The family WhatsApp group was buzzing with messages congratulating my uncle on his retirement from active banking service after almost four decades. A new chapter of his life would now begin as he would be able to spend more time pursuing his interests, which to be fair he did manage to keep. A gruelling 40 odd years of daily routine, office to home, frequent transfers to various locations, living away from family, was all over.
Contrast this to my friend, who worked for short consulting projects of six-seven months, followed by travel and adventure breaks of three-four months, sustained by the income generated during the economically productive months. I remember vividly how he was repeatedly offered permanent roles and he declined these as he would not wish to give up his freedom to pursue his passion.
It made me wonder if in another few decades we will even hear of the word ‘retirement’ at all? We do hear of people claiming to retire early to pursue their passions and finally, ‘do what they like’. However, is this even doable? What about daily expenses, overheads, commitments, mortgages, bills, responsibilities? There are people who give up their lives of comfort and pursue a frugal, more conservative life to simply enjoy travelling or learning.
Take the example of my best friend, Girish, who studied medicine and is a fully qualified doctor. As he was practicing his medical qualification and treating the ill, he realised he wishes to pursue an MBA. As someone who I have always considered as a very gifted, bright and hardworking, anything seemed possible so it was no surprise that he has a successful career working with a prominent international bank.
A creative person and an excellent , he pursues his passion, art, in his free time. His love for art is itching to be more than a hobby and in the last few years, we’ve had various conversations on when it might be that he may be able to pursue art full time. The pandemic has made his work life busier and there is very little headspace or bandwidth to think about a change.
It’s a difficult decision to make – to step out of the comfort zone of the known, daily routine for something that is, well, a dream, an idea!
I was researching stories of people who have made mid-career changes to follow their passion. Here’s what some of them have said:
“I kept thinking, I can do better than this”
“After working for other people for so long, I wanted to do something that I could call my own”
“I thought, What the hell am I doing here?”
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on something important in life”
“I was on holiday, and I had this overwhelming fear of returning home to my life as it was”
“Everything about my job screamed: This isn’t me”
“My gut was screaming at me: You have to do this”
There is a tipping point, that moment of realisation when one can’t take it anymore and chooses to take a leap of faith. The biggest fear and also the deterrent, is that of losing regular income to sustain a roof over the head and meal on the table. However, with an increasing number of funding channels and avenues available to support projects, enterprises and ideas, one notices more people taking this risk. One thing is clear though, that a leap of faith ought to be taken.
Did you know that Giorgio Armani, who we all know as one of world’s leading fashion designer, was indeed studying medicine in Milan as a youngster. He went on to join the Italian army, working at a military hospital in Verona. In 1953, he decided to make a career change and his first job was as a window dresser at a shop in Milan.
Working his way through the fashion retail industry, he in fact was for a few years a seller in the men’s clothing department. As the decade turned, he was designing his own clothes but it was only in 1975 that he actually founded his own company, Armani.
In an interview with ‘The Atlantic’ in July 2018, Reshma Saujani, the Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code said: “I [worked] at a law firm and then in finance, at jobs that I hated that paid enough to pay off my loans and to help my parents with their mortgage. I was seriously depressed and miserable because I was not giving back to the world.
“The money wasn’t making me happy, and I felt more and more beholden to it, more and more scared. And so I quit, and ran for Congress. I lost that race, but I put so much personal savings into my race. I hadn’t had a paycheck in eight months. I was broke. But I wasn’t going back. No longer will I work in a job that I hate for a paycheck.”
If you are lucky, you may find inspiration in a friend who has taken this leap of faith or better still get the ‘tap on the shoulder’. For others there are now organisations and mentoring platforms to help navigate your career change pathway.
If you’ve dreamt it, chances are you will be able to fulfil it in your lifetime, is the attitude you find yourself surrounded by in the investor fraternity. Start-ups, social enterprises, self-employment are no longer viewed with suspicion but celebrated as heroic success stories. The internet is plush with inspiring stories of transformation, change-making and impact.
So if you are someone sitting on the fence, frustrated by the limitations of a nine-to-five or that of a job you do to pay bills, take a long, deep breath and write down what is it that makes you happy? Your passion doesn’t need to remain a hobby, to be picked up on the side in your spare time but it could potentially create revenue, jobs and most of all, make you the happiest person never really wanting to ‘retire’!
All you need to do is to take that leap of faith…
is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular column for ‘iGlobal’, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.