Should our jobs define who we are?

Published: Nov 09, 2019, 05:07 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Sticking to one line of work may be great for your biodata and your bank account, but is it satisfying for your soul?

The interesting thing about what I did in the aftermath of part-time rites of passage is how little I remember of the more established career that followed
The interesting thing about what I did in the aftermath of part-time rites of passage is how little I remember of the more established career that followed

lindsayThe weirdest job I ever had lasted all of 48 hours and involved the selling of cardboard spectacles to people interested in looking at a solar eclipse. The glasses allegedly had a protective coating of some sort that enabled wearers to stare at the sun without the risk of losing their eyesight.

Each pair cost around R5, if I remember correctly, and I stood to earn Rs 2 for every sale. The actual selling was at a booth in EsselWorld, a now-faded amusement park off the coast of Malad that was once a magical kingdom enticing schoolchildren across Bombay.

I was hired along with two of my friends, and we sold those glasses for three days to anyone and everyone who stopped by our booth. At the end of that period though, we realised we had lost more money than we had earned, because we hadn't factored in the cost of travelling to and from EsselWorld. There were train and bus rides involved, and a ferry from Marve beach. I think we all gave up on dreams of becoming entrepreneurs that day.

Another job I remember in great detail involved manning a drinks stall at Brabourne stadium for a Deep Purple concert. This involved handing out coupons, asking customers what aerated cola they preferred, and then filling glasses with ice and liquid as quickly as possible. We were paid by the hour and saw a hugely popular rock band for free.

I also spent a few months as a research assistant for a pharmaceutical company, which was a fancy way of describing the young men and women who stood outside chemists asking customers if they wanted a free sample of a new brand of throat lozenges. There were other gigs, some paid by the hour, others by the week, all involving dubious tasks that sometimes involved physical labour.

The interesting thing about what I did in the aftermath of those part-time rites of passage is how little I remember of the more established career that followed. There were roles, titles, positions in national and global firms, almost none of which have stayed with me beyond the odd memory of a colleague or specific event.

When I look at my CV today, vast swathes hide beneath a fog I struggle to break through. I remember most of my time in corporate India with a mixture of amusement and confusion, and sometimes wonder why I spent the years I did on tasks that signified a lot but rarely accomplished anything of merit.

I am not naive enough to believe that everything we do for a living must matter. Capitalism has sunk its tentacles into us deeply enough for me to acknowledge that job security, homes, insurance policies and retirement funds are more important than ever before, especially in a world where employment is a lot harder to come by than it was when our parents graduated.

And yet, the older I get, the more I start to question why we do what we do and what we hope to accomplish by doing it. When youth decide to get into politics today, for instance, what are their reasons? What do they choose to do with the power they hope to get access to?

The fact that these questions aren't asked as often as they ought to be, to ourselves as well as to young people in our families, may explain why so many young Indians gravitate towards specific roles and industries. The professions that were considered safe — doctors, lawyers, bankers, engineers — continue to fill seats at educational institutions, but I often wonder how many of those who graduate walk away with a desire to do more than just retire rich.

There is an inherent snobbery in choosing professions that our parents encourage us to respect more than others. This snobbery is often overt, because thinking we are better than everyone else comes naturally to us as Indians, and is entrenched in a caste system that dominates the lives of millions around us. We should have more conversations about our careers though, and re-evaluate what they mean. Bankers aren't as respected as they once were, for instance, because they have played with money that isn't theirs for too long. It may be time for other once-respectable professions to have their day of reckoning too.

Maybe if we encouraged more young people to become teachers instead of engineers, and environmentalists instead of politicians, we may have a better country than the one our parents left us.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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