I left my last job on 14th August 2019 and am still on a break. While I was backpacking in Vietnam after my transition, it was interesting to observe how so many travelers took long sabbaticals (often between 3 months to a year) from work but Indians formed a minuscule percentage of these. What was not surprising was the reactions I received from other Indians -
- How did you get this much time off from work?
- Are you not worried about not having a job offer in hand?
- How did your wife allow you to travel solo on a long holiday?
- Why do you need three months to reflect?
- Why did you leave your last job if you were happy with the work?
Honestly, when I quit my job, I had no clue what I was going to do with the break. I had a sense that I had hit a learning edge. I knew my vision for my contribution to the world had evolved beyond the boundaries of my current role. I didn't know exactly what it was. I didn't even know if the break would lead to anything meaningful emerging from it. All I knew was that I wanted to just be.
I wanted to be in the company of myself. I wanted to create experiences that helped me discover something new about the world and myself. I wanted to get back to everything that energized me - photography, writing, reading, history, meeting interesting people, generative dialogues, etc. I didn't want to have a three-month plan of action. I wanted to go with the flow. Something told me I would know when I am ready.
Fast-forwarding to the present, I have spent the last two and a half months doing many interesting things. I have traveled across the length of Vietnam over three weeks. I have completed (almost) a foundational course on TheoryU: Leading from an Emerging Future, and in the process, found a global community of changemakers operating with empathy and openness for the world. I have learned a bit more about societal platforms. I have explored the Social Impact Landscape in the Region, meeting many influencers and engaging in the work of some of their organizations. Most importantly, I have reconnected with friends, my students from the Fellowship and my family. In addition, I have done a bit of photography, writing, reading and supporting stray animals in distress.
The good thing about not having clear objectives is that I have operated with an open mind and heart. I have been like a sponge soaking everything in. Not having anything to do means that once you gain new experiences, ideas, and insights, you have to stay with them and let them simmer. After you do this, you sense different thoughts and feelings emerge. These become the map to your next activity.
Eventually, patterns start forming across these thoughts and feelings, building more conviction about a particular direction. Sometimes, the emerging patterns are in conflict. Then again, the time that you have on your hands helps you discern the truth from the voices in your head. You begin to resolve the false contradictions that you are holding.
To illustrate with an example, I met many people to learn more about their work on my return. I left every conversation with recommendations for who else to meet, what else to read and what questions to explore. I kept sleeping over conversations and reflecting on which conversations energized me most, eventually following the recommendations that those people left me with. In the process, the direction that initially seemed vague became clearer. Sometimes this vision seemed in contradiction with my financial goals. I again made that struggle visible in these conversations and I found the right questions (eg.What do I actually need?) and right answers (eg. offers to help).
I think a few key principles were at play:
1) Follow what energizes you: Fundamentally, what energizes you is a reflection of your deepest values and vision. While it is often hard to nuance the values and vision, it easier to sense the energy.
2) Outrospection and Introspection: I often sense people get lost in one of the two approaches and then are unable to move forward. Listening to the world and listening to your self is equally important to break the status quo.
3) Delay defining a direction: Not defining a direction in a rush and holding that tension was crucial in helping me keep an open mind and heart throughout. With constant reflection, you will see many more paths open up and eventually know when you are ready to decide and commit to one.
4) Listen to your listening: We need to move from downloading what we already know to a deeper state of connection with people where we let go of prior assumptions and biases. While I was able to do this deep listening only 10-20% of the time, this was the time when the most useful ideas were generated. Furthermore, I was at least able to consistently operate with greater empathy for people, including myself.
5) The Universe is driven to help you succeed: At any stage, it is important to assume that everyone you interact with is coming from a place of kindness and support. This assumption has been key in pushing me to be vulnerable and reach out, which in turn, has led me to the many answers that I have today that I didn't three months ago.
To conclude, I feel this pause from everything has left me a lot richer in my awareness of my self and my interactions with the world. It has also created a force field of energy that is fueling my new-found conviction.