Friday, September 18, 2009

What's an Introvert

…like you, doing in a field like this?

Good question. One that I got asked a lot. Of all the unlikely career choices, this was a big mistake, or so I was beginning to think.

Let some alternative titles I contemplated for this post serve as a warning in advance:

If Only I’d Known

While We're Dreaming


Your Grass is SO much Greener

Everyone knows what an introvert is like. That would be my safe 'weakness' to list in a job app. So I've forced myself to cut you a break and delete a whole paragraph I just wrote on the subject.

Let me assure you - this is not a long whine about all the circumstances which led me to where I was. I've enjoyed my life. I totally get the fact that life does not run on some path that you imagined or romanticized in your teens. I never knew what career I was meant for and I probably still don't. I just went along. I still do. I'd better stop before this turns into a Dr. Seuss story.

I was quite happily settled into the routine, and more importantly, happy with what I was making. I liked what it did to my seriously introverted personality too.
Nowadays, I languish somewhere in between the two extremes, but occasionally drift back to the Completely Introvert end of the scale. But off late, anyone I'd met or spoken with, who'd had the guts to start off doing something considered unlikely to survive at, was spectacularly better off for doing it.

Should I have taken the road less trampled? You bet.

I still remember the conversation that made me lose faith in the advice I'd come across so far. It was a rude awakening to how clueless we were.

The day had started with a news story about how roadside beggars in Mumbai, using ingenious methods were making more actual cash than, say, certain employed folks per day. Though it was sensationalized and glossed over the trials of the homeless, it was irksome to know I was making less per hour than the guy whose palm I'd dropped a buck into this morning.

On this day, my desk phone rang - a bright ex-batchmate. We'd all hung out together. We were all getting caught up in long hours and consequently keeping in touch less frequently than before.

Have cut out the preliminaries we chatted about - largely about a new cocktail he'd mixed which I simply had to taste and his coolest new pair of shoes.

College Batchmate (CB) : "So hey, am thinking of quitting..."

Me : "And go where? You're in such a fabulous job already"

CB : "Actually, I'm planning to join ##TV."

Me : "Really? Do they have much going on for Finance grads like you?"

CB: "Are you kidding me??"

CB (lowering his voice) : "That's what I wondered at first too. But this is the most amazing thing I've discovered."

Me (mystified and because it's catching, whispering): "What?? Go on"

CB : "This group, has something called a media sales team."

Me (finally in a position to display some competitive superiority) : "Yeah, I know all about that. We get them all the time, nearly half a dozen channels all day. But aren’t those marketing/ sales folks? Are you Switching Fields??"

Though I tried not to, my tone implied this was a sin that ranked higher than Moses' top 10. I was slightly prissy about such things*.

* Back then.

CB : No, no. They sell media spots…

Me (interrupting**): "Hey trust me. I could write a thesis on the subject. Have had the benefit of being involved in media planning for nearly five clients at the mo. We've had the top few agencies here - I know how it all works with them."

** I do that a lot. Sometimes when you call, I'll carry on the whole conversation myself if you're not careful.

CB : "Cool. So you know about the commission, right?"

Me (even more mystified) : "Commission?"

CB : "Yeah, the media sales guys get commission.."

Me : "Wait, but the real work's all done by the media planners."

CB : "Really? But listen to this. At ## TV, you get the commission on whatever deals you freeze with media planners."

I felt I'd been sucker punched in the small of my tum and lost my breath, momentarily.

Me : "But these plans are worth crores for a year. Spends on one channel run in to lakhs for just one account!"

CB : "Exactly!"

I was about to throw up at this point, I felt so sick.

How come I didn't know this? I would have taken up working in Finance for a TV channel. Was this true? Or an urban legend, a myth sent out to lure bright stars like my friend here? Why couldn’t college equip us for this kind of knowledge?

CB : "Which is why am mostly taking this up - just waiting for another place's offer before I decide."

Me : "That is so good! Congrats!"

And I meant it. It's an instant mood lifter to hear of something good in anyone's life. It's our way of assuring ourselves that good things happen to good people. Maybe that's why the Chicken soup series are so popular. I may be wrong though, I haven't read any myself.

The day moved along in a slow crawl. I got this uneasy feeling I was working in the kind of place from which you could check out but never leave, when my cousin called.

Have cut out the preliminaries we chatted about - largely about designer unmentionables she'd splurged on and her coolest new pair of shoes.

Cuz : "So hey girl, come over, spend the weekend at my place."

