On lethargy and apathy

Does anyone else feel like they don’t want to do anything? That they don’t want to put effort into anything or go anywhere? I get this feeling a lot. It could be because I am at a crossroads in life. I took a voluntary break from employment to try and figure out what I want to do with my life. I didn’t want to live my life on auto pilot, following the same routine into old age. I read a bunch of articles on how I should take charge of my life, and then went ahead and quit my job. But ever since I have quit, I don’t know what I want to do next. No wait, that isn’t an accurate representation of my mindset right now. I don’t feel like committing to anything. The dichotomy is exhausting. On the one hand, I am convinced that if I try my hand at anything, and put my back into it, I will achieve it. Will and determination will get me wherever I want to go. On the other hand, I am too scared to pick a side and commit to it. Paralyzed by fear into inaction.

There are a ton of projects I have been meaning to start for some time now, but I just can’t seem to get out of this rut of inactivity. I read a lot about other people online living through similar experiences. In some ways, this gives credence to what I am feeling. In other ways, it makes me feel worse. There must be some way of breaking out of this vicious cycle, surely. And if so many of us are going through it, there must be something to it.

For the last four months or so, I have fantasized about starting my own YouTube channel. Not because I think I am especially talented or because I have something original to say. Though arguably, since there is only one of me, everything I say should be original. Jokes aside though, I’ve spent considerable energy thinking about how I will start a channel and what I will talk about. At first, I thought maybe I should have a reaction / commentary channel. I watch a lot of shows and read a lot of books. I am always online. Surely, I can just expend some effort and talk about the things I consume. Then I thought of making it a bit more structured. What if, instead of reacting to the same old videos (you know the ones I mean, the Big Ed getting engaged to Rose variety), I could probably take some time and make the videos more educational. Talk about the things I really care about, and not just things I find amusing or revolting. So, maybe a channel to talk about sustainable fashion, or the fact that we are depleting our oceans, or maybe even human trafficking. I have a legal background and solid research skills. If I learnt how to edit videos properly, this could be a real thing. The latest idea I have had for my channel is just to make it into an informal vlogging / talking into the camera about whatever I want kind of channel. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that whenever I come up with an idea on how to pass my time, or on how to be more productive, I also come up with a host of excuses on how and why I can’t do that thing right now. Or why it might be better to delay it. So, in the end, I’m left with a lot of untested ideas, a host of excuses, and tangible frustration at not having moved from square 1 at all.

That is on lethargy. Accompanying my greatest nemesis is her younger sister apathy. So, what if I don’t commit to anything? What if I don’t figure out any of the things I had to figure out on my break from employment. What is the worst thing that could happen? I go back to a job I don’t enjoy and live out a life I don’t actively participate in? I recognise that this isn’t the healthiest mindset to have. I know that logically. That, however, does not mean this isn’t how I think from time to time. It is like I am always oscillating between caring too much but being afraid to act on anything I want, and not caring at all and then not having the pressure to either want anything or act on it.

I feel a little bit like an out of sorts character from a depressing Murakami book. Like the librarian who doesn’t do much but sit behind a desk and stay silent. You don’t really know what she thinks of you just see the inaction. Because that is exactly what both lethargy and apathy will get you, even if they don’t come together to the ball.

Quitting my job without a plan

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

OK, maybe the title is a little dramatic. I didn’t leave without a plan per se. I had a plan in my head. The plan just happened to be ridiculous. There was nothing I had done in my life leading up to the day I quit that would suggest I could go through with the plan. I wasn’t the type of person who quits her job. I was the person who did well in school, did well in university, was earmarked to get one of those high-paying jobs straight off of campus and then stick to it for the rest of my life (accounting for maybe a year’s worth of break when I would presumably go off and get a masters from a nice school). I upheld my end of the deal till the time of getting a job. I got a great job out of university. Paid very well, made the parents proud. And then, a couple of months into the job, something broke. I don’t know how to describe it to be honest. It was like a seismic shift in perception. I’d seen it happen to favourite characters in movies and in the books I read, but I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.

