Opting Out of the Rat Race
When you’re in “the machine,” just functioning as a human being can become difficult. You may be putting 16 hours a day into work that you’re not enjoying, or feel that you’re just another cog in the wheel. You don’t feel a sense of focussed, productive output. We’re wired to seek fulfillment and meaning in our work beyond just earning a paycheck every month.
Artists talk a great deal about the importance of inspiration, or the muse. While inspiration has more of a platform or pedestal for artists, the concept applies to any type of job. Inspiration is what fuels the drive and motivation for you to get out of bed and get things done. There’s a widespread misconception that inspiration will strike if you’re poised in front of a window that faces the open seas. My view is that if you haven’t worked on yourself and ideated in your own field, external factors won’t move the needle the way you’d expect. Your drive has to come from within.
When you feel that your inner well is running dry and needs to be replenished, you should consider taking a break from your job.
However, not everyone has the luxury of deciding when they want to take a break. Sometimes, breaks can happen without us planning for them. People may be forced to take a break because of their health or if they’re in a comatose professional state due to death or family circumstances. In whatever way life presents you with this spell, you can always run with it and try to use this time to recalibrate, learn and grow.
Dealing With Guilt
Of course, taking a break comes with its own set of challenges. It can certainly feel damaging to your career to take a break, especially when things outwardly appear to be completely fine. When you’re in a good position, taking a break can come across as not valuing the wonderful opportunity you have. There’s the notion that you’re not grateful for a job that many people would love to have.
I used my break to speak about mental health, the importance of having a personal life, and finding balance in my work. The backlash to that came from people who criticised me for “living under a rock.” However, all of the artists I’ve looked up to have reinvented themselves by bravely taking a step back from full, busy careers. To reinvent and change, you need to give yourself the time and awareness for growth. It won’t happen with a snap of your fingers.
When you take a step away from your job, you will also gain perspective about the people in your life. How do people perceive you if you’re not adding value to their lives on a daily basis? In withdrawing from your career, you might be confronted with the reality that the people you thought you could rely on are not by your side. I’ve been blessed to have my manager in India who has been very supportive of my decision to take a break. She understood why it was important to me, and helped me visualise what challenges I would face in taking this break. Find that person in your life who will brainstorm with you, reflect your strengths and weaknesses back to you, and tell you the honest truths that will keep you grounded.
Assessing Your Risks
Before you take your break, you will need to account for the factors in your life that would be most affected by your decision. Making sure you have a comfortable financial buffer is obviously an important consideration you should plan for. No jump is made without a cord or a net. You can’t jump off a cliff without some sort of safety measures in place. You might be dangling off the cord for some time, but at least you know you’re safe.
You should also ask yourself what variables matter to you. We are all slaves to manyvariables, whether we like it or not. This could be our families, partners, children, friends, or even what society thinks of us. These are parameters that ultimately influence the personal decisions we make in our daily lives.
What are your limiting variables? Make a list of these, and then prioritise them. Then, strategically decide which of these variables you’re okay with letting go of, at the cost of damage, and which variables you will continue to hold on to as you decide your next steps. For example, you could decide that you will need to continue to support your partner during your break, but choose to let go of what your friends might think of you.
Know that while you may need emotional support from your loved ones during this time, they might not always be there when and how you expect them to be. And know that this is completely fine. When I took a break, it was to heal myself and address my struggles with mental health.
I knew that I couldn’t simply unload on my friends and family. I worked through my challenges in therapy, which was incredibly empowering. It makes an enormous difference to talk to a trained professional who is capable of suitably guiding you in the right direction. While therapy may not be for everyone, I know many people don’t access this resource because of the stigma attached to it. If that’s the case, please put your concerns aside and do it for yourself.
Disconnecting With Purpose
I had the feeling of wanting to step off the treadmill for a long time. I dealt with a variety of fears that kept me locked into my job, yet I knew that I wasn’t being the kind of artist that I had envisioned I would be. I had financial reasons for wanting to keep going. I wasn’t making healthy decisions, and these habits were inhibiting my growth. During this time, I carried a lot of internal distress.
