In 1991, I packed my bags and ran as far as I could. I left a job as Client Services Director in a reputed advertising agency. I left my mother. I left my sister and her kids. I left everything. I didn’t leave to seek my fortune elsewhere. The simple truth is I was just running…. away from life and myself!
Never mind what I was running away from. Or why! That is too personal and too long a story to be recounted here. In any event, those reasons pale in significance against what running away taught me.
When I look back, the first emotion that overcomes me is one of marvel.
How could I have done what I did?
What made me think I could make my way in the United States with nothing more than $500 dollars in my pocket? And a return ticket back home?
True, a friend had agreed to give me a roof over my head and feed me. But still. I must have been mad!
I think I was. Mad to imagine I would find a job, a sponsor and a green card in the US.
I ended up working as a waitress in a restaurant to pay my way and not become a financial burden on my friend.
As things turned out, that one career stint bumped me hard down to earth!
I lost all airs of being a senior management executive – running around pouring coffee, taking orders, hefting gigantic platters laden with food and at times, working the cashier’s desk. My airs were not all that I lost. I also shed tons of weight and never felt fitter:)
Lighter on my feet and less thick in the head, the months I spent waitressing earned me the most valuable degree ever – in life management. It was just a high school degree, but it was still better than the unlettered so-and-so I was back then in the university of life.
My aching feet made me reflect on the life of employees at the ground level of operations.
Each time a back muscle groaned, it made me think of the heavy lifting done by operational staff in organizations everywhere.
And whenever Humberto, the 4-foot nothing restaurant chef, laughingly chased me round and round the kitchen block, I reflected on how cheerfully people faced life. And lived paycheck-to-paycheck.
What else did I learn? Well… working in America also taught me the true meaning of job dignity with customers across many a table chatting with me on an equal footing.
I remember having several interesting conversations with a wide spectrum of people.
Most of these chats would be prefaced with, “Excuse me, dear. May I ask you a personal question?” On my nod of assent, that opening would be followed by, “Are you from England?”
The “Are you from England” question would amuse me no end and I would delight in answering, “I have never been to England in my life. I am from India.”
Till that time in the US, I was never conscious of the fact that convent educated Indians spoke with such a marked Brit accent.
And, till I became a waitress in a US restaurant, I never realised that you can’t run away from life. Of course, the geographical distance I placed between the situation I was running away from and myself helped me place things in perspective. But the job I took up and the people I worked with also helped bring me down to earth with a bang.
That’s why, I consider the time I ran away as an act that certainly qualifies for LinkedIn’s #BestMistake series of posts on Pulse.
Today, as I near retirement and spend all my time reflecting on my past, I am in the process of simplifying life (you can read all about my retirement in Reflections on approaching my sell-by date!).
The process of simplification involves cutting back on expenses. The first thing I did a couple of months ago was to tell the driver I employed to look for another job. Driverless now, I drive my own car or take a rickshaw if finding parking seems doubtful.
This morning, I needed to go to my bank and found rickshaws were akin to a scarce commodity. So, after a gap of some twenty-five years, I hopped onto a BEST bus (Mumbai’s public bus service).
I was delighted with myself and seriously experienced a childlike delight on that ride.
I had, yet again, climbed out of my ivory tower and discovered real life on the ground.
#management #humanresources #LinkedInPulse #BestMistake
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Featured Image Credit: Heron flying low across the lake – Image by blinking idiot (Flickr.com CC BY-ND 2.0)
Lata Subramanian: Reflections on approaching my sell-by date!