Why I Quit My Corporate Job?

Quitting my corporate job is the most important decision I have taken so far. People I know have often been curious to find out the reasons behind this decision. I have always had my answers but today, 4 years later, I am in a better position to analyse the past events and arrive at a better explanation for this question.

If we go back in history and analyse any major event, we will first find an immediate cause, but an in-depth study would tell us that there are also, several underlying causes for this effect. The immediate cause is therefore just a trigger that sets off the underlying tension to explode. 


Most of those who know me closely are aware that the mugging incident that happened during a trek in 2018, was what provoked me to scrutinise my life’s choices and take necessary actions. However, this event, was just a trigger and cannot be considered as a cause itself. Because, the thought of quitting corporate had always existed in me. In fact, it existed even before I joined the corporate world. It only grew stronger as time went by and thanks to the incident, these thoughts transformed into actions. 


This article is my journey to explore those causes which, in the course of time, led me to where I am today. So, here I begin - 

 

A Vision


Most adolescents in the 90’s wanted to become engineers. What I know now, but did not back then, is that this is a direct result of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation of India in the early 90’s. I was therefore, without my knowledge, destined to be an engineer. But even as I was studying engineering, I knew very well that this was not a profession I wanted to remain in, for all my life. But like anything I do, I gave it my best and secured good grades. Although, I always knew that this career was only a means to earn a living and not to develop a passion for. So then, what is it that I wanted to do in life?


As a teenager, while I was watching a travel show on the Discovery channel, the idea of traveling solo and discovering new cultures appealed to me. The idea was so fascinating that during my regular long walks, I made plans for my future. I remember deciding back then that I would work as an engineer for a few years, just as my family and the society demanded. Once, I had accumulated enough wealth, I would begin traveling around the world. It is interesting to note that though this thought remained in my subconscious mind and I continued to work towards it, I had completely forgotten about it. It was my cousin who recently reminded me of how I had shared this thought with her back then. 


So, from the very beginning, I was very clear that I did not want to work forever. Who wants to willingly work anyways? But once caught in the web of responsibilities and fulfilment of endless desires, one is forced to remain in a profession. I however began to make plans to retire early. 

 

Eagerness to Flourish


There is so much more to me than my professional title. I am interested in painting, traveling, gardening, writing, reading, movie-making, learning languages and many more such creative processes. A common misconception that many have is that a profession can cater to all their talents. A simple profession cannot do justice to your much wider personality, as it has its own limits. Your personality is beyond a few acquired skills that are targeted to perform specific tasks. If you want to develop an interesting character, you have to look beyond your work environment. 


I realised very early in my life that; profession is just a part of my life. It is not my entire life. I work to earn a living. All organisations in this world have one motive - To make money. There is nothing wrong if an employee thinks the same. Yet, we are fed with all kinds of rubbish like passion, dedication, challenge, career, ambition, excellence, extra efforts etc. It is important to do your work diligently and effectively; that’s about it. But unfortunately, especially in India, people tend to spend all day at office, thinking they owe it to the employer. Perhaps they expect some kind of a reward, recognition or fame through their work. 


After you have retired, people will not remember you as a manager or a director or how well you had performed a job, but they will remember you for how good a person you were. It is your personality that shall remain with them and that isn’t formed by simply clocking in and out of office. You have to find means to develop it outside. 


Though I never worked on weekends, I felt that I did not have enough time for all my passions, which I have refused to turn into a profession. I want to reserve them for myself and not commercialise them. Moreover, these desires are of today and not of a distant future. At the age of 60, I might not even want to do most of these things. Therefore, it was evident that what I wanted, was more Time and, not more money. 

 

Monotony 


No matter what profession you are in, you will get tired of the repeated process that you are involved in. There will be days when you wake up and say - I don’t want to go to the work today! And this applies to all kinds of job that exists in today’s world, including teaching. If anyone thinks otherwise, I am certain that they are lying.


I have had an interesting career as a Mechanical engineer. I was part of 6 new product developments; 3 of which I have led. But then, how long will you keep doing the same thing? 17 years is a long time. You might get different posts in the company or you might change companies, but essentially, you are doing the same thing - Working for someone else.


As you age, your youthful energy has been replaced either by hunger for power or indifference towards the system. I struggled to maintain the energy level, as the fight for power did not interest me. But how long could I go on like this? If not today, someday the monotony would catch up to me. By switching roles or companies, you are simply delaying it, but certainly not avoiding it. Worn out faces around me were living testimonies of this fact. I did not want to end-up like them. While, I wondered how life could be different, a newspaper article came to my rescue.   