Her place was this sprawling company acco in Breach Candy - always a pleasure.

Me : "Tempting! Let’s try catch the late night show too. And a much lighter dinner this time."

Post window shopping, we tended to eat out like we'd been starving all week.

Cuz : "I've just had the heaviest lunch ever at Lings, so don't worry about that. I'm still so full."

Me : "How come? Celebrating something?"

Cuz : "For an ex colleague - do you remember him? From my housewarming? He'd called us to celebrate his new job."

Me : "Nice. Everyone seems to be job hopping these days".

Cuz : "Yes...and he's moving to his penthouse soon. Can't wait for the parties there!"

Me : "Really? Penthouse? What kind of job gets you one?" 

Cuz : "Well, he's an investment banker, y'know. Packages are hitting the roof for them - given what's happening."

She meant economically.

I couldn’t quite picture the man I’d met as a successful investment banker. I mean, he was not THAT much different from me. To me***, investment bankers ranked somewhere up there with fighter plane pilots. The Tom Cruise in Top Gun kind.

*** Back then. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Me : "I've always wanted to know this, just how do companies afford investment bankers' salaries?"

Cuz : "Didn't you know? They get paid on every merger/ acquisition they work on."

Me (still not getting it) : "Sure, but why is it in crores? I mean, how come it's so stark a difference?"

Cuz : "It is a very high profile line of work and extremely high anxiety too, burn out rates are really high, a lot of them need counselling. I have a friend who apparently used to talk in his sleep, he was that stressed - but the incentive is, they get a percentage on the total amount of the deal for the acquisition."

Cuz : "Helloo…? You there?"

I was experiencing nausea once again.

Maybe this is fancy - but I swear I'd have studied harder had I known it was possible to earn in crores working a job! I could've conned my way somehow through one such deal and then joined something a little less stressful.

It made me think of what I could've or would've been if only I’d known better, or to be more honest, if I’d had the guts.

Or taken more interest. Or, to be fair, had the opportunity. Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.

I seemed to have spent that entire week talking to people who were earning a comfortable living doing what they enjoyed and who were probably laughed down in their time for doing it. But this very same fact made worklife tolerable.

Sitting in my cramped space, I allowed myself a two-minute daydream of visualizing something wondrous I could've been doing work wise, if only I'd thought of it then.

I could see it all - with a backdrop of fruit laden green trees, fresh air, azure water, crisp blue sky, chirping birds and happy sunlight. Utopia for the employed.

To pen it all down, here's my list, which seems to grow longer each time I look at it.

If I hear you laugh, we're through.

An Indian classical dancer

An archaeologist

An anthropologist

A singer (you never know)

An Indian classical musician (you really never know)

An artist


Teacher (Preferably kindergarten or primary school)

College lecturer

A manager of museums (I don't know where that's coming from)

A book store owner

Gym aerobics instructor (where you get paid to conduct aerobics and end up with a fantastically toned body yourself on account of all that exercise)


A photographer (Ideally, following a conservationist)

At an embassy (Everyone says the perks are great)

Travelling show host (Or heck, more realistically, the camera asst., or equipment incharge or bag carrier or anything that gets me to go with them.)

The job of the desk guy overlooking boat trips at a holiday resort on Lake Vembanad in Kerala. (Am serious. You should see the view he's got.)

Exotic holiday home manager (In the wilderness, or any beautiful locale like Goa).

Wait. Any job in Goa.

Okay, this was fun.

Do you have a list?


Beta said...

A farmhouse (near the hills) owner with all the latest in equipments. Would love to operate those massive machines.

Annoymously said...

That's a pleasant image.

Pegasus said...

Once again...nice article with refreshing thoughts.... obviously made me ..still thinking....used to have a long list but lately the vision of the jobs on that list is fading away (hopefully its not the energy or the drive to get there is not losing ground) but its mainly bcos the thought been there done that...and for some reason I have started to believe that too much planning doesnt lead me to where I want to go....going with the flow has actually worked for me (with some work to get over the roadblocks)
- would be nice to live & work on Wall Street or
- on facing the water and flying into work on a private plane

Annoymously said...

I know what you mean..

Still, methinks you're in a good place with your killer Detroit dream job which most guys would kill for. It's also about enjoying the ride, which i can tell you are - esp with the li'l one along. :)

And you're not too far away from that private plane, pegasus!

Beta said...

What is this? An undeclared sabbatical?

Annoymously said...

Of sorts. A few books came in the way too, including dan brown's latest