Second Innings, New Beginnings
Sometimes you have to get away to come back stronger
If I’ve learned one thing in life, it is this: Nothing is impossible. Or to put it another way, everything is possible. I just need to believe in myself and open my mind to possibilities.
The year was 1997.
At the ripe old age of 33, I handed in my resignation at work, quitting a high profile corporate job as regional manager with a UK-based company. I was going to get married to the most wonderful man on earth. I would return to work after a brief sabbatical. Or so I thought.
Little did I know that life had other plans.
My Mom moved in with us and life was good. I was taking a break for the first time in years — I was so used to the classic busman’s holiday that I had forgotten what it was like to take a real vacation.
But I was so accustomed to being busy that two months later, I became restless and contemplated returning to work. The motivation was an invitation from the company I had worked with. They had an opening in the city I had moved to. Just as I was on the verge of making my decision, I discovered I was pregnant, and my folks convinced me that going to work could wait. It was not so hard to agree.
Soon, I was blessed with a baby boy, and our family’s happiness knew no bounds. I don’t mind confessing that the sun shone brighter each time he smiled, and I must tell you that he was a baby who smiled all the time.
A year passed.
I once again started toying with the idea of getting back to work, but was too happy playing with my son and his toys, and enjoying life.
Into each life must some rain fall
All good things must come to an end, at least temporarily and so it was with our lives.
Suddenly, my Mother’s health started deteriorating. She was coughing her life away, or so it seemed. She suffered for six months before the doctors reached a firm diagnosis. She had interstitial lung disease. The doctors told us that she would live for 6 months, maybe a year at most.
Naturally, we were devastated by this news. As the medical expenses steadily mounted and we struggled to keep up, I realized it was time to get a job.
The thought of a second income was sensible. After all, I had a growing baby, and babies are expensive. Hospital expenses were mounting. Yet my instinct told me I should stay at home at least until my son started playschool. I consoled myself, thinking that it was only a matter of another year. But I couldn’t stop worrying.
In 1999, when my son was a year and a half, we relocated again when my husband changed jobs.
Life was tough. We invested in an apartment that exceeded our budget but it was the right decision to take at that time. We were drowning in loans.
Between hospital visits and a child growing quickly, I was now job-hunting desperately so we could breathe a little easier with our financial constraints. I knew I could no longer afford to put off finding that job!
My job search was near futile, what with the job market being in a slump. It was that phase when call centers mushroomed, and employed only freshers. Of the jobs that did seem suitable, I was either overqualified or “too old”. One interviewer actually told me that I was perfect for the position, but it would be embarrassing for the CEO I would be reporting to, since he was ten years younger. This did not bother me. Nevertheless, I didn’t get the job.
After a sixteen-year career that spanned advertising, sales, marketing and training, and a six-figure salary, I was miserable over my current plight, and desperate. Money was so tight, and we spent sleepless nights balancing our scarce finances.
We did everything we could to cut down on our expenditure. Other than the essentials for our toddler son and my Mom’s health expenses, