Many times over the last three months, I’ve caught myself in a loop of guilt. It’s usually at the most inopportune time, just as I am about to allow myself a brief break. When I most feel like I need to catch a breather. Once the guilt has arrived at my door, taking stock of how much I’ve done and if I deserve the break, taking it becomes so much harder. And in that moment of guilt, I convince myself that I am not worthy of taking time out.
Because, you’re not working yet.
In the past few weeks, I’ve felt this way more often than I’ll care to admit. I know this is partly my nature. This compulsive need to justify and earn every little break. But this time, it also has to do with the limbo we have been in since taking the decision to move back to Bangalore.
On the surface, most of the basics are settled. Life has resumed in a new city, a new home that’s set up enough for us to occupy and live in but that could do with a few more frills and spoils, I even dragged my feet back to some kind of efforts at work after the unplanned and extended hiatus. But I’m constantly torn between focusing on all the extras that remain to be done, and just putting a full stop on it and moving on with real work.
Maybe that’s just it?
The nebulous nature of things, with my line of work and with the current state of my life — with no real “plan”, no pressing demands, no conventional schedule, no impending deadlines — that leaves me with little validation or justification for the effort, time and energy I am spending day after day. No deliverables, no neatly packaged articles, no money flowing into the bank. Yet so much energy and money flowing out. Energy, money, effort and time that we have expended in making this move. This, combined with the hardcoded, deeply-ingrained notions of “hard work” that still rule my world means I still don’t always take my own effort seriously, unless it fetches me external validation and affirmation, preferably by way of a handsome fee. At times like this where life happens and one just gets on with it, and there is little prodding or congratulations, I feel empty, depleted and exhausted.
This is not a complain about the external world not congratulating me for getting on with life. It’s just me acknowledging my ego and the way it works. I often beat myself up about not working the past three months. A one month break unexpectedly turned into a three months off. Not because I decided to take time off, but because we landed ourselves in the midst of a mildly life-changing shift that needed our time and focus. I’ve had my hands full for the most part of the last two months, at least, working at smoothing things out in this time of transition. And yet, I’ve had this low hum gnawing the back of my brain out slowly – you’re not working. You should be working.
When I usually feel the need for time out, it is following a period of hectic activity, when I need to refuel and recharge my batteries. And my way to do that is to indulge in the things that fill me with a good, happy energy.
Like sit back and enjoy the fruits of our effort the past few weeks.
Like write the many blog posts jammed tight in my brain.
Like leisurely writing out the story ideas I’ve accumulated in the last three months.
Like meet with people I’ve been meaning to ever since I got to Bangalore.
Like finish reading those books I began in May.
Like begin to enjoy Bangalore a little more.
So, when guilt arrives at my doorstep, taking stock to check if I need or truly deserve the break, it puts a spoke in things. Instead of rejuvenating myself, I feel guilty. And that quickly spirals into a a loop of desperation when I realise how little I have in hand — again, little is measured purely in conventional terms.
It then makes me feel like I ought to get going, not relax. And since this is fundamentally at loggerheads with what I intuitively know I want to be doing, I get stuck. Not moving towards what my head tells me I should do, or what my heart tells me I should feel.
Temporary relief follows soon after because the good thing is I’m beginning to notice and pin point these patterns, and I am quick to correct myself. But it is only temporary. I let go briefly, only to quickly feel the panic and the lack of doing things again.
In my head the idea that to be productive, useful and busy is still tied in to churning out one assignment after another, bringing those cheques in one after another. I’m slowly but painfully realising that this is what I am trained to believe, and not what makes sense to my soul.
My life the last few years has been a series of gradual shifts towards being my own boss. I don’t mean that professionally alone. I mean it’s been a constant work in progress towards tuning in and listening to my own cues and working on feeling content most, if not all, of the time.
The inwards tussle this time around, is with knowing that yes, I do need to work and earn some of my bread (even though I have a perfectly capable, willing, giving partner who provides it for me), but no, I don’t have to make myself unhappy and exhausted doing it. I am privileged and lucky to have a situation that allows this.
A couple of nights ago, we had friends over for dinner. Even though we’ve been living in the new home for almost three weeks now, and had my folks and VC’s folks over for a meal, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I felt like we’d put the home in this home — complete with a gas connection and water and internet. Right before our friends arrived, I looked up from where I was sitting, at my dining table.
And I realised — this is the validation I needed. This is what I’ve been working on. This is the sum total of the work that has kept me physically and mentally engaged since early May. Making a home from an opportunity I stumbled upon and grabbed with both my hands, even when my heart was aflutter in the anticipation and overwhelmed with change.
I often forget to that work cannot only be measured in the time spent strapped at a desk — whether in an office or at home. Heck, right now I don’t even have a desk. And yet, I’ve been working for the most part of these last few weeks. Moving cities was work, getting the house up and running took a lot of work, setting up a new home has hard and exhausting work.
This has taken a lot of work. And it has been tiring. Even more so because I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge this simple fact, or allowed myself a real, refreshing break from it.
It’s true, work fuels life. Not just by giving us the currency to do the things we want to do that cost money, but it also fuels our sense of worth and pride. But I’m gradually realising that the nature of what qualifies as work ticks different boxes for different people, and it can change constantly from one phase to another.
The last few years in Goa, I immersed myself in a fulfilling kind of work through words. It was right for that time and place, and it made sense for where I was then. But it makes no sense to force fit that definition of productivity to the rest of my years. Somewhere, these past few weeks, I’ve lost sight of the reason why we moved out of the boonies and back to civilisation. A significant part of that reason was to be able to mingle a little, dip my toes into the spoils of the city a little, and surround myself in the the company of folks I’ve been longing to be around
I’m finally here, in the right space and environment that makes sense for me now, and here I am trying to be productive and busy doing things that don’t make sense right now. Here I am berating myself for being not as useful or independent as I can be. When the truth is, I’ve been busy. This transition has taken work. And I am not less productive, less useful, less anything for not putting in time at my desk chasing bylines.
Maybe I need to get out of my head for a bit, to explore and create a new definitions of work for myself. To allow the newness of this experience to break through the old moulds I’ve held it all within, to come out and soak it in. Maybe it’s time to loosen the grip and re-create new sense of what this time, place and phase asks of me.
Maybe it’s time to revel in the fact that this is me, now and there’s no way to expect an older version of me to thrive in a new set of situations. Maybe instead of brushing aside the guilt, as everyone tells me to, I should hold it up, look it squarely in the eye and understand that the guilt is just my ego in another form, luring me back into an older way of being, one that makes little sense now. And even as it writhes in my grip and wriggles it’s way back into my everyday life, I must look at it, accept it, maybe even wallow a little bit in it. But eventually, I must just remember to breathe. And live a little.
Same time, last year: Day 174: Hit by a crippling case of travel excitement