What is a weekend. Part II.

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The last quarter of the financial year is always busy. As a professional of any sort, you would know this. For those of you lucky enough not to know what this is, it is the period that runs from January to March every year. Most countries measure their financial years from 1 April to 31 March, making this period the last quarter of the financial year. Which also means, this is the time all the accounting has to be set straight. I don’t know what this means for any other industry, but in ours it means billing. Everything has to get billed, and all the bills have to come through. Which means more work. A lot more.

I can’t say I don’t usually complain, because you’ve been with me throughout and you know I complain about almost everything. But this last financial quarter has been particularly brutal in 2022. I don’t think I have had a single weekend off. And I don’t mean that I had to work a couple of hours every weekend. I mean full 10 hour long days every single Saturday and Sunday right from the end of December 2021. Which (I hope) excuses my long absence from this blog for the past couple of weeks.

I wasn’t in all fairness sure about whether or not I would be able to write something this week either. But an email in my organization pushed me over the edge. Made me sit down, block an hour on my calendar (I think I had to invent a couple of client calls for this) and get down to it.

One of the senior partners at our firm took the initiative to organize “weekend classes” to better “educate the firm” on deal learnings and how to run a transaction. Good intentions, I’m sure, but weekend classes? I was appalled. It is one thing for the work to spill over to the weekend (not that this is acceptable) but an entirely different to organize a firm wide work related initiative that cuts into people’s free time. Because you don’t want to waster precious billable hours during the week, you cut into and take away close to 3 hours of people’s free time. Or at least, what is supposed to be our free time. But this wasn’t what did it for me. I was happy to attend said classes whenever I could find the time. Time from work that I was already doing for my firm – and not from my well earned chilling. But this didn’t happen often and so I ended up missing quite a few of the sessions (read: almost all). Cut to a few weeks later, and we get an email informing us that the sessions had been cancelled because people were not showing up for the sessions because….well, they didn’t know why but they weren’t happy with it. Now I have a few things to say about this. First of all, it is the weekend. People are already spending all their waking hours working for your organization. It is absolutely understandable if they don’t want to spend 3 hours every Saturday morning on this. Secondly, the argument might have been slightly more persuasive if we worked in an industry where the job is strictly 9-5 (I’m scoffing as I say this, I don’t think this would be the case at all, but let us just assume this is the case for argument’s sake). I work in an industry where there are no boundaries between work and personal life and almost all of us spend our weekends working (case in point, scroll up a little). So, to miss a voluntary training session because you have billable work…which was the case for most of us…was not acceptable. On the other hand, of course billable work is sacrosanct is it not? So, what is one to do?

For one, I think they want us to feel bad. Feel bad about not staying up an extra three hours every Saturday to fit in both the training and all our other work. Maybe, just maybe, if I was the most dedicated worker on the planet, I would consider this. But there comes a point in time, where 24 hours in a day simply…how do I put this…run out. What then? Not their problem.

For another, I think they want us to feel grateful. Grateful that they are spending time on improving our skill set (I am grateful for this), even if it comes at the expense of what little free time we have, our health and our personal commitments. Because what kind of a corporate baby are you if you even dare to contemplate a life outside of the office?

And lastly, well actually I don’t know what else. The entire episode was such a rude reminder of what I dislike about the way we work and the kind of expectations we keep from the people who work for us. There is so much logic to back up why we should treat employees well and how working for more than 8 hours at a stretch is bad for us and what not. But that is for another time.

Signing off for now. Stay healthy kids, and don’t work too hard.

Pray tell, what is a weekend? Part I.

If any of you have seen ‘Downton Abbey’ you know that Granny makes the whole show. If I have one aspiration in life, it is to become like Granny once I become older. Is there anything that fazes her? Not much, but the concept of a weekend does. At the beginning of the show (I think it was the first season) Granny meets Mathew for the first time. He attempts to explain what he does for a living (a shocking concept all on its own). But he stumps her completely is when he tries to explain how is work is structured. How his days are divided into what we, of the working class call ‘weekdays’ and ‘weekends’. It is an iconic scene to be sure, and it makes me laugh every time.

But seriously though, what is a weekend? I’ve all but forgotten. I haven’t had a free weekend in about 2 months and I am fuming. I don’t mind working hard, but this is getting to be a bit much. I think I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Jobs wouldn’t be half as intolerable if people understood boundaries and gave you time off to do other things. What is with this obsession we have with our work? Let me give you an example. I work in an industry where we are always being told to give our 150% to the job. Being told that nothing matters as much as client satisfaction. Being told that being available and working around the clock are some of the biggest assets we have at our disposal. I can’t tell you how much I hate hearing these things. I disagree with all of it. Yeah sure, do your job well. And then forget about it. Should you be giving 150% to your job? Absolutely not people. You should, at best, on a good day, when you are feeling generous, give about 50% to your job and save the rest of it for the things you enjoy. Drinking coffee with friends. Watching the new Batman in theatres (totally worth it). Chilling in a bookshop. 50%. At best. Is there anything more important than client satisfaction? Oh yes. Enjoying time off. Learning a new skill. Afternoon naps on your days off. And should you work around the clock to give the clients (and your organization) everything you’ve got? I think you can guess my answer.