Long time ago, in a newspaper, I had read about an old lady from England who had changed her profession multiple times. She believed that there was so much she could do in a lifetime, rather than being stuck in one profession. To support that idea, I met people who had done something similar. A colleague of mine in the US had quit Engineering and pursued a medical course, to become a doctor. My friend’s dad had turned a civil lawyer after retiring as a government official. 


This idea appealed to me and I secretly longed for such radical career changes. This I thought was the only way to deal with the inescapable monotony involved in a profession.

 

Hypocrisy of the corporate world


I will never deny that the corporate ethics and confidence level that I have acquired on my previous job continues to be my strength in the new roles I have taken up. I do owe a lot to my corporate experience and I am glad to have had it during the right time of my life. The experience has also contributed greatly to my personality development. However, I am also an open critic of the corporate world. 


Citizens are indirectly forced to be part of this capitalist economy and the world of consumerism. The Governments around the world facilitate it. When you sign a work contract, you agree to work for someone else. You are basically helping someone make money and gain a tiny fraction of it as a salary. In my case, I was working for an American company, under several levels of managers - both in India and in the US. Though as an employee in an organised sector, I do enjoy certain rights, I knew that it is heavily dependent on the company’s work culture and the immediate manager. At some point in my career, I stopped enjoying this thought of working for someone else. A lot of untold constraints begin to form as we sign a contract. Detaching from them becomes more and more difficult as time passes by.


Additionally, I never hesitated to criticise the hypocrisies that exist in the corporate world. In an earlier post - Corporate games, I have listed many phrases used in an office setup that hide an ulterior motive. Over the years, I saw how various managements demonstrated authority over the employees. I observed how the corporate world lures its employees into the game of deception. 


As you step higher in your career ladder, whether you like it or not, you are forced to echo the management’s voice. My struggle was always to find an honest way of communicating information and feedback to my subordinates, within my set boundaries. But honesty is highly underrated in the corporate world. In fact, honesty is detrimental to career growth. 


I also noticed that professional relationships are temporary. They have no future. Therefore, I made sure to build personal relationships with certain colleagues. I also noticed that relationships turn sour as we battle for higher posts. Conflicts often arise among peers. If we are able to clearly distinguish between our personal and professional relationships it may be easy to handle it but does everyone have that maturity? In this corporate battle, friends can easily turn against one another. One does not realise that higher positions in a company are nothing but a trap.


With a new role, comes more responsibilities, with more responsibilities comes more money, more stress and higher status, and the higher status demands more comfort and luxury. There is no end to this greed that corporate hierarchy creates in its employees. This status is not worth all that effort. I simply could not let myself turn into something I wasn’t or did not want to be. 


The Conflicts


6 months before I decided to quit, I was moved to a new role in the organisation. This change came into effect because, a Senior manager was relocating to the US. The management, along with him made plans to transfer his duties. His responsibilities were split between a few people and I was asked to lead the mechanical division for a certain product line. This also meant that I had to now become a manager to two of my good friends. Additionally, along with my new role, I was asked to dedicate half of my time to another role - Systems engineering. The Bangalore office had no prior experience in this field.  All this had to be done, while I stayed in my current grade, without a promotion. Which was funny and unheard of because, I was leading two of my peers who were in the same grade as mine. The leadership told me that they would observe me in this new role. That was absurd because, it was based on my previous performance and 16 years of experience that they had entrusted me with such a position, in the first place. 


Moreover, the decision was taken without any consultation with me. No attempt was made to know what were my aspirations. My recommendations fell to deaf ears and I was asked to accept the changes as it were. Communication was pathetic and sometimes misguiding. I disliked this attitude from the very beginning. When a management shows arrogance that its employees are simply pawns that can be moved around, then there is a problem. However, I decided to give it a shot and see how things would turn out. 


In the next six months that followed, I worked with my team to ameliorate the condition and develop an amicable relationship with my peers-turned-subordinates. I also developed a good relationship with my counterparts in the US and Mexico. However, not everything was going in the right direction. 


I had realised by then that my new manager was inexperienced in this new setup. Not only did he lack experience handling a Mechanical team, he did not resolve any conflict with an expected rigour. I had a feeling that he too was forced to take up this new role that is beyond his competency. I had to override him to resolve conflicts and pull in his boss for all important discussions. In most of those meetings, I found him defenceless. I must also admit that as a reaction to what had happened, I had turned rebellious. I left no chance to display my discontent.


Heading a new product line was perfectly okay with me but venturing into systems engineering wasn’t something I was very keen on. I had my doubts and rightly so, because at this stage of my career, I could not take un-calculated risks. I discussed all my concerns with the leadership and they clearly had no answers to my questions. They lacked a vision for this role and instead, expected me to define it myself. This was funny, because, they had forced upon me a decision and now they wanted me to figure out what to do with it. I had realised by then that assigning two different roles to one person was a stupid decision. My repeated meetings and expression of discontent did not trigger any alarm in the management. They perhaps thought, that like every other time, I would simply accept this malarkey. This time, they were surely wrong. Such arrogance, if exists, has to be shown its true place. 


One has to understand that the authority that the management has over its employees is only bound by a contract that has been signed. The contract, is just a piece of paper and it can be rejected at any time; thus ripping away those privileges from them. An organisation can easily replace a skillset, but what they can never replace, is a personality. Therefore, employee engagements are greatly valued in  the corporate world. 


However, let the reader note that my issues with the management are not the only reason that led to this decision. If it were, then I could have switched companies. Additionally, I am experienced in handling such conflicts. But, this time, all the above listed thoughts were resurfacing. Quitting this company and joining another did not make sense anymore as no matter where one goes, one will face such conflicts and one will end up wasting a lot of energy solving them. For me, this conflict  turned out to be the final straw. 

 

A Feedback


Five days before this decision was made, I received a year end feedback from a director in the US. I had closely worked with him in my previous role.  My new manager was hesitant to share this feedback with me. I had to remind him twice before it finally reached me. That feedback helped me put myself together when I was lost in the world of uninformed and misguiding opinions. 


The director had written a page long email, in which he had narrated in great detail, the stages of a study project that I had taken up. While on the other hand, my ex-manager had dismissed this work as ineffective. (I had to send him this email and tell him that people thought otherwise). I must say that I had never received such detailed feedback in my life. The director thus ends his long commentary on my work - 


What impresses me most about this is that there were a number of reasons to have never initiated the project, and likewise there were just as many reasons not to finish it. However, Ajeya took on the challenge, saw the value, and persisted to produce meaningful deliverables…. I really feel Ajeya showed strong leadership to get it to the point of transition. This is the general perception I have of Ajeya … He doesn’t back away from something because it is difficult…”


What this feedback did to me is that it helped me identify my strengths as an individual. Sometimes, others who have observed us closely help us identify our merits and weaknesses. I remember a colleague of mine once telling me something similar – “I like how you take up something new and seamlessly work towards exceling in it.”  He was referring to my numerous hobbies. 


Positive feedbacks can thus do wonders and, in this case, it gave me the confidence to go ahead with my plan, that had gained momentum post the mugging incident. I had overcome my stage of "la mauvaise foi".  


I therefore wanted to take control of my life. I knew I could start afresh and excel in it because this feedback had helped me take notice of an important quality in me. 

 

French 


Finally, I would not have dared to take this decision if not for the French Language. I began learning French, because, I wanted to spend my weekends productively. I decided to learn a language that would someday help me in my travels. But as I got involved with the learning process, I was greatly impressed by the French culture. These classes helped me develop a new perspective towards the world and life itself. It also introduced me to interesting people, from all walks of life. 


To not lose touch with the language, I tutored a few adolescents on weekends. The happiness I experienced when my students called to announce their results cannot be expressed through mere words. I immediately knew that teaching was something I wanted to pursue. 


When I could be around such children; pure in their emotions, not yet effected by the corrupt world of the adults, why should I surround myself with people filled with malice? By the time this decision was made, I was already confident in teaching the French Language. Moreover, a survey done at office confirmed this competency in me. 


Our office had once conducted a Gallup survey that identifies one’s top strengths. My topmost strength was “Developer”. This was around the time that I was leading a team and I had begun to realise how much I enjoyed it. I liked working for, and with my team members. Helping them achieve something gave me more joy than my own achievements. Conflicts there were but, the process of resolving them, seemed interesting. Therefore, thanks to the Gallup survey, I was able to recognise and give this quality in me, a terminology. 


Therefore, with all these thoughts in me, I was clear about ending my relationship with the corporate.  However, I wanted to be careful with whatever I planned to do next. 

 

What is a Profession?


