Challenging My Indian Middle-Class Mindset to Shift Careers At 28

How I gave up comfort to embrace uncertainty and saw 10x growth in finances and fulfillment.

Challenging My Indian Middle-Class Mindset to Shift Careers At 28
Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

How I gave up comfort to embrace uncertainty and saw 10x growth in finances and fulfillment.

“That was the most intense two months of my life!”

I wrote this in my journal after finishing the first draft of my fiction novel.

All my life, I’d always wanted to be a writer. But until now, I’d only written short articles and stories all over the internet. When I dedicated myself to finishing my first novel in a set timeframe, I didn’t know the process would be so challenging. I went to bed crying on several nights because I thought I’d never be able to fix the plot holes and complete writing it.

But I persisted, and in April 2020, I finished the first draft of my magnum opus — the product of my sweat and tears.

At 87,548 words, I knew the manuscript was terrible. I’d poured my heart and soul into it, but it would require at least ten rounds of editing before I could send it to a publisher.

But finishing the novel helped me realize that nothing in the world makes me feel as alive as writing.

A screenshot of the story I’d put up on my Instagram profile to celebrate the completion of the first draft. I think my excitement at completing it is apparent in the picture! (Image: author).

This was the time when the pandemic-induced lockdown in India had run into its second month. The extra “holidays” gave me a much-needed break from the hustle of my day job. I used that time to write, and in two months, my first draft was ready.

The process was so fulfilling that I immediately knew if I had to do only this for the rest of my life, I would be grateful.

These two months also made me realize that it’s been ages since I last felt this good while working on anything.

The life I always wanted

I started my job in 2016 as an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at one of India’s top-most colleges. Since then, I’d been working non-stop for four years. With my teaching job and my part-time Ph.D., I barely had time to devote to my lifelong dream of being a writer. I did manage to slip in a few hours on the weekends, but it was impossible to get into the flow state while only working on something for four hours a week.

Thanks to my manuscript, I knew my love for writing was a huge part of my identity.

The realization that hit me like walking into a glass door that had always been there, only I hadn’t seen it all these years.

I knew writing made me happy, but I told myself it was just something to do on the side and a job was more important. I’d been in denial of my true self, only living a half-life, because that’s what I believed the world demanded of me.

After my manuscript was complete, I knew I had to quit my job.

I loved engineering, but it didn’t spark curiosity in my soul like writing did. Initially, I’d loved interacting with a classroom full of students, but online classes during the pandemic killed my passion for it. My job no longer made me want to wake up each morning with excitement. It didn’t fill my soul with unquenchable fire. It no longer made me feel like there’s nothing in the world I can’t do if I set my mind to it.

Sure, if I continued working, I’d still have the perfect life on paper, but it would be a life where I spent all year looking forward to the summer vacations.

I’d have quit my job immediately, but the financial aspect was a major obstacle.

Writing didn’t pay, not just then. But I had to figure out a way to make it happen. I knew the money won’t come immediately. But I had some savings. I was prepared to let go of my job and struggle for a few years — if that’s what it took for me to become a full-time writer.

I’d been in denial of my true self, only living a half-life, because that’s what I believed the world demanded of me.

Making it work despite obstacles

Turns out, my silver lining was just around the corner.

Paulo Coelho once wrote,

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” — The Alchemist

I wanted to become a full-time writer with every fiber in my being. Maybe that’s why the stars aligned in my favor, and in May 2020, I made my first $100 by writing online.

In Indian currency, $100 is a huge deal. It’s about one-fifth of the salary from my day job.

This was the first time my fantasy of being a writer took on a fiercer shape. I was on a break from my novel as I wanted to wait for at least two months before I started editing it. I spent these two months going all-in on my online writing gigs.

I wrote one story every day, and soon, my $100 turned to $500, and in September 2020, I made my first $1000 by writing online.

This was huge, almost twice the salary of my day job, and I was over the moon. I’d found my passion and I built a way to turn it into a sustainable income source.

I was ready to live the life of my dreams.

How my middle-class mindset got in the way

It took me nine more months to finally hand in my letter of resignation.

The delay happened because of how I’d been conditioned all my life.

To be born into a middle-class family in India is to have the scarcity mindset drilled into you. And it’s not just hearsay because India has a population of 1.34 billion living in an area of 3.287 million square kilometers. To give you some perspective, that’s about 4 times the population of the United States living in less than one-third the area. The opportunities we have are limited, and in India, government jobs are considered to be more sacred than marriages. You can get divorced, but you’d have to be crazy to give up a government job.