I just wish someone would explain to my bosses what a weekend is. Like they did with Granny. And I hope they start to respect time off a little bit more.

City of Girls

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My first encounter with Liz Gilbert left me unimpressed. I remember hearing all the buzz around this new movie called ‘Eat Pray Love’ a couple of years ago. Apparently it was based on some bestselling book by a lady who rediscovers herself. How unoriginal I thought. I was of course, in my teen years at the time. Still quite some way from any discovery, let alone any re-discovery. At a time in my life where everything felt achievable and the lives of most people older than me felt like stale bread, full of mistakes I was never going to make (you can laugh) and completely unglamorous, the idea of reading a book about a middle aged something who takes a trip just to, what…find herself again? Ew.

Skip to a couple of years later, I finally saw the movie in my twenties. By this time my worldview had become slightly more balanced, and I was also going through one of the first (though certainly not the last) heartbreaks in my life. And so naturally, I didn’t want to surround myself with people who were having a better time then I was. I wanted to unite with my fellow failures. This is how my second meeting with Liz was on better footing. She had one failed marriage behind her and I was newly jaded. She wanted to get back out into the world and eat to her heart’s content, and I had newfound appetite for donuts. Specifically, eaten in my bed. She was feeling spiritual, and I was…ok well, I was lighting incense sticks in my room to battle the donut smell. That counts for something. She wanted to find new love. I was completely uninterested for myself, but curious to see how it turned out for others before I even thought of venturing out again. I can tell you, I really enjoyed the movie. I think I even cried in it. I never managed to read the book though.

Skip to now. I received two of her books as a birthday gift form a favorite cousin. City of Girls and Big Magic. I won’t talk about Big Magic here, because it deserves a post of its own. But I will take some time to talk about City of Girls. I have to say, my appreciation for Liz has only gone up. Much like ‘Eat Pray Love’, I feel like City of Girls found me at the right time. As things often do. On the cover of the book sit says this is a book about celebrating female friendships. But it is a lot more than that too.

Honestly, it didn’t even feel like I was reading a book. The tone of the book is so conversational, you almost feel like you are being narrated the story by a close friend of yours. A friend, who, though you like very much, you cannot get behind every single decision of hers. And this is often the truth. Things are so much more fun when they aren’t clear cut. Because which one of us doesn’t have a friend we simply cannot support in all areas of their lives? We like them, yes, but we like them enough to admit they can be a pit of a pain sometimes. And would we live our lives like they live theirs? Absolutely not.

It also talks about friendships that you have to let go of. Some because you grew apart and some because you messed up. Both are equally hard to accept as I am finding out. Let me tell you about a friend of mine. Back in the day (not too far back though, I am not as old as I pretend to be sometimes) I was friends with a girl who was dating a man I could not stand. And I wasn’t overreacting or being imposing. None of my other girlfriends could stand him either. He had that quality about him, as some people do. But in all my youthful arrogance I thought I naturally had a say in the matter (a mistake I have since repeated many, many times). So, I went up to my friend and told her she should break up with the man. Simple as that. I won’t keep you in suspense as to what happened next. She didn’t break up with him. Not only that, she broke up with me! The audacity. She was kind enough to do it gradually though. To an outsider, it would almost look like we naturally grew apart. But I knew what the reason for this newfound distance was and I wasn’t happy about it. I absolutely refused to see how I could have been, maybe, wrong in this situation. And so, for many years after that, I could not get over this. How could someone I was so close to choose not to keep the friendship alive? With me?! But after a while it stopped being a why question. It stopped being an anything question, it just was. And the book put into words something I have felt for a long time now. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just gives you some perspective. Am I still hurt over that friend? Probably. But I also get it now. Some things you just cannot control.

Another thing I loved about the book was when the protagonist talks about all the fun she has as a youngster about town. I love how unapologetic she is about it. I think that for a lot of us, especially women, fun is treated as a finite quantity. In some cultures, certainly in mine, it is also treated as something that will inevitably have bad consequences. I don’t know how to put it into words. But there is this idea that was drilled into us from a young age where I’m from, “don’t have too much fun, you’ll regret it later on.” Or, “if you laugh now, you’ll cry later”. Or, “don’t look so happy, someone might jinx it.” And to that I say, um, why not? Sure, you need to understand that there are consequences to everything you do. If you drink too much, you will have a hangover. If you drink too much over a long period of time, you might run the risk of becoming an alcoholic. But surely not all fun needs to be so severely monitored and quantified? What about harmless gossiping with friends over coffee, or laughing at stupid things, or taking spontaneous trips, or healthy flirting? I like how Liz talks about all the fun her protagonist has. There is a part in the book, where our heroine talks about how she and her friends would head out every night to look for trouble, and hit the city “full throttle”. I loved it. You have all your life to be serious, but only right now to have fun. So, for those of you who are looking to spend a couple of days in the company of friends who know how to have fun unabashedly, I highly recommend the City of Girls.

