How often has the morning alarm made you wish you could just turn it off and go back to sleep?
How often has a holiday made you think you would love to give it all up and live in the lap of nature?
How often have you wished you had more time for yourself, to read, to write, to cook, to laze?
A handful of young professionals in the city have quit their jobs to just be. No deadlines, no meetings, just life on their own terms. Not for their family, not on a compulsion, but because they were tired of the drudgery and wanted time off.
Six years and jobs with some top IT companies later, Soumik Jana, 29, is today content “doing nothing”, that is when he is not hitchhiking across the country.
“It was the same routine every day. I woke up in the morning, cooked breakfast, drove down to office, logged in, stayed glued to the computer for 10-12 hours straight, logged out, picked up dinner from a take-away, went home, ate, watched TV and crashed. This happened five days a week. Slowly, it got on my nerves. I was bored and realised I couldn’t do it anymore,” said Soumik, who wanted something more out of life though he didn’t know what when he resigned. “The only thing that was crystal clear in my head was that I couldn’t carry on.”
Mrinmoyee Sinha, 42, wanted to step back from what she was doing and explore options. She resigned two years ago and hasn’t regretted her decision. “For me flexibility of hours is important. From the time we are young we are caught in a structured world. You go to school, then college and university and finally start working. We are guided consciously or unconsciously by a set of rules. I wanted to see how it is to function on a blank slate,” she said.
The work-life balance
So what is prompting qualified and experienced professionals to take a break? Paromita Mitra Bhaumik, consultant psychologist at Belle Vue Clinic, says this is a lifestyle shift common in a capitalist economy. “As job pressure mounts and expectations intensify, it takes a toll on all of us silently. Our jobs make us feel like we are at the centre of a wheel that is rotating constantly. This monotony doesn’t take us anywhere. We forget our goals in trying to ‘keep’ our jobs or get addicted to the money. It also makes us forget our hobbies and other goals. This generation is smart and does not want to fall into the trap of walking on a treadmill all their lives. They want to get off that treadmill once in a while to rejuvenate and re-energise themselves,” she said.
Mitra thinks sabbaticals are good for work life, as it reduces the chances of a burnout. Some employers agree, too. IT giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is one of a handful of companies that allows employees a sabbatical from time to time.
“People take breaks for a variety of reasons. Some want to study, others want to travel or enhance a few skills or spend time with family. We let them take that break because they come back refreshed and work better,” said a TCS spokesperson. “The employee gets to keep his job for the time he is away from work, but will not get his salary during that period.”
TCS even pays employees during a break if they wish to do a course that the company thinks will benefit the organisation.
But the picture isn’t always rosy. “The package for someone who has been on a break is lower,” admits a senior HR official in the IT sector. “Unlike abroad, where it is a cool thing to do, people in India are yet to warm to the idea. That however hasn’t stopped some from going ahead with the break.”
Footloose and free
From travelling business class to sleeping on a rug in a tent, life has seen a drastic change for Soumik but he isn’t complaining. “It was a conscious decision to get back to the basics in life,” said the hitchhiker.
It all began with Soumik letting out one room in his apartment to tourists from all over the world he had met on Couchsurfing, a social media website for travellers. They arrived with tales from China, Germany, Belgium, Poland, America and other nations and Soumik was drawn to life on the road.
Last winter, Soumik set off with a Polish girl who stayed in his home as a couchsurfer and together they hitchhiked along the Mumbai-Goa coastline. At a cafe on Gokarna beach, they met a bunch of 17 people from 14 countries planning to travel the western coast of India by road.
“We realised it would be difficult to travel together by public transport. So we bought a bus, camped on the road and cooked our own food. We drove from Kerala right up to Manali and Dharamsala. This was cheaper and more convenient,” he said.
Mrinmoyee too has been travelling and meeting new people. She has been to New Zealand, China, Honduras and the US, besides several parts of India, including Himachal Pradesh, Varanasi, Allahabad and Hampi.
“When I travel I try and learn something new. For example, when I went to New York I took up pottery and also volunteered for a few community projects. There are a whole lot of things waiting to be done,” she said.
