Is this what retired people go through? They are relaxed and happy the first few weeks of retirement, but many develop a sense of despair later on.
  • How can I stop myself from feeling this way?
  • Why do we always have to be on the move? Why are we so averse to relaxation?
  • What is the optimal amount of work you need daily to keep yourself happy?

Of course, I do not have the answers to all questions. I am not a researcher or scientist. I apologize if you came here looking for answers. However, I can tell you something from my personal experience:

I am happiest when I have at least half a day’s worth of solid work. The type of work that requires my complete attention, work that takes my mind off all kinds of distractions. When I am consumed by an optimal amount of work that meets my skills, I enter this state of flow that ignites my happy hormones. This “work” that I am talking about is not just restricted to office work; it can be anything – cooking, playing a sport, writing, learning, dancing, singing. The point is that it should be something that is immersive and consumes your entire interest.

It might be why experts recommend having a passion outside work. Once you’re retired, this passion will keep you alive and kicking. For workaholics, finding that excitement outside work might prove challenging. They hardly get the time to pause and seek activities that may have the potential to improve their quality of life in the future. One possibility for such plodders is to go part-time post-retirement in context to their work (maybe consulting). But if you have decided to step away from office work, as most of us plan to do post-60, finding yourself a cause or a passion becomes imperative.

We feel our best when we are in service or when we can provide help in some way. Finding your “Ikigai,” as vouched by the long-living Japanese, is essential to one’s overall well-being and happiness. I am not yet sure what my Ikigai is. I enjoy writing, but I haven’t yet sat down to see if I could write for half a day, nor do I know if this exercise would cater to my emotional health eternally. I did some sewing the other day. It made me feel alive. Maybe Ikigai can be a bunch of things – a heady concoction of multi-colored magic beans that contribute to our general well-being. You can embrace each of them as per the mood and season, mix and match, exercise portion-control, and tuck them away in your customized, personalized happiness jar. All it takes is some time to figure out what those magic beans are.

Some Questions to Ask Next Time You See a Controversial Outburst in India

Photo by Navneet Shanu

India is increasingly getting polarized. We have a pro-government clan and an anti-government clan. Both are equally stubborn in their own thoughts and action, believing with all their heart that the other is up to no good.

It has become impossible to be objective without offending someone. I hesitate before sharing a piece of good news about the country because the anti-government clan will attack me. It’s the same when you criticize the country because the pro-government clan will get offended.

As Indians, we have sadly lost the ability to differentiate between politics and the well-being of the nation. We are unable to take an objective stance or take a step back to consider ourselves as “one” instead of separate entities and are instead getting into petty fights and finger-pointing. Our national anthem talks beautifully of unity but the truth is we are increasingly becoming divided as the years go by. For a free thinker who cares only for the well-being of the country and not any political party, for someone who wants to see her nation prosper and become a global powerhouse in all aspects, the manner in which India is behaving currently is a huge disappointment.

The riots, hate, and division hardly boost the growth of the country. These elements throw us back financially and emotionally if at all they do something. So why are poeple engaging in them? Where is this polarization coming from? There are a few culprits here:

  1. News Channels: No, I am not talking about only some channels. All are equally biased.
  2. Social Media: The Modi clan supports the leader loyally; the non-Modi clan trolls the leader loyally. There is no middle ground.
  3. Social Messengers: The WhatsApp University is relatively well-known. I need not elaborate on that.

When you subject yourself to a continuous flow of negative news from all three sources listed above, the frustration is imminent. The ground reality might be something else. Internet might be flooded with news of riots, outbursts, hysteria, and violence. However, in real life, you might be sitting in the comfort of your home, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, having a cordial relationship with your neighbors from all communities celebrating each other’s festivals with equal fervor. I have had people ask me if there’s an ongoing war in India, with people rioting 24×7. The fact is the media tends to highlight only the bad, not the good. So a person watching Indian news channels from abroad will end up thinking the country is a perpetual war zone with people getting beaten up or murdered every other second. This is quite extreme from reality. But it is an extreme that cannot be stopped. I happened to read this today in the Open magazine and I can’t agree more.

“The Noise Is Not The Conversation”

What can a citizen do in such situations? Each time you see a piece of polarizing news blasted across media, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why do some incidents make it to the news, whereas others, like the Assam floods, do not get much coverage?
  • Why do we get only one-sided POVs from some social activists? They tend to hide the other side. What’s their agenda?  
  • Why do we have debates on sensitive topics? And why are panelists who are well-known for making polarizing comments invited to such debates?

Always search for the other side, and not blindly follow what the media shows you. This mantra should be mainly applied when they are highlighting hatred or negativity. When you ask “why” to everything that’s happening, you will realize it’s all a game. A game where we are being played around like puppets. A game to spread hatred and disharmony, to cause division. Why? There might be political and personal reasons behind it. The motivation can also be business-oriented – negative news sells. We can never be 100% sure of the intention behind something, but that shouldn’t stop us from doubting and questioning someone’s agenda behind highlighting hatred – even if it’s coming from our favorite social activist or news channel.