Happy Birthday to me

I celebrated my birthday this last week. And as I completed another year around the sun, I tried to reflect on the year gone by. What had I done this last year that I was most proud of? That I was most grateful for? The idea came from something I had been reading up on sometime before. Keeping a gratitude journal. So, this is a thing a lot of people do nowadays (or at least, they make YouTube videos talking about how they do it). The idea is to get a little more niche with your journaling. Instead of writing down whatever you want in your journal; you keep a separate diary only to record things you are grateful for. You are not allowed to recount the details of your mundane existence in these hallowed pages, or worse, crib about it. Absolutely not. If, and when, something makes you feel happy to be alive you write it down. The hope, one can only presume, is to look back at the things you have written about, and realize that life is, after everything is said and done, beautiful.

Now, I am a big fan of journaling. It lets me talk without disturbing anyone else. It lets me analyze all my thoughts (especially the meanest ones) in an imagined setting full of understanding friends (my other thoughts). I don’t have to rush through conversations, and I get to decide what is important. Most importantly, I can talk about the things that are bothering me for as long as I want, and go into as many morbid details as take my fancy, without having to feel like I am being a burden to those around me. And through it all – through 4 years of extensive journal keeping – I have started untangling my thoughts a little, and just generally slowing down whenever I want to. However, as you can tell, my journaling is more the record-the-details-of-your-life-and-crib-about-it variety. Very few entries record happy events or happy times in my life. Because when that is going on, I usually don’t find either the time or the inclination to write in my diary.

But back to what I was saying. On this day, in an attempt to fight off the birthday blues, I gave some serious thought to the things I am grateful for. Although there are quite a few (and I feel very lucky to be able to say that) here are a few of my favorite things:

A large family

I mean large when I say large. I have relatives and more relatives and cousins and more cousins. But some of these I am close to. I have in the last year, especially enjoyed the company of a few of my closest sisters and aunts. Relatives are usually a prickly topic, and no one likes them in large doses. But I do. I love spending time with my family even when I hate them. There is so much comfort in having spent years, and possibly my least glamorous years, around these people. A sense of peace that comes from the fact that these people are blood and have seen me grow up. I say blood yes, but I also want to include a few really close friends in this list, those who have transcended the boundaries marked by blood. Even when I have fought with these people, judged them, been judged by them in turn, or straight up ignored them for their offenses against me (both real and imagined) I have remained very grateful for their existence in my life.

Good Food (and coffee)

The last year (and the year before that for that matter) has been spent in my house, not stepping out of it, for the most part. I cribbed a lot initially about the loss of my youth (yeah cringe, but true) but then I started appreciating some things. The thing I appreciated the most was all the good home-cooked food I got. I even developed a bit of a mini-chef attitude. I can’t in all honesty say I have become any sort of expert, but I did have the time to try out some fun things. Like making pasta from scratch. Do you know how much effort it takes to make pasta from scratch? I believe, I truly do, that if I had kept it up, I wouldn’t need to have a separate work-out regime (that I never follow anyway). It was blood, sweat and tears (just sweat, I’m being dramatic) but it came out so well! I also discovered how much harder it is to come up with a fun vegetarian dish. If you’re a meat-eater like me, then most meals are fairly standard. The vegetarians (like my younger sister) have it much harder. In my quest to make dishes all of us to enjoy, I discovered what a wide selection of vegetarian dishes some cuisines have. Like the Israeli cuisine. Seriously, if you’re a vegetarian you should definitely check it out. And then of course, there is coffee. Where would we be without coffee. I read somewhere (probably one of those unreliable pages on Instagram) that in the olden times, Turkish women were allowed to divorce their husbands if they couldn’t give them the amount of coffee they required. Seems reasonable to me.

Books, books and more books

Starting a physical library was one of the nicest things I did in the last year for sure. Hands down. No question. I have always been a reader, but seeing my shelves get full of books also satisfied my aesthetic sensibilities. I’ve already spoken about this a ton of times, so I won’t repeat it here, but you already know how I feel. I can however, talk about the books I liked best from the ones I read last year. If I had to pick my top three they would be Before the Coffee gets Cold, Anxious People and At the Existentialist Café.

The last thing I am grateful for is that I could, at times at least, get out of my head and do some of the things I have wanted to do for so long. Like start this blog. I didn’t think it would go anywhere when I started it, and I still don’t think it is going places, but it has helped me in imperceptible ways.

