A job's been left behind

So, for those of you who don't know, after working there for 9.5 years, I quit Google in Feb 2020 and have just hit my 2 months off-work anniversary!

An excited me, the first Tuesday I was off work - after having woken up without an alarm at 5:30am! 

I quit the full time software engineering job so that I could move closer towards working in the education and/or women's empowerment space - two areas I've been working on, on the side, for the last 19 years. I've always known that I wanted to work on these issues full time at some point in life. But why did it take me so long? One of the problems was that I didn't know what exactly I wanted to do in that space (I still don't, I've done a bit of many things I'm very interested in over the years) but I thought I needed to know an exact plan of action before I could quit the known career. I had to learn over the last many months at my job that I had to free myself from the giant that was occupying all my time and energy to start thinking clearly about how to make the jump into the next thing. I wasn't the kind to make that super well planned jump into that already soaring next thing, all while I was doing something that was all consuming.

The one thing I knew for sure when I quit was that I wanted to take a break and start doing the simple things that make my heart leap with joy. I wanted to learn the art of making the perfect roti, with the two perfectly separating layers ballooning up to that irresistible sphere on the tava, and ending up soft as the softest muslin on the plate. I wanted to learn to sew a good piece of clothing - a casual, everyday kind of piece that I would be comfortable in and love to wear all day long. I also wanted to make some of these pieces for people I loved. I wanted to take drawing and writing lessons and get back to doing both of these regularly and well. In a book I’ve bought for my ~4 yr old niece and nephew, I wanted to convert a page of sketches from one that the feminist in me cringes looking at, into one that brings her joy. And finally, I wanted to read deeply, for hours on end without having to do anything else. And do this for days on end with nothing to distract me from the book on hand.

The softest idlis I've made thus far! This came to be after I learned some of the science behind the fermentation process. 

With the full understanding that I occupied an extremely privileged place in the world to be able to afford any of this, I decided to take a few months to do these things and get into a comfortable place with my own ideas regarding what to pursue next and how. A place that I had become unfamiliar with in the last few years because I had gotten into the easy habit of doing things that people around me wanted or needed me to do. But now I’m free enough now to get to working on things that would keep me nourished and feeling good about my contributions to the world - a more ‘sustainable for my soul’ kind of job. I still need to discover what this is for me, at this point in my life, and I needed this time and mental space to do that.

But, the week after I quit, the world was just coming to the understanding that Covid19 would put everyone on the planet at risk if some drastic measures weren’t taken. The markets in the US plunged 10% that week. The week after that, we entered a bear market[1]. A couple weeks later, everybody except essential personnel were ordered to stay home in the bay area, where I live. All everyone’s been able to talk about is covid19, the responses to it, all our societal inequalities coming to the forefront and how the world as we knew it has disappeared from our realities and into videos from the pre-covid era. Almost 6 weeks into the lockdown, I still sometimes feel a sort of dreamlike quality about the whole thing - that these changes and conversations we are now having are unbelievable and that once I blink my eye open, we’ll be back in our world.

And yet, some things haven’t changed at all. Politicians are putting to use divisive tactics that they’ve honed over the years. Fake news is being used in the most dangerous ways. And people are falling prey to every kind of cognitive bias that these fraudsters weaponize.

Anyway, since this is supposed to be an update post, what have I been doing during this time? In the frenzied locked down world that the working professionals around me are experiencing, I’m putting in hours volunteering with a couple of nonprofits that I’ve been associated with, that are working on covid19 relief efforts. I cooked a (whole) lot for the first few weeks as I was hosting people at home. I’ve been helping family with childcare. I’ve been learning about Dr.Ambedkar and his contributions to the world by attending a twice weekly lecture series organized by a study group I’m a member of. Through this, I’m learning how little my engineering education and career has prepared me to think deeply about and gain an understanding of societal issues in systemic ways - and how my education system massively failed me by not assigning readings from Dr.Ambedkar’s work in grade school. I’m getting in touch with friends from long ago. Finally, Covid19 has proved that Zoom calls are enough for kindred spirits to see each other - I have a friend now that’s most definitely a kindred spirit and one I’ve only met over video calls! And I’m setting up a kitchen garden in a raised bed that dear hubby has built for me, in a backyard of my dreams!


Chakka varatti/ jackfruit halwa! Unappealing to the sight maybe, but oh my god awesome to the taste and smell! A lockdown dish after I found a whole jackfruit in Costco.

And what about the wishlist from before I quit my job? It felt to me that what I had envisioned for this break had gotten tossed out wholesale, until I realized that I have been writing about covid19 in some of the non profit work I’ve done. I did draw a couple of sketches, mostly about covid19 and have been reading a whole lot about it as well, but online. And sewing? I’ve been sewing masks and I’m working on a project to fundraise to get a whole bunch stitched back in my hometown! The perfect-roti project - that’s still ongoing. I’m not at the final destination yet, though I suspect I’m pretty close to it now! :)

Vendhaya keerai from pot to aloo methi on table!

The reading without interruptions part though - that’s really what’s gotten nowhere at all! I feel constantly interrupted all day, every day, by everything that’s going on around me. I’m also doing a little bit of a lot of things. Not the kind of deep work I’d envisioned for this time. I keep having to remind myself what a wise friend told me - these covid19 times are new for all of us and we are all adjusting to this new world we are living in, each in our own way. I still do very much want to get to that zen state soon.

The masked us! 

And, in case it isn’t clear yet, I’m glad I’m not working at my old job now. The first two weeks were definitely stressful - having just said no to a nice big paycheck right at the top of the market and going into a very very uncertain time with much less security. But I’m confident I would have been miserable about not being able to do most of what I’ve done since. And I would have been under a lot of stress trying to write code under these circumstances.

So, all’s mostly well here folks. And I hope all of you and all of yours are safe and healthy and everyone continues to remain safe and healthy. For those of you who are struggling during these most bewildering of times, you are in my thoughts and I hope things are going to get better soon for you and all your loved ones.

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[1] As an interesting aside, this is the second job I’m quitting. Two months after I quit my first job 12 years ago (to go back to do my masters), the world went into a recession. This time, it took 2 weeks. I might use this to explain the difference between correlation and causation. Or not!

Comments

  1. Hi Nithya. I'm happy for you and glad you're exploring a new chapter. I've actually also been starting a startup that's specifically education for women's empowerment, so resonate with what sounds like is calling to you. I'm here if you ever want to chat about the post-corporate transition and exploring self-employment. It's a challenging but rewarding journey.

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  2. Nice post, Nithya. All the best for your future plans!

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