The next step a citizen can take is to stop sharing hatred-inducing posts. We get tempted to share such posts because of the shock factor. I know I certainly do. But I had to step back and think, “Am I improving the situation by sharing this?” When we share polarizing news akin to “look what this person said about Islam/Hinduism” we are not promoting peace. We unknowingly encourage agitation and unrest as no person reads such posts with compassionate eyes.

I picture hatred as this greedy monster kept alive by our own dedicated, unwavering attention. We keep feeding this monster and recharging it with our own infinite supply of hatred. It then turns into an uncontainable being beyond our control. Maybe the only way to tame this monster is by ignoring it. We have given the monster so much attention till now, and it hasn’t worked. So maybe it’s time to do the opposite – ignore when someone is trying to divide us with hateful news or posts. Ignore when someone is trying to agitate you with spiteful comments. It is a long stretch because, as Indians, we are sensitive to a lot of things. But ignorance, sometimes, indeed can be bliss. If we learn to ignore the hatred and don’t give it enough attention, who knows, the greedy monster, with its excessive anger and polarization, might eventually die a slow, painful death.

An Ode to My Safe Space

Is there a safe space?
A place to just be—
Devoid of political correctness
Where you can dance to your own peculiar tune
And still, be accepted?
Where you can agree on all sides of a coin
And still, be validated?
Where you can bare your soul
And won’t be negated?
A place to be.
It could be a person, a journal, or on top of a tree!
Where you can openly talk, and think freely.
This is it.
This might just be.
A safe space for the monkey-minded me.

Dedicated to my blog, my safe space.

Thank you for the 100+ followers!

An Ode to Retiring Rich

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels

I have seen senior citizens in India struggling 5-10 years post-retirement because they didn’t have enough savings. Their financial freedom is ultimately compromised as they become dependent on their children.

One example is my own father.

My dad was the only earning member of the entire family. My mother derived her happiness by not involving herself in financial matters. Numbers made her anxious, and she was fine letting dad make all the financial decisions. He enjoyed a plush job in the Middle East, and we had a wonderfully privileged life. I am eternally grateful for everything that he has provided for us. I went to the best of schools/universities and worked for a bit in the Middle East. Then we all decided to pack our bags and head back to India after dad’s retirement – a much-needed rest for him after 30+ years of service.

Everything went on fine until the 5th year of my dad’s retirement. His anxiety was apparent; he was concerned whether his corpus would last his entire lifespan. I had already started working by then, and I started pitching in. Slowly his mental health deteriorated. It may have been due to a combination of stress and disappointment in his financial matters and his physical health issues. The doctors were unable to help him. My dad, who was an active, cheeky, energetic man, turned silent, desolate, and serious. Since I stayed near my parents, I was a witness to all that they went through concerning their finance. My dad wanted to resume work in his mid-60s, despite his physical limitations, no thanks to his depleting retirement corpus.

I am unsure what went wrong because I never discussed it with my dad. He’s no more (he passed away a couple of years back). When I look at his bank balance, I have so many questions. The most glaring one was – “Where did all the money go?” Then there are others “Did he not save?” “Maybe he saved, but it was not enough for inflation?” “Did he make any bad investment choices?” “Did he not invest in the right retirement schemes?” “Would it have helped if he had invested in some equity, mutual fund, or pension scheme?” My dad had only invested in Fixed Deposits.

You learn by observing the people around you. It was only after I saw my dad’s financial condition that I became aggressive with my own savings and investments. I have no idea whether my plan will work for me in the long run, but I can try. I do not have many lifestyle demands, and I am a minimalist, so that helps.

In the quest to achieve financial independence, I have been reading a lot of personal finance books. My initial few reads were meant for the American audience and they did not help me much. I wanted to read books specific to India. That’s how I first landed upon Monika Halan’s Let’s Talk Money. This has to be my favorite Indian personal finance book so far. Everything is explained clearly and concisely. I have re-read it a couple of times in the hope that her words would sync in deep and become second nature for me. She offers instructions on how to invest for each age group.

The next book that is good for Indians looking into learning personal finance is PV Subramanyam’s Retire Rich. He is a Chartered Accountant who gives some good, solid, no-nonsense advice on how you can carry about your investments. His policy is investing in yourself first, before anything else. Keep aside some money for your retirement and invest in other people and things only after that.

A non-Indian book that greatly impacted me was “The Psychology of Money.” My favorite quotes from the book are also listed on this blog.

Retiring rich is undoubtedly a priority for me. Keep in mind that the word “rich” is subjective. I want to retire “rich” enough for my own needs, but that amount might not be “rich” enough for you. So the first step is to calculate your retirement corpus based on your annual expenses. There are enough online retirement calculators to help you out. If you are in your 20s, start saving/investing now. I am in my 30s now, and my only regret is that I did not start sooner.