Women who run wild

Link

As you know sometimes, when I have no particular agenda, I talk about or present to you excerpts from books I am currently working my way through. The one I am in the middle of right now is called ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The purpose of the book, if self-proclaimed, it to help us in “contacting the power of the wild woman.” As you can probably tell from the title, the target audience of this book is, well, women. But that shouldn’t stop you from picking this book up, no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum. The author talks mostly to women, about women-centric issues, but honestly, I can see how reading this would benefit everyone. I usually make my way through books quite quickly but I have been spending some time on this, and I’ll tell you why.

The Author says we should

Yup. That is correct. How often does it happen that you pick up a book and the author has told you, in very exact terms, how the book should be read? Maybe it does happen a lot and I am just new to the space, but I have never felt such literary intimacy with the creator of a work. And I really liked it. Before you start reading this book, make sure you skip to the end. There, Estes talks about what led her to write this book, what inspired her, why she chose the format she did, and how we should read her book. She says the book is a product of many years of hard labour. It took many attempts to get to the end of the book, and there were a lot of gaps, of varying sizes, in the middle of it. And so, in the spirit in which it was written, the author recommends that we keep coming back to the book to discover different parts of it. It wasn’t completed in one go, and we shouldn’t attempt to make our way through it in one go either. There are different parts of the book that talk to different parts of our psyche, and are addressed to us in different parts of our lives, and so there really isn’t any need for continuity in the ways in which we are accustomed to it.

The Format

I used to be a purist when it came to books. In my younger days, I didn’t really like reading books that didn’t follow the already set rules of prose writing. But I have since tried to expand my horizons. I have made my way through books that don’t have any punctuation, books that have inconstant margins, books that have been written in a single sentence and what not. So much so that now I almost look out for these unusual formats when I buy books. Like a book I read sometime ago. It is called ‘Minor Detail‘. I want to try and explain to you what the format of Minor Detail was but I know I won’t do a good job so I’m just going to ask all of you to check it out if you have the time. But anyway, back to the wolves. In this book, every chapter starts off with an introduction which tells us about the particular culture we will be borrowing a folk tale from for the purposes of that chapter. Then the folk tale. This, I have to say, is my favorite part of the entire book. The stories that have been brought to me. And after every story, the author breaks it down in parts and walks us through these parts, all the time giving us invaluable and free therapy for our souls.

Let me give you an example

By therapy I mean of course the absolutely heart warming things she writes. The kind of things that you wouldn’t miss in your life at all till someone said it, and then you’d wonder how you made your way through life without having come across this thought before. I’m not saying this is all chapters, but some of them definitely make you look twice. Here is something I liked:

Although I caution you, the exact placement of the aperture to home changes from time to time, so its location may be different this month than last. Rereading passages of books and single poems that have touched the,. Spending even a few minutes near a river, a stream, a creek. Lying on the ground in dappled light. Being with a loved one without kids around. Sitting on the porch shelling something, knitting something, peeling something. Walking or driving for an hour, any direction, then returning. Boarding any bus, destination unknown. Making drums while listening to music. Greeting sunrise. Driving out to where the city lights do not interfere with the night sky. Praying. A special friend. Sitting on a bridge with legs dangling over. Holding an infant. Sitting by a window in a café and writing. Sitting in a circle of trees. Drying hair in the sun. Putting hands in a rain barrel. Plotting plants, being sure to get hands very muddy. Beholding beauty, grace, the touching frailty of human beings.”

Now read through that again and tell me it doesn’t feel like the home we all want to get to but find difficult to describe.

Drinking habits

Sometime in the beginning of this year I thought, perhaps for the first time, that I maybe had an issue with alcohol. That I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I had originally enjoyed it. And then I wrote about how I had decided to quit it. I was quite good at that, or at least I thought I was. I stuck to not drinking alcohol at all for a couple of months. I even attended a few parties and resisted the temptation to join in on all the fun. Then, for some reason, I convinced myself that I could let it go whenever I wanted to, and so I really did not have anything else to prove to myself. I had done what I needed to do to show myself I was in control and I could maybe go back to doing the things I ‘enjoyed’. Ever since I have gotten back to drinking I have been thinking about a relationship with alcohol and how it has changed over the years.

Why did I start to drink? You know I honestly don’t know. It wasn’t peer pressure that got me started onto it. I was just one of those kids and I had it set in my mind that I was going to start drinking as soon as I could. That it would add something that had hitherto been missing from my life. I had my first night of drinking when I was sixteen. I was eighteen when I first blacked out. For many years after that, I thought this was normal. I thought it was okay to blackout and that if you didn’t, you weren’t really enjoying yourself as much as you’re supposed to. That the night could have been a lot ‘better’. I subscribed to ridiculous ideas of how I don’t drink to have fun, I would instead drink to get drunk. Like it is some serious milestone I need to achieve every time I pick a glass up. And if you ask me today why that was the case, what was achieved through all this, I really would not have an answer for you. That is just the way I thought. For me, there was no other way I was going to be involved with alcohol. I had to, absolutely had to, be one of those kids that got into it quickly and went in deep. And so I did.

