Sunday, August 26, 2007

The dark side

If you thought I had fallen off the edge of the earth, well, you were half-right. I was tottering on the edge, but managed to steady myself and step back on to the earth. Last week I had the most trying week of my work life. And the strangest part is - nothing had really gone wrong at work, there was no shit and no fan; it was smooth sailing. But, it was the hours that were killing me. I had the chance to see the dark side of my job. Literally. Mornings that were too early, and nights that were too late. Damn, I should have sensed something was not right when they gave me a key to the office.

A wise woman called Sayesha once said to her team, "Don't let your personal life affect your work life. At the same time, don't let your work life affect your personal life." In her last job, except for once or twice, she left the office on time every day for four years, much to the envy of the other senior editors. She looked at people who worked very late with disapproval and considered them inefficient. And that's when whoever decides these things decided to shake her vanity a little and make her the team leader of the Boston team in the new job. Though I love the challenge, working with Boston is quite taxing - my team, including myself, is new at the job, the Management at Boston has high expectations and low opinions of the Singapore office, and I often have to use my work email in the weekends, especially on Friday nights (when it's Friday morning for them) just so I don't have to wait till my Monday night to get a response from them. Then there are the teleconferences, which can only be held at 8 am or 8 pm due to the time difference. And strangely, last week I had way too many of the 8 pm meetings, peppered with some 8 am meetings. No big deal, you say. It is, for someone who wakes up at 6.45 am, goes to work, and hopes to leave by 5.30 pm. And to add a little spice, last Thursday they decided to hold a conference call between the Singapore, Tokyo, Boston and Melbourne offices! I blinked twice when I saw the conference request - 7 am. 7 am??? Taking into account the 1-hour bus journey (Yeah, I'm a bus person. I believe that cabs in Singapore, especially during 'the dark hours', are an urban myth.), I'd have to wake up at 5 am, and be at the bus stop at 6 am!

As I stood at the bus stop in the darkness, with the morning air making me shiver, I wondered if the first bus would have even left the terminal. But it had. My eyes lighted up along with the headlights of the bus, as it halted in utter surprise. It was so early that even the bus driver gave me a "We're hiring" look. Sheesh.

The office was in pitch darkness. There were no lights and no security (!). Anyone who has seen my office building would have marveled at the gothic architecture that has earned it the name 'The batman building'. At that hour, as I stepped inside, it was like stepping into a movie set. A ghost movie set. Brrrrr. Not fun.

The meeting went well, and though my office allows me time off whenever I have such meetings, I could not leave early because it was my colleague's engagement party the same evening, and the venue was a stone's throw away from the office. So it really looked like I was gonna have a 7-11 day. But I was riding on the momentum of the week, hoping to wrap everything up before the week ended.

By Friday mid-morning, I was all done. All the late night and early morning meetings were over, and I was back to remembering how much I love my job. I decided to take the afternoon off to do things I hadn't done in a long time - call my parents, take a walk, go to the library, clean the house. And catch up on sleep. I also found some time to go for darshan. At the gym. And as I worked out, I thought. I thought of work, and the time it takes off our lives. I thought of decisions people make about their work:life ratio. When I switched from engineering to publishing, it was for the love of the industry, and that made it easy. Would switching your lifestyle within the same industry - the one you love - be as easy? I thought of all the people I know who work crazy hours and do not get the time off that my office allows me (thank goodness for that!). If one crazy week had exhausted me so much, I wondered how people like Viv were handling it. Viv's office has now moved to Changi, right next to the airport so it's easier to fly him to China I think (where he lives by the way, and occasionally drops by his Singapore home for food). I realised that I may be used to Viv's lifestyle by now, I could never have that kind of lifestyle myself. And that's when I came up with certain rules.

First of all, one should only work in an area one is interested in. If you are going to spend 1/3rd of your day at your job, it had better be something you love. At the same time, no matter how much you love your job, it is important that it does not take up more than 40% of your day. It may pay the bills, but it is after all - only a job. It cannot and should not overpower your life. There is a lot more to get out of life, and spending all your time at work will sooner or later only result in sickness and frustration for you and your family. Many may disagree with me, but I really do believe that working smart (e.g. being disciplined, organised and focused) can eliminate many of the extra hours spent at work. And if it still doesn't, something is wrong. Smart bosses know it, but unfortunately 99% don't.

Last week I asked my Singaporean friend why many of them choose to migrate to Australia. "Better quality of life." Came the answer. More time to chill out. More time to do things other than work. It's true - the Singapore work life is terribly stressful. Singaporeans are said to be competitive to the point of being paranoid, and the foreigners get sucked into this system in no time at all. Even India with its bid to get ahead of others, is more chilled out. I was so envious of my Dad, every time I would go to India on vacation. I'd see him get up at 5 am and go for his walk. He'd ask me to join him, and some of the times I did. At other times, I mumbled a sleepy "Are you kidding me?" He'd come back, read the newspaper, do some gardening, and then around 8.30 or 9, I'd see him shaving. Looking at him, one couldn't tell if it was a weekday or a weekend.