I thought to myself, this can’t be all there is. I mean, yeah it is a nice job and I do love the people I work with, and I get paid enough to support whatever little unnecessary luxuries I think I want, but this cannot be it. I can’t keep working on things I don’t care about – and things no one else cares about either. There is a famous essay online theorising about ‘Bullshit Jobs’ and while I don’t agree with it completely, I do think my job qualifies as one. You see, I used to work as a corporate lawyer. And I completely agree with what the article had to say about corporate lawyers – that if all of us were to disappear off the face of this earth today, no one would miss us, including our clients. The clients who, incidentally, pay through their noses to keep us on. No hate though, if you’re someone who works as a corporate lawyer, and you like your job, please don’t take this in the wrong way. You’re one of the lucky ones. This is for everyone who took up a job because it was the ‘done thing’ and didn’t know what else to do with their time or life.

This is not to say that I was miserable at my job. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed my time in office. But it wasn’t enough. Now this is a tricky place to be in. Till you can convince yourself and others that you are leaving a situation because you are downright miserable, you will always feel guilty leaving. To admit that, ‘well yeah, this is okay, but I want more’ is a lot harder. It isn’t a black or white premise on which one can base decisions. And for this reason, it goes against every reasonable bone in your body. I remember having multiple conversations with my parents on why I want to leave and it always came down to one thing – “if you don’t hate it, why would you leave?” I understand the logic behind the counter argument too, its safer to stick to something you know then to venture out into the unknown in the hopes that the next thing will be “enough”. I get it. And yes, there are many reasons (family obligations, financial situation and what not) that would make people stay on in situations that they would rather leave. But I didn’t have any of these constraints. I don’t have a family to support, and my parents were kind enough to agree to support me while I took time off to decide what else I wanted to do with my life. So, yes, while I did leave without a plan, I didn’t leave without a security net. And I know there are a lot of motivational speakers and books that talk about how “you only have one life” and “it is now or never”. I agree with all that, but sometimes, moderation is needed. There is actually a really good video on this exact topic by Struthless. I saw this video so, so many times before finally sending in my notice. It talks brilliantly about how ‘quitting your job to follow your passion’ needs certain caveats and may not be for everyone, and why that is ok.

Anyway, with my research in place, and with my parents agreement backing me, I did manage to hand in my notice in the May of this year (2021). I told my boss (who I like and respect a lot) that I wanted to quit. Not because I had a better job offer, or because I had graduate studies planned or anything else. I just wasn’t convinced this job or this career was ‘it’ for me, and I wanted to take some time to figure things out. For anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world, you know how flaky this sounds. But there it was. The whole truth, laid out. I neither had the energy nor the will to make up an acceptable sounding professional reason for leaving. I wanted to see what else is out there, and that is exactly what I did.

First, quitting is a lot scarier than it looks. I know that the kind of world we live in, quitting is made out to be the easier option. And yeah, sometimes it is. If you want to be a ballerina but you can’t manage to go to classes on time or put in the work required, maybe then. But I don’t think its the easier option when you are labouring away at something you don’t want because it is easier than going after something you really want. In that case, I do think quitting is the better option. All said and done, it is scary. Especially when you don’t have a back up option. The nervousness and anxiety you feel is all real. Believe me when I say I didn’t sleep for two days before handing in my notice. What if I never get a job as good as this one? What if I never figure out what I want? What if I stay unemployed? How bad will a gap on my CV look? I thought of all of this. But in the end it came down to my assessment of how much sunk cost I was willing to take. If I didn’t this now, it’s unlikely I would want it in another five years. So, why wait.

Second, it wasn’t as hopeless as I thought it would be. Inertia holds us back from doing a lot of the things we want to do. But once you do get over it, you’ll see, as I did, that the situation isn’t as bleak as you (or your boss/peers) made it out to be. If you are reasonably good at your job, and you aren’t a total pain to be around, you will always have a job if you want one.

Third, it gave me a lot of time. Not just to figure out what I want to do next in life. I hope I can do that too in some time. But apart from that, I have spent the last couple of months doing things I always wanted to do but never really had the time for. I started making art again (I’ve spoken about this before briefly). I took a couple of short courses on art history and animation. I am currently doing an online masters in fashion industry essentials from Parsons (this is a little pricy, but the credentials are solid – I’ll write about my experience with this some time in the future). I have been contemplating starting a YouTube channel – and I’ll probably get into that. I have had time to seriously consider if I want to do my masters, and spent a lot of time researching universities and courses (this has honestly been a mammoth exercise, and I would love to write more on it). I also spent the time travelling with my friends. Yes, I realise these are privileges not everyone has access to. But if you do, then do yourself a favour and take advantage of them.