Why did I keep up with it? This I do have a bit more clarity on. A couple of years into drinking – and I mean drinking almost every weekend – I realized blackouts were not the norm. That there were people out there who enjoyed alcohol without forgetting huge chunks of the previous night. At first, I scoffed at these people. Who were they? Why were they so boring? Did they not know that you’re young only once, and you can do all of this responsible drinking once you enter the middle ages? I was arrogant in all the wrong ways. But the thing is, as much as I maintained this on the outside, there was a growing disconnect between drinking and enjoyment in my life. I didn’t recognize it at the time. Every night of blacking out was followed up by an anxiety riddled morning. I experienced all the emotional symptoms of a hangover without any of the physical ones. I had intense self-loathing. I wanted to ask people what happened the night before, but at the same time, I didn’t want them to tell me something that would make me dislike myself. So, I never asked. I figured that as long as no one came up to me and complained about my behavior it must have been okay, and as long as I had no idea what I had done the night before, I could in some way distance myself from it. Which was, as you can guess, absolutely not the case. I still felt like crap every single time I went out drinking. And yet, I would pick it up again whenever I went out.

Was there a turning point? Absolutely. I just didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time. I think it happened around 7 years into my drinking. I started getting raging hangovers. No one really talks about how suddenly your body ages. You’re fine till one night of drinking (as fine as you can be), and then the next time you go out drinking, you’re hit by a sixteen-wheeler of a headache, nausea, cramps, body aches and shivering out of nowhere. I honestly didn’t even realize what was happening to me the first time I got a hangover. I thought I was genuinely sick. I panicked and told my flat mate at the time about it, who informed me that I was being silly, and it was just a hangover. Just a hangover? Is this what it felt like then? Wow. I was shocked, and also perversely impressed with myself. I had finally crossed over into the mythical land of adulthood (at least in this one aspect) and I could now claim camaraderie with all who were constantly (yet ever so stylishly) complaining of hangovers (think: movie characters). That lasted for about a minute, before I started loathing my hangovers. I had been turning away from drinking (at least the idea of it) for some time now, and having hangovers just gave me that additional push I needed. And so, I thought I’ll give it up. How card could it be.

And in the end, how hard was it? I haven’t managed to give it up yet. But I did leave it for a couple of months this year. The hardest part about trying to give up alcohol – this is only if you’re like me and drink with friends and not alone, because luckily that was a habit I never picked up – was realizing what a big part of your personality alcohol becomes. I have friends I started disliking spending time with because it seemed to me that the only thing we had connecting us was alcohol. I stopped wanting to go to parties or hanging out with even close friends, because for some reason people don’t take you seriously when you try and tell them you’re trying to quit drinking. They all seem to take it as a personal attack for some reason. As though their fun will become any less legitimate if you’re not as drunk as them. And even when they (finally!) leave you alone, everyone seems to view you suspiciously, as though one is simply not supposed to enjoy oneself sober after a certain age.

How did I get back to this place? I quit cold turkey for a couple of months because of a particularly nasty blackout and hangover. I felt uneasy just thinking about drinking in large settings after that night. But after a couple of months of sobriety I had the chance to re-explore my relationship with alcohol. I went out drinking with an old set of family friends and for the first time in forever, I drank in moderation and thoroughly enjoyed my night out. The entire vibe of the evening and everyone present at the gathering was so….immaculate. No one was trying to get you to drink more than you wanted (or needed) to. Here was a set of people who weren’t using alcohol to overcome some form self-perceived defect in their social skills. Nope. They were entirely comfortable in their respective skins, and around the people they had chosen to get drunk with. The circle was, for lack of a better phrase, airtight. After getting drunk with this set, I thought maybe it was possible to become a better drinker (I don’t know if this is the right phrase). For the first time since I had started drinking, I felt like I didn’t have to drink for the benefit of other peoples’ entertainment, or to show people I could still pull impossible feats of alcohol absorption like I did in my younger years.

I have since tried it out a couple of other times. And I found that I could, when I wanted to, drink in a way that let me enjoy the night and wake up the next day feeling quite alright. All I needed was a bit of control and a re-assessment of my drinking circle.

It is just a job

I read somewhere that the idea that you have to ‘love your job’ is a capitalist myth. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with something so wholeheartedly. I always hear about these mythical people who love their jobs. Someone, somewhere has a friend of a friend who is really happy in their job and love waking up on Mondays.