"You know Dad, I'd already be at my desk by now?" I'd say as he shaved.

"Hmmm..."

"What hmmm...? This is not fair! And you have so many public holidays in India too. So many Gods and their birthdays, ufff! All we get in Singapore is the very measured racially balanced pathetic platter of public holidays."

"Hmmm..."

The more he hmmmed, the more irritated I got. But I knew it - it wasn't he who was irritating me, it was me. It was my jealousy. I knew I wanted that kind of life. The time to go for a walk before you go for work. Time to work out every day. Time for gardening. Time for reading. I wanted all that in the week. But I had chosen my own path. Unfortunately, the Singapore work life doesn't give you much room for such things until the weekend, when you're too exhausted from the work week to do anything. I cannot count the number of times my friends have turned me down for a meet-up in the weekend stating "fatigue" or "pre-Monday depression" as the reason.

Sometimes I wonder if it's true - the higher you rise on the corporate ladder, the less of a life you have outside of work. Recently at one of the company events, I met this guy who had also started his career as an editor, just like I had. Today he is a division director. The fiercely ambitious side of me was totally inspired by him. Many questions fleeted through my mind. Did he have to pick a path? Was it difficult? Would I ever get where he did? How long will it take? Does he have to work late into the night? Weekends? How much does he make? What is the trade-off? Does he have to sacrifice a lot? How is his family life? Does he have friends outside work? Is he healthy? Is he happy? Is he really happy?

And there was the most important question, the question that I had to ask myself. The question to which, no matter how much I thought I knew myself, I had no answer. If I did find myself at the crossroads one day, what would I pick, the job part of my life or the 'life' part of my life?

And more importantly, would I still be able to differentiate between the two?



24 comments:

~vagabond~ said...

GOLD!!!!!

OMG! OMG! Did I just do that?!

~vagabond~ said...

I got so excited about the gold, i forgot to leave a comment :P

"If I did find myself at the crossroads one day, what would I pick, the job part of my life or the 'life' part of my life?"

Trust me, when you get to that crossroad it becomes crystal clear which way you want to go. I arrived at that crossroad last year and I opted for a career change - I choose the 'life' part of my life despite being in a career I thought I was passionate about. You said it yourself - dont let work get into your personal space.

It's a great blog as always! :)

parikrama said...

Hmmmmm..


p.s. : Whenever I hear any Singaporean complain about stress.. I say (to myself), you guys don't have a clue. Just try boarding a local train at 8 in the morning in Mumbai :)

shub said...

This too shall pass, sweetheart, dontcha worry!

And my view on the work life in Sg is quite the contrary, seriously, like you once said, there is time to have a life outside work as well. I mean when I was working in India, getting out of work at 6pm and having time for stuff after work was unthinkable, here it is very much possible. [My boss actually used to frown at me going home early, even if there was no work to do]
Sure there are crazy days every once in a while, but they just make me grateful for the days I can leave work by 6.15 or 6.30pm.

Once your crazy time at work tides over, I'm sure you'll be more at peace with things. Hugs. :)

Sayesha said...

#Vagabond,
//Trust me, when you get to that crossroad it becomes crystal clear which way you want to go.

Well, I hope so. At the same time, I hope that the decision I make is worth it - long-term. :)

#Parikrama,
Haha! Yeah, I have heard horror stories about the Mumbai local trains. Sometimes I wonder if that's why I don't want to move back to India... Singapore has spoilt me with its efficiency!

#Shub,
I guess it depends on which industry you work in, and what your office culture is like. I'm sure not everyone in India is as chilled out as my Dad is, or everyone in Singapore works crazy hours. Luck of the draw I guess. But you have the option to pick again. :)

//Once your crazy time at work tides over, I'm sure you'll be more at peace with things.

The crazy time is over. But it has made me think, that's all. :)

venkatesan said...

It is right. Your work should not take more than 40% of your day. Otherwise it is not worth doing it. After all we work to enjoy a life and if all your life is spent at the Office the job is not worth holding.Take a decision even if it is a hard one.Same is applicable to Viv also. Enjoy life when you can when you are young.

wacko said...

umm..sounds singapore is a yuck yuck place to work..i mean wht is life without fun and all work..tis more like "all work and no play makes sayesha a dull girl" :D

you seem terribly stressed out..try spendin the moolah you get on somethin that you so must have wanted for years now..maybe that can help you get over that queasiness

how can be there no change? hang out duhh..try experimenting as in bunkin a day..lol i know i am talking shit..but then wht is the harm in just giving it a try?

Sayesha said...

#Venkatesan,
Thanks. I'll make sure Viv reads your comment. :)

#Wacko,
Oh dear. I hope I didn't give you the wrong idea with my post. Singapore is not a bad place to work in. It's just less laid-back than India. And the reason why I was stressed was not because I work in Singapore, but because the last week was a bit trying. I am fine now, and I definitely dun wanna "experiment by bunking office". Sheesh! :/

//try spendin the moolah you get on somethin that you so must have wanted for years now..

I dun have that kind of moolah. Waaaaaaaaaaa! :'(

Preethi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Preethi said...

Wow! I can relate to this so much..2 years after my wedding me and my hubby spent time concentrating on our careers so much that we actually lived together only for 3months!!! :/ (sounds pathetic..but wasnt a choice back then)We finally decided nothing was ever worth sacrificing the 'life part of life' time and here we are living the perfect life in London...No matter what the returns are it aint worth sacrificing that hug and smile at the end of the day :)
Love that you see life in the same light...here's hoping tonnes of ppl read this blog and understand!
well said sash...

Ps : hope the schedule gets better soon babe!!!

Nandya said...

loved this one...!!

Shikha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ab said...

sometimes i wish that work was a little hectic, so that i wouldnt be so lousy with the rest of my life, and take my free time for granted.

But well, no patriotism intended, but in India, its not too many holidays for everyone. Like, in the stock market. I cant even take a leave to go home and visit mom.. jus the ration of 12 or so national hol's. But still, we manage jus fine. like you said, having a job you enjoy doing is the important part. And not letting it affect your personal life.
(this is from someone who, six months ago, was considered fortunate by his colleagues, when he left office at 10 o clock in the night. well, I quit that lifestyle! so much of fun in this world to miss

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Hmm.. I think I made a tough choice once already -- -quitting my job for graduate studies. But I'm glad I made the choice. What'll perhaps be more interesting would be where I settle finally. But anyway, very interesting post bhai!

Rebellion said...

Well said Sash. I dunno what to say to this. Though not myself, but indirectly even I'm one of the people experiencing or suffering, whatever you'd call, coz of unplanned & disorganized schedule. Trust me, life in India is no better, esp for people working for private companies or having their own businesses. They just don't consider public holidays :/

Rebellion said...

As you said it..
//"Smart bosses know it, but unfortunately 99% don't"
Nobody, even the bosses can't deny that!

Hope it gets better soon, for you & Viv both :)

satish said...

i cant believe i am on a job right now! dont they fire people who dont work at their offices anymore??

anyway, i dont want to differentiate between my professional and personal life. I want to work din and raat, and may be after a decade or two, wen i am a billionaire I will sit down, and lit a cigar(yaa, i wud be lighting cigars by then!) and regret having wasted my life for absolutely nothing.

nycbewda said...

Bhai
Apun ka bhi aise ich hal hain, day time NY wale Day dreaming karne nahin dete,
Night time Tokyo wale sone nahin dete aur
Early morning London wale mere sapnon ki rani ko baga dethe hain
Inka kuch karne tab tak "Hamara din ayeaga zaroor ayeaga" :)

Life of Mi said...

Still on the dark side... are you? No blog for quite a while or are we getting too demanding.

Great post as always.

Just love your blog and hope you come back soon with more posts. cheers.

rt said...

very beautifully written piece again..
we find these cross roads more than once and if u get some problem in the way u have chosen u start doubting urself..
neway one point of disagreement..indian work culture specially the new gen culture doesnt knw a timely time off in a day!! and people who work longer hours are unfortunatley not the inefficient ones!!

Sayesha said...

#Preethi,
Glad you've sorted it out and made a decision that makes both of you happy. :)

#Nandya,
Thanks! :)

#Ab,
Hehehe... so what are you saying - are you busy or not? :D

#Sudipta,
Thanks! :)

#Rebellion,
Yeah, I understand dear! :)

#Satish,
Tujhe toh vella category ke reservation mein liya hai. Kya dreams hain wah! :D

#Nycbewda,
Hahaha! :D

#Life of Mi,
Naah, I can't stay in the dark side too long. :)
ps: Thanks!

#rt,
Thanks. :)

Bivas said...

I guess, it's better if all these irregularities happen in the early part of one's career...
of course when the time comes when one needs to choose, definitely life part is more important...but then uske liye abhi time hai...
as u rightly said...after all it's just a job...just a means to earn a living!

Girl next door said...

I heartily agree with you about picking a job in a field you love or else you'll go crazy with the time you spend there. Sounds like you're juggling a lot. I bet it will all pay off. I learned about the work/life balance the hard way: it's a constant battle to balance the two. Good luck to you!

Sayesha said...

#Bivas,
Hmmm.... baat toh sahi hai. Lekin pareshani ki baat yeh hai ki decision ke waqt par aankhon par parde na pad jaayein! :/

#Girl next door,
I have the perfect work:life balance. It was just a bad week. :)