Though I would prefer spending all my life doing what I like, without worrying about money, I know that I will have to earn a living to sustain myself in this modern economy. However, I surely did not want to repeat the mistakes from the past. That meant, I had to relook at my life and decide over a suitable nature of work. I had to therefore go back to the basic question- What is a profession? 


Oxford dictionary defines profession as - a type of job that needs special training or skill, especially one that needs a high level of education. And if we look at the definition of job, it means - work for which you receive regular payment


Hence, a profession is a paid work based on a specific skill you have acquired. As simple as that! Then why do we take it so seriously? Why do we attach words like - Passion, Status, Career, Fame, power etc to it? Why do we spend several hours at our workplace? 


With that part cleared, I knew that I had to look for a profession that not only interested me, but was also easy. Teaching gives me immense satisfaction, but I also agree that it is repetitive and easy, provided you know your subject well and can effectively communicate your thoughts to others. Additionally, this job has no retirement. I could teach the language as long as my brain functions decently. The job also involves more holidays and less tension. But most importantly, it involves interaction with youngsters who have higher energy levels than worn out men and women in cubicles. 


Today I can affirm that it is my interaction with my students that brings me immense joy. Otherwise, even schools today have begun to replicate corporate culture, in the name of best practices. But in that regard, I have an upper-hand. 


As I have chosen a niche area of expertise, I am currently in high demand. I can choose to work part time or simply earn from home. This profession also provides me the flexibility to relocate anywhere I want. Hence, the options I have today, are several. My passions and my personality can therefore thrive in such an environment. What more could I ask for? 

 


Therefore, these were my thoughts when I decided to bid farewell to the corporate world. On the 13th day of February 2018, as I woke up in the morning, I had an epiphany. Days of brooding had finally resulted in a conclusion - I was going to resign from my corporate job and pursue my masters in French, before beginning to teach the language. 


As there were visitors from the US, I had to wait till the 28th of February to turn in my papers. Those 2 weeks were the most blissful ones. In my mind, everyone had been stripped out of their assumed status. Their titles held no meaning to me anymore. Everything that was happening there, suddenly started to look utterly stupid, increasingly funny and terribly pointless. This world of illusion, I knew, I wasn’t going to miss even a bit!


Comments

  1. One of the incredible blog posts I read in a long long time. I could picture myself in your shoes many a times. Kudos for following what truly makes you happy.😍❤️

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  2. Great Article. I guess deep down , every tom dick and harry in the corporate world would want to quit and do something on their own , no matter how big or small. It requires balls of steel to do that which is lacking. Nice reading your journey!!

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  3. You made the right choice. Also, your friend who quit engineering and pursued a medical course..is that gentleman's name Allan Bakke? I am just kidding. Please read my blog post about Allan Bakke

    https://sg-shootthebreeze.blogspot.com/2009/07/allan-bakke-case.html

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    1. Haha, Thanks SG. I will read the post.

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  4. Very well written Ajeya ! This is also helping me in a way 😃. Definitely worth reading more than once.

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    1. Thank you Prakash. I know!...what an interesting change. All the best for a new beginning!

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  5. Bravo Ajeya. I have often wondered how grounded you are even though you are multi talented. Truly inspiring.

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  6. Very well written, Ajeya. Every cooperate employee would have their own story on how ugly the corporate politics would have or is affecting their lives. As you've mentioned its all about powers and climbing up the ladder. Very few turnback and and take a different path just like you did. Working under many managers, I find your way of handling the team was excellent (including one another). I never new an NPD program could be successfully launched with minimal stay backs and enjoy a balanced life-work; also enjoying the late night tea catchups at Jhonson's market after the 12am exit meetings:) You were truly amazing. Very few can maintain a personal relationship with their subordinates and still drive projects effortlessly. You're a true inspiration to myself and many :)

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    1. Thank you for those kind words. Interesting observations! For me, it is only natural to find a work-life balance (Thanks to my initial work experience in the US). But, for some reason, in India, we are made to believe that it is a luxury or a favour that the management is doing.

      I thoroughly enjoyed working with you. But more than that, I am glad that today, even though we do not work together, we have so much to talk about - And less of it is related to corporate. That would have been impossible if we had limited our conversations to those related to our assumed roles.

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  7. And I left my Google job one day like this .

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    1. Hello Shilpa. Welcome to my blog! I am glad you too took such a decision. Good to know.

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  8. Hi Ajeya, deep thoughts. Can see a different you in this article n happy to see the admiration you get from your folks. I am just glad that I joined french classes and could connect with you.

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    1. Thank you Manohar. Same here, It is a pleasure knowing you.

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