Now, I’m not trying to bring the mood down. I am sure there are some people who have been lucky enough to find work in a field they enjoy. But even so, the minute you attach money and deadlines to any activity, it can’t help but lose some of its charm. At least, that is what I think. Like, I used to love painting. And then people started paying me for it and commissioning stuff. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go anywhere near my paints. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I mean, isn’t this the dream? That you have a hobby you love, and then you commercialize it. Isn’t this what everyone means when they say, “if you love what you do, you won’t ever work a day in your life.” Sure, yes. Or you could be working all the time. And as much as I like something, I can’t constantly be doing one thing and feel happy about it.

Which I feel is the central issue with how our jobs and lives are structured right now. And it took me some time to realize this. The first time I quit my job (the only time, but it feels more dramatic saying it like this) I thought I hated my job. That I couldn’t imagine going the rest of my life only doing this one thing. Then I realized that that was the issue. It wasn’t that I hated my job per se (I’m actually half decent at it, and when it comes down to it, the actual work I do is enjoyable enough). I just hated that the only thing I did was my job. There was no time for anything else in my life. I wouldn’t say I ever fell into the category of people who ‘love’ their jobs (if indeed such people exist) but I could tolerate it well enough if it gave me the resources to do some of the other things I liked. The most important resource being, of course, time.

Which got me thinking. Why did I feel like I never had the time to do anything else? I’ve come to the conclusion (and this is a work in progress, so I might come back and tweak this conclusion a few times) that it is the way we are trained to think. The way they make us think about our time and how much of it we owe to our workplaces. By ‘they’ of course I mean our omnipotent capitalist overlords. From the moment I started working the overwhelming consensus was that people who went ‘above and beyond’ what was required were the ones that will succeed in this field.

Like my orientation week. I was fresh out of college and very excited to be starting this job – my first job. I remember we were flown out to a new city and put up in a fancy hotel and made to sit through a bunch of talks in some fancy convention center. All designed to impress new recruits, which it did. During the course of the many talks I attended one of the speakers started talking about what it means to be ‘successful’ in this job, in this field. He started off by saying all of us have to have our own definition of success. This was not a one shoe fits all situation. Fair enough. Then he spoke about how to someone success might mean executing the best deals (whatever that means) and working round the clock to have the highest profit margin. To someone else success might mean not working on the best deals (again, whatever that means) but instead having time to spend with their family on the weekends. The way in which he spoke, it was clear that he thought the first person was normal and the second one was the kind they didn’t want at this firm. Spending time enjoying yourself outside of the office? What a dud.

This talk was followed by a lady who spoke to us about ‘firm perception’. She told us the story of a fresh associate who, while initially showed a lot of promise, turned out not to be someone the firm wanted to invest in in the long run. The reason? He didn’t understand what ‘loyalty’ meant. In the end, the actual offense turned out to be entirely anti-climatic. The poor kid had made a post on his social media at 3 am on a Sunday night talking about ‘late nights’ in the office which, in the eyes of the firm, made them look bad. So where was the disloyalty? Was it in talking about an actual thing that happened? Was it in talking about how you were spending all your time in the office? I think it was in not enjoying the fact that you spend all your time in the office. Because to my firm, this was the worst thing someone could do. Admit that they didn’t want to be spending all of their time doing this one job.

And even after the orientation, the idea that you have to make your job your entire existence is driven home to the point of exhaustion in so many ways. I have had superiors tell me that the best way to judge how well you’re doing is by looking at how much work you have. If you’re overworked, you’re doing well. What a twisted way of looking at things. Not only did it make me put in more hours than I needed to, it also made me feel guilty for not being worked to the bone all the time. And that stuck with me till I had to quit because of a burnout.

While I was unemployed, and when I tried to commercialize my hobby, I realized a couple of things which I think have helped me in coming back to work with a more balanced perspective. Firstly, that I didn’t want to get paid to paint. It would be nice if someone at some point liked the things I made and wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t going to turn it into a commercial enterprise. Because that turned it into a job, and I found out that I didn’t love any job. Then I realized that I actually liked having a job that gave me a steady income, as long as I wasn’t expected to love it and dedicate all my time to it. So, basically, I wanted a job I could just about tolerate for the most part and like in bits, and then have some time and mental headspace out of it to do the multitude of other things I enjoyed.

I take exception to how people at my job still want the newer kids to go ‘above and beyond’ for the job or give it their ‘150%’ and what not. I think it might be a lot nicer to tell the kids to treat it as a job. Just something you do on weekdays to make some money to enjoy your actual life. Something you can, and indeed should, switch off from whenever you can. You may not love it, but you can like it for the other things it does for you.

The bigger question

I can’t make up my mind on a lot of things, but the thing that sits at the top of my mind right now is marriage.

There is this idea that certain things need to happen to you, in your life, by a certain time in your life. You should finish school by the time you’re 18. You should finish college by the time you’re 25. You should be married by the time you’re 28.

For almost everything else in my life, I have stuck to the timeline. I am not 28 yet, so I might achieve the marriage timeline too. But somehow I doubt it. I have analysis paralysis for almost everything in life, and marriage seems like the biggest decision of all.