As a teenager, I lived with certain things I wasn’t able to explain. Then I watched ‘As Good As It Gets’, in which Jack Nicholson has OCD, and could immediately relate to the character he played. I had small patterns or routines that would soothe me. My family isn’t very religious, yet I put my sense of higher power into rituals, which is helpful for someone who takes solace in repetitive, compulsive patterns. I went years without understanding what I was dealing with, which was extreme anxiety and stress to a point that it was debilitating me.
In my career, I was surrounded by young actors who I thought were much more capable than I was, and they didn’t seem to struggle with these problems. I was ashamed of myself for not having their productivity or their ability to understand their environment. As a result, I often would berate myself harshly for not being up to the mark in this highly competitive profession.
However, all my mind was trying to tell me was that I couldn’t cope with the pressure. It’s like trying to run every day with a damaged knee. If you push beyond a certain point, your knee is bound to give way. Similarly, my brain reached a point where I simply couldn’t cope anymore. I was putting my own health at risk by not addressing these issues. That’s when I decided to take the break my mind desperately needed.
When I decided to take a break, I was in the middle of filming a movie. You know that feeling of anticipation you have on a Thursday, leading up to a vacation you’ve planned on Saturday? I dealt with similar feelings. I had to power through and finish my work with as much good intention I could muster, making a conscious effort to give it my all. So once you’ve decided to take a break, resist the temptation to just drop off the grid. Make sure you’ve done justice to all your existing commitments before you gracefully bow out. This way, nobody will be able to accuse you of being unprofessional or unreliable and you won’t be dwelling on any guilt when you’re taking your break.
Coping With the Backlash
In my experience, you deal with more of a backlash when you decide to return to your career after your break. You will be faced with this attitude of “guess what, there’s a new car with a better engine and a fresh coat of paint.” Everyone faces this, regardless of your age, the kind of industry you’re in, or how much experience you have.
The world moves in cycles. When you opt out of the paradigm for a while, you will find it difficult to jump onto the next cycle because your equation with it changes. However, stay grounded in what you have to offer, and be assured that you will catch up in your own time. Value the quality of your work over quantity, and try to be as productive as you can be. The rest will all fall into place with time.
You cannot control how people perceive you. How many times have you worked hard and performed excellently, but nobody has given you the appreciation you deserve? What about when you’ve spent hours working in the wrong direction because nobody could be bothered to tell you that you’re making a mistake? You might also be receiving a lot of applause, but are feeling empty on the inside. Ultimately, it’s about being self-aware and caring for yourself first. Worry less about what people are saying about you, but take on the opinions that you believe will help you grow.
For me, my break led me to change directions in my career. I took on singing and writing, and found myself in a new industry that came with its own set of challenges. People thought I was crazy, and doing random things. However, my pursuits were far from random. Even if I ended up failing, I knew that what I was learning would eventually contribute to my growth as a human being.
Human beings have a purpose that’s much greater than staying in the rat race. If you stop to look at the big picture, you’ll realise that all of your experiences are leading up to a greater understanding. Somewhere down the line, the dots will connect: a so-called random experience today might help you save 80% of your effort professionally in the future.
Shake Things Up
All of us work in high stress environments today, which can make you question your ability to deal with life. The reality may simply be that you haven’t made the time to find mechanisms to help you cope with the stress in your environment.
When I got into therapy, and committed to a life of sobriety, I stopped relying on the crutches I had used to avoid the issues that were challenging me. As you plan your break, take stock of your life and make a note of external factors that you may be relying heavily on to function in your life. This could be your morning cup of coffee without which you simply lose the motivation to work.
During your break, wean yourself off these crutches. Try to figure out why you’re relying on them in the first place, and pare it down to the core issue. Once you’ve done that, build positive habits and patterns to remove your dependency on these external factors. You could consider working with a trained professional who can guide you based on your unique issues. In any case, you have to figure out your patterns and change them consciously while you’re on your break.