Plan before the plunge
Most agree that a healthy dose of planning does no harm. When Prantik Ghosh (name changed on request), 30, resigned after seven years in a market research company, it wasn’t a spur-of-the- moment decision. “Once I decided I would take a break I started planning. I waited till I had paid off loans and could set aside enough money for LIC premiums and health insurance,” he said.
What made things tougher for Prantik was that he was married with two children and had ageing parents to look after.
“Luckily for me, my wife is working. When I broke the news to her she was very supportive and told me she wanted me to be happy first. I told her I needed to take time off and together we planned our budget and expenses,” he said.
Siddharth Banerjee (name changed), on the other hand had no Plan B but stresses he did not quit on a whim. “I had always wanted to be a teacher but once on the job, I realised I wasn’t enjoying it,” said the 30-year-old with a Masters in English literature from Jadavpur University who taught for seven years at a reputable engineering institute. “One thing I am sure of, no more teaching jobs for me.”
Things might have been different if he had a family to take care of, he admits. “I am not married and my parents aren’t dependent on me. In fact, my dad now takes care of our home loan EMIs. I couldn’t wait till I had paid that off, I needed to put an end to my suffering immediately. I feel bad that he has to do it, but nevertheless it had to be done.”
Mrinmoyee agrees the fewer responsibilities, the easier it is but adds that the key lies in planning one’s finances right. “Of course, I miss my salary but you don’t really need pots of money to sustain, only to indulge. You can do it if you figure out your priorities.”
Break it gently
Decision taken, finances planned, but how does one tell the immediate family? “Once you are convinced about the reason for quitting your job or taking a break, convincing others becomes easy,” Mitra Bhaumik said.
Soumik remembers how tough it was to broach the topic with his parents. “They belong to another generation with a different mindset. But they are my parents after all and love me. Though we may have differences of opinion, they have faith in me. With time, they came around and gave me the support I needed,” he said.
Prantik’s wife Bela (name changed) was surprised but not shocked. “We talked it out at length. I realised this was the best thing for him under the given circumstances. I had sensed he was unhappy (at work) and it also showed in his behaviour at home. He was becoming irritable, gloomy and was stressed at all times. In a way I was relieved he quit. He is happier now,” she said.
Bela and Prantik’s sister helped him convince his parents. “His mother was very upset and at a loss but she understood after a while,” she added.
Mrinmoyee admits to having been lucky on this count as she didn’t have much convincing to do. “When I told my family they were very supportive and asked me to go ahead.”
There are two sides to every coin. The good thing is you get to start afresh and do things your way, but breaking away from the habit of going to work every day can also be quite difficult to adjust to.
While taking a break is all about “rest”, it is also important to engage in some activity. “It is very easy to get caught in that inertia of rest. Every day is Sunday, though I love it that way. There are no work masters or pay masters. You don’t need to report to anyone. But that is precisely why you need to discipline yourself. Relax as long as you want to, but chalk out a plan sooner than later,” Mrinmoyee said.
Soumik learnt his lessons on the road and now he is willing to apply them to his life. Back in the city after nine months of travel, Soumik is writing fantasy fiction based on his experiences.
Prantik is relishing waking up late every morning. His day is divided between catching up with friends and spending time with his children.
“I’m also doing a lot of reading, something I had little time for earlier. Like my wife says, the smile is back on my face!”
BEFORE YOU TAKE A BREAK
• Talk to yourself and figure out whether you really want to quit and take a break
• Decide for how long you would like to be on a break and whether you would like to return to the profession sooner or later
• Plan your finances. Keep aside money for premiums and EMIs. Try to repay loans, if possible
• Break the news gently to your family, give them time to understand and accept your decision
AFTER YOU TAKE A BREAK
• Laze in bed for as long as you want
• Take an afternoon nap
• Unplug, go offline and feel the difference
• Have you forgotten what your handwriting looks like? Write — a diary, letters, poems or just random thoughts
• Meet up with friends for a leisurely chat
• Take long walks. Do you remember that lane on your way to office that you crossed every day but never managed to explore?
• Make travel plans, enjoy planning a trip
• Spend time with family/children
• Learn a language, sign up for a course in flower arrangement, candle-making, swimming, baking, driving or anything else you wish
• Try redoing the interiors of your house or at least your room
• Spend some time volunteering at an old-age home or reading out stories to children at an orphanage
I have taken a sabbatical because.... Tell email@example.com