There are times when I think I might as well settle down with the first available option. At least then I shall have a friend for life. Someone who is legally obligated to spend time with me. As bleak as that sounds, it has a certain comforting tone to it. Wouldn’t that be nice? To stop looking. To stop having to go on half-assed dates with men I am not interested in the first place where all we do is talk about inane things. What is your favorite color? What do you do for fun? What is one thing you have ticked off your bucket list? What exactly is your job description? Do you enjoy the job you do? What are you looking for in life? Or worse, we make inane connections. Oh hey, I have a cousin who works at your company. I love dogs too. My job pays well, but I too, am trying to move into something a little more impactful. Oh, the dread of it all. The list goes on.

On the other hand, sometimes I find the idea of marriage suffocating. To be legally bound to one man; forced to build a life together, actually taking into consideration his opinions on things like furniture arrangement? No thanks. Sounds horrible. I can’t imagine watching a show someone else wants to watch. Or ordering food that is mutually desirable. I didn’t work this hard to become independent only to have to take someone else’s choices into consideration too.

On a more serious note, I can see the arguments made on either side of the debate. To settle down seems as fun as never settling down does to me. And that is my problem. I somehow always find myself standing in front of Sylvia Plath’s fig tree. Indecision galore, because in this moment, I could go for everything. So why spoil life by going for anything?

This is just what I think though. There are a lot of other players in my life, as much as I don’t like to admit it. My parents for one. They really do want to see me “settling down”. Because I come from India, a part of the world where arranged marriages are still very much a thing, the task of marrying is not an individual task. The entire family, sometimes the whole community, gets involved. So, once in a while, my parents will bring this up.

Why don’t you let us look for a boy?

If you have someone in your life, we would be happy to meet him.

If you don’t, let us at least start looking at some families. If we start now, we might find a boy in a couple of years.

After all, the process is long. We have to check if the family is suitable first, then check if the boy is someone you like, then see how all of us get along, and a hundred other things.

You don’t have to get married right away silly! You can have a long engagement. Really get to know each other before you decide to tie the knot.

I am skeptical. There are a lot of loopholes here. How do you get to know someone? What happens to the long engagement after you have gotten to know someone and decide you don’t really like that someone? What do you mean by a ‘suitable boy’?

But these are questions for a later date. First, I have to decide if I am ready to start the process at all. I have given it some thought already to be honest. I don’t have an issue with my parents (or even extended family) looking for a boy. No worries. In fact, the more the merrier. To me, it seems no different from a friend setting you up with someone they know and like. To be clear, I am extremely lucky to have been born to parents who are significantly more chilled out than a lot of other Indian parents when it comes to marriages. For me, letting my parents try and ‘arrange’ my marriage is a choice, and not a compulsion as it is for many others. Maybe someday I will write about the absolute horror stories I see around me on a daily basis, but not today. So, for me, it appears the marriage will be more ‘facilitated’ than ‘arranged’. Besides, I really don’t have the time or the energy to go out and look for someone myself (at least, right now). So, why not?

Self-awareness to prevent burnout?

I read an article today sent by my employer as a part of a larger series the company is doing on emotional intelligence. They like to do these things once in a while. I work in an industry which has extremely high attrition rates, and so instead of fixing the things that are making people quit in the first place (toxic superiors, unnecessarily long hours, extensive client demands and not enough time to do anything else in your life), they send us videos on how to improve our emotional intelligence by doing breathing exercises. Yeah, true story.

The article is titled, ‘Developing Self-Awareness Helped me prevent Lawyer Burnout‘ and has been written by Ed Andrew. It talks about his journey into building self-awareness – which is allegedly one of the best tools you can possess as a professional in any field, but more specifically this field – after he was diagnosed with cancer. Andrew starts off by talking about how, “the nature of legal practice, which involved long hours, pressure to excel, competition to rise to the top, dismay at repetitive work, fear of failure, and peer pressure is a potential melting pot for stress to build.” Then he goes on to give us a couple of shocking stories about toxic bosses, to highlight how real of an issue burnout is. There are a few helpful pointers in the article on identifying what is causing you stress in the first place and what not, but the article ends with some advice I want to talk about.

Basically, according to this piece, extreme stress is a part of my job and industry and since any real top-down change is unlikely, I had best learn to regulate my own mind and emotions. Some helpful tips on this? Breathing exercises. Again.

I’m not against breathing exercises in the least, don’t get me wrong. But the article has a defeatist tone to it I don’t enjoy. This is something I hear a lot in my industry, that “there isn’t going to be any real change, so you might as well learn to live with it”. Which I do. Because I have no other choice. But I’m uncomfortable with letting the bosses off so easy as well. There are tons of things that could be changed in my workplace (and honestly I think in all workplaces) without negatively impacting the bottom line (which is really, the only thing people are concerned about).

For example, working from home. There have been endless articles on how working from home allows people to work better, be more productive, while also enjoying some semblance of balance. For some reason, a lot of people in the legal industry are against this practice continuing indefinitely. Why? Who knows. Maybe they think we slack off at home. Maybe they think we might get the chance to start side ventures and eventually quit work if we stay at home. Or maybe, they just like the culture of depressing offices brainlessly filled by people at all hours because people are too afraid to leave the place before someone else does (even though the work is done).

Another thing? Working on the weekend. I understand that I work in an industry where people pay a lot of money for our services and so expect to get commensurate output. But I also genuinely believe there is no work that cannot wait till Monday morning. For some reason everyone has gotten into a bad habit of passing work onto their juniors at the end of the week, expecting to see it “first thing Monday morning” so they can “assess it with a fresh pair of eyes” and get it off their schedule. Expecting to see something on a Monday morning means you expect someone to work on it over the weekend, which in most cases, is completely unnecessary.

Punching in and out of the workplace. There is a lot of debate on the continued usefulness of the “billable hour”. If you’re not a legal practitioner, I am afraid I am going to lose you for a bit, but I really want to talk about it. Most law firms work on the idea that you have to bill a certain minimum number of hours in a year, and if you don’t meet this target, they tend to take it out of your pay. People, most of them way smarter than me, have often spoken about how ridiculously high this number is, and how useless the concept is as a whole. But because we are a “traditional” industry, we still insist on it. What does this mean? You have to spend a certain number of hours on your desk even when you don’t have any work to show you are meeting the targets. Which means people waste time they don’t need to on their desks, inventing work they haven’t done to meet their goals.

These are just a few examples of things I can think of that can change to make our lives less stressful. It isn’t as easy to implement as sending out an article on breathing exercises to your employees every once in a while, but I think it might be the slightest bit more effective.

My new hobby: Tarot Readings

Have you ever seen a tarot reading on YouTube? I started watching them recently. I have a friend who watches this religiously and she recommended I check it out. I used to be very interested in all things horoscope till I was about 17 years old. I even own a copy of Linda Goodman’s Love Signs. And like every other person I know, I read every single thing relating to my sun sign word for word and skipped over all other signs. I was amazed at the accuracy of some of the things she said in her book. That is, till I checked out what she had written about another sun sign (I think I had a crush at the time and I wanted to check out his sign). I quickly figured out that she had written more or less the same things for all of us.

Things like all of us are passionate (about something I am sure), all of us have a temper, all of us have the capacity for great love and so on. There are some distinguishing traits for particular signs, but even then it is a generalized distinction if that makes sense. For example, all Capricorns are supposed to be very hard-working and ambitious. But, if by some small chance, you aren’t any of these things despite being a Capricorn, that is also okay. It isn’t an exact science after all. This realization made me go off the whole horoscopes and astrology bent of mind.

Until recently. When I started listening to Tarot readings on YouTube. For those of you who have never seen one, I’m going to recommend Minnow and the 303 High Priestess channel. Yeah, I know, it sounds corny. But these people have a great energy and I think their readings generally resonate with a lot of the people (at least, from what I can tell from the comments section). Getting back into this long lost interest of mine made me realize a few things I want to share.

Don’t take it too seriously

I have seen this happen a lot. Whenever people get interested in astrology (or related subjects) they tend to take it very literally. No hate on people who do, and I am sure there are many things about this entire field I don’t understand, but if you’re a casual viewer like me, then I would say you should take it a little lightly. I treat it not as something that is set in stone but as happy messages that put me in the right frame of mind. For example, if your reading says you need to watch out for your health there are two ways of going about this. Either you let it stress you out and constantly worry about your health (in which case, it might turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy) or you take that as good advice and try to eat healthier or avoid certain unhelpful situations. Glass being either half empty or half full and all that.

Listen to good things

Most of the Tarot readers online will always start with a similar message. They will always tell you that what they are doing is a generalized reading and that you should pay attention to it only if it resonates with you. Even though it is rare to have the whole reading resonate with you, there will always be bits in it that you think could apply to your life. The thing I like about these readings is that they are always saying positive things. And even when they talk about negative things, they will balance it out in one way or another. So, essentially, it is like listening to a bunch of feel good messages with my morning coffee and I think that is what makes the whole experience so enjoyable for me. It doesn’t matter if it applies to me or not. It feels nice to have people tell you good things.

Is this a manifestation trick maybe?

I think how you talk to yourself and the things you tell yourself make a lot of difference. You can choose to tell yourself bad things, or surround yourself with positive messages. If you have the time, why not listen to someone talk about great things that can happen to you? You never know what your subconscious brain will retain, and the impact it could have on your life. I love it when the Tarot lady / man tells me there is going to be a lot of abundance flowing into my life (or some such similarly positive message). It might not come true, but it is definitely better than listening to someone say the opposite.