Sometimes, however, the crutches we lean on are people. If you surround yourself with people who aren’t on the same frequency as you are, it can be difficult to make changes in your life. For example, if you’re taking a break from your job, you might find it counterproductive to hang out with your friends who always talk about the stock market. That’s not to say that you don’t love and appreciate those people. You should just make sure that the people you’re with are reflecting the changes you want to make in your life during your break.
So when you go on your break, remove yourself from the bubble you’re in. Expose yourself to new people and different ways of thinking. Start experiencing, connecting, and thinking laterally. Even physically removing yourself from a familiar environment can be incredibly powerful. If that’s an option available to you, why not spend some time in a new place?
London is one of my favourite cities, somewhere I can walk the streets largely without being recognised. I found that I could cut out the chaos and make space for what truly brought me joy. I took pleasure in taking care of myself and my home, the weather, the normalcy of life that I’m not privy to in India. With this in place, I became well enough to rediscover myself as an artist.
I also made the decision to distance myself from my closest friends during my break. Of course, we kept in touch, but I maintained a healthy distance to make sure I was committing to the change I wanted in my life. Luckily, my friends were all on board and very encouraging of my decision.
When you take a break, make sure you’ve shared your thought process with the people who matter to you. It’s up to you to set the tone: that you still value their presence in your life, but that this is your personal journey of self-discovery and reinvention. Explain to them why it is important to you, and even consider setting boundaries if needed.
The reality is that with change, you stand the risk of losing people. Negative people can be a huge impediment to your growth as a person. These people don’t appear in your life dressed insidiously in black cloaks. They’re the people in your life who are living lives that are at odds with your own values or beliefs. With such people, you can love what they have meant to you, but compassionately choose to let them go.
Returning With Grace
Giving yourself a rough idea of how much time you want to take to realign will help you plan accordingly. For me, on paper I wanted to take 6-7 months off, but my break ended up lasting for over a year and a half. That’s how much time I needed to commit to sobriety, to reacquaint with myself, to create the kind of art that fulfilled me, to write music again.
It is important, however, to give yourself an end date. After that time, you should go back and look at the list of reasons why you wanted to take a break in the first place. Have you addressed the causes of your stress or discontentment? Do you feel reinvigorated about your work? Have you gained fresh perspectives? Have you achieved what you set out to do? If not, go back and look at what you might need to do differently.
When you return from your break, don’t be surprised to find that life has moved on without you. It can be a very humbling experience, but one that gives you clarity into what your contributions are. Moving away from the cycle of work will help you realise the unique ways in which you can add value to what and how things are being done. When you step back into the flow of life, bring your new perspectives and renewed belief in your abilities with you. In addition to that, you’ll hopefully be exuding a vibe of calm confidence thanks to taking time off.
Of course, you will have to be careful about not falling slave to patterns that were harming you to begin with. Don’t say yes to a project if you know you won’t be able to give it your best. Be very conscious of not comparing yourself to others. If you start down that path, where do you really stop? You will never be satisfied.
Missing out should make you realise what you have. Hold on to the positive changes and stick with the program. Give your mind the kind of attention you would give to your other health conditions, such as your high cholesterol or a hurt shoulder. If something feels wrong, address it immediately instead of powering through.
At the end of your break, you will have the opportunity to pivot and approach your life and work with renewed vigour. Make sure you’re giving yourself the tools you need to create the calibre of work you’re proud of.
Steps to Take in 24 Hours
- Identify Your Limiting Variables
What are the factors that influence your daily decision-making processes? These could be your family, a partner, or your image. Which of your variables are you willing to let go of as you take your break?
- Set Actionable Goals
Write down a list of goals you want to achieve by taking a break from your career. Once you have that, make sure you equip yourself with the tools in place to help you achieve those goals.
- Adapt Along the Way
Check in with your goals periodically. Are you settling into your old patterns while you’re taking a break? If so, make yourself aware of what you’re doing and find ways to implement change.