In such a scenario, you can imagine how hard it would be for someone, especially a woman, to secure a government job.

When I got the offer letter in 2016, my family threw a party for everyone close to us. There were tears of happiness in my mother’s eyes, and my dad couldn’t stop telling me how proud he was.

That’s why, when I first told my parents I want to quit my job and pursue my passion, it was as if I’d dropped a bombshell.

My dad said, “This will be the biggest mistake of your life.”

I talked to him for over two hours that day, going back and forth, dismantling every small doubt he had. His biggest concern was if my new career failed, how would I find another job in the middle of a pandemic? I told him I was willing to go all in to make sure I didn’t end up broke. In the end, he wasn’t fully convinced, but he chose to trust me.

My mother got a little emotional. “You are 28 years old but are still acting like an impulsive child. If you quit now, this will be the mistake of a girl. But three years later when you look back, that will be the regret of a woman.”

Tough words. They almost made me want to rush back into the comfort of my “secure” job. But I knew the life I wanted didn’t coincide with what I currently had. I persisted, telling her how important it was for me to give my dreams at least one chance.

My mother started crying and reminded me how hard I’d worked to get my current job and how I’d dedicated ten years of my life to civil engineering. Would I really quit it so easily?

It wasn’t easy, I told her. It was the hardest decision of my life, but I needed to do it because there was no other way I knew I could live.

It took me several months to finally get my parents on board, but when they did, I felt as if half the battle was won.

I knew the life ahead would be filled with uncertainties, but at least I won’t have to pretend to be happy when I’m not. With this conviction, I handed in my letter of resignation on June 7th, 2021.

In India, government jobs are considered to be more sacred than marriages. You can get divorced, but you’d have to be crazy to give up a government job.

The first few weeks weren’t easy

I thought being self-employed would mean I’d have a lot of freedom. But the first few days saw me working so hard, I almost burned out after a month.

I followed a punishing routine, writing thousands of words every day, always looking to expand my income streams, frantically searching for new gigs. I refused to take breaks or spend time with my family.

Every extra hour I spent writing would mean some extra dollars. Every moment I rested felt like I was cheating on my dreams.

The term “work-life balance” lost meaning. I no longer spent all week waiting for the weekend, because now, my weekdays and weekends blurred into each other. When my friends said they were partying on Friday night, I wondered about what other income source I could add.

This went on for about a month until I realized I could no longer go on at this pace. I needed a break, and I needed it immediately.

And so, for about ten days, I didn’t work. It was a relaxing break that helped me wind down and get my priorities straight. I thought I’d resume on the eleventh day, but I was so used to chilling, I couldn’t bring myself to write.

If the first month was about hustling until the point of breaking down, the second month was another extreme. I worked so little, I actually feared my freelance client might fire me.

Thankfully, things didn’t deteriorate to that extent, and soon, I was able to find my way back to my love for writing. I started small, only aiming for 500 words a day. This slowly increased to 750, and before long, I could write 1500 words in a day without feeling overwhelmed.

Things were slowly getting back on track.

If the first month was about hustling until the point of breaking down, the second month was another extreme.

Finally finding the balance

As I slipped back into my familiar routine, I set some very strict rules for myself. The problem earlier was that I was trying to maximize my profits with every action I took. Understanding that my goal is to love what I do and not make as much money as I can helped calm this fire down.

Now, I’ve set strict rules for myself that almost mimic the life I had at my old nine-to-five:

  • No writing after 9 PM. The night is for dinner and relaxing.
  • No working on weekends. That time of the week is for family and friends.
  • No taking work calls after dinner. This was especially hard because most of my clients live in the US, and 9 PM my time is the early afternoon for them. But I’m lucky to have clients who respected my boundaries and agreed to hold meetings at times that accommodated my rules.

I’m about two months into my life as a self-employed person, and I feel I’ve finally found the balance. Financially, I’ve never felt more secure, despite the uncertainty. Even in my worst month, I made 10x the salary of my day job.

I know my journey has just begun and there will be a lot of highs and lows ahead. But I’m willing to stick it out and see how life plays out.

All my life, I had a safety net to fall back upon. This is the first time in my life I’m on my own.

It’s incredibly exciting and terribly scary. But it’s only the beginning and I’m so stoked to see what new challenges and surprises life has in store for me next.

If it’s a choice between being happy and pretending to be happy, there’s no way I’d choose the latter.

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