By Salini Vineeth
Work pressure, cut-throat competition, office politics – I didn’t have to face any of these during my 10-year career as an engineer. I had a great work environment, colleagues, and a manager who always reminded me, “In the struggle to survive, don’t forget to thrive.” Still, in December 2018, I quit my job to become a full-time writer. Who prompted me to quit my job? It’s Steve Jobs and Bill Waterson.
Let’s rewind a bit: the 10-year-old me, anxiously standing next to my language teacher while she goes over my story. Gradually, she breaks into a smile. “It’s good,” she says, and I feel euphoric. As a child, writing gave me immense happiness. Then, like every other 1980s kid, I got into engineering, and I stopped writing.
Fast forward to 2011, the 24-year-old me sitting in the plush corporate office of Nokia, loitering around YouTube. I come across Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address. It’s called ‘Connecting Dots’. He talks about the importance of loving one’s work and deriving meaning and satisfaction from it. I felt a lump in my throat. I wasn’t happy with my job. I couldn’t find meaning in what I did. Months passed, and I couldn’t get his words out of my head.
Thus began my search for meaning and happiness. I did an M.Tech hoping to get more perspective. After that, I landed up in a similar job, and the cycle repeated. I tried different things – traveling, teaching underprivileged children, taking up an environmental project. They were all rewarding, but none of them could become my vocation.
In 2014, I started a hobby. I started writing down my travel experiences and shared them on my blog Pick, Pack, Go. I was surprised by how people appreciated my posts. For the next two years, I travelled extensively and wrote many articles. Something was shaping up, and the feeling only got stronger when I participated in the national novel writing month. Till that point, I had only written fiction in Malayalam. I finished a haphazard first draft of my English novel. After a very long time, I felt the same euphoria as in my childhood.
During 2017, I sailed two boats – working full-time as an engineer and moonlighting as a writer. During that time, a significant change happened – I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Tara. During the maternity leave, I wrote a lot. Before joining back, I published my first book, a travel guide to Hampi, followed by a fiction novella Magic Square. I knew it was time to make a decision, but I was terrified.
That’s when I came across Bill Waterson, the creator of the legendary comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. His Kenyon commencement address struck a chord with me, just like Steve Jobs’ connecting-dots speech did back in 2011. Watterson talked about the definition of success, fear, and indecisiveness. He said, “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
It was just the nudge I needed, and I took the plunge. In December 2018, I quit my corporate job and started writing full time. When I look back, I can make sense of what Steve Jobs said.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
During the 2011–2017 period, I did many things that didn’t make much sense. But all of them were stepping stones to my new career. The journeys gave me rich experiences, and blogging gave me the much-needed writing practice.
My environment project became the backdrop of many stories, for example, ‘The Talking Heron,’ published in eShe’s new anthology Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories (Embassy Books). Looking back, I can connect the dots.
The journey wasn’t a bed of roses, and it taught me a few things.
Money: I was afraid of losing my salary. My husband Vineeth was super-supportive with my decision to write full-time. After a few months, I started taking up content writing assignments and soon found a lucrative market. I learned that money is an important consideration but not the ultimate deal-breaker. You need to consider how much money you actually need and evaluate if the job you love could help you make it.
Fear: I was afraid of public opinion. I tortured myself with hypothetical scenarios of my plan going haywire. But people were astonishingly receptive to my decision. My parents, in-laws, my free-spirited sister, Saranya – all gave me courage. My friends and colleagues were more than happy. I realised that, most often, fear is the creation of one’s own imagination.
Success: I constantly worried about failure. I graduated from BITS Pilani and then from IIIT- Bangalore. Many of my batchmates have illustrious careers. I was worried that throwing away my flourishing career would push me down to the bottom of the ‘career ladder’. In the past two years, I learnt that there is no such ‘ladder’. We are not in a race, and everyone’s journey is unique and important. And the journey is much more rewarding than the destination.
I still get a few raised eyebrows when I tell people that I quit my job to write full time. “You are privileged. Not everyone is,” they say. I completely agree. I count it as a great privilege that I had the freedom to choose my life. Not everyone has such liberty. But everyone has the liberty to listen to their inner selves, and they have a responsibility to do so.
Listening to ourselves helps us understand what we truly care about. Purpose brings meaning and happiness. It might not happen drastically. But taking small steps, even if for a few minutes of a day, will eventually culminate in something meaningful.
The important thing is not to get lost in the race, and not give up on your happiness, just like Steve Jobs says. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle – stay hungry, stay foolish.”
Salini Vineeth is a fiction and freelance writer based in Bengaluru. She worked for a decade in the electronics industry before turning to full-time writing. She is the author of the short story ‘The Talking Heron’ in the anthology Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories (Embassy Books). Buy it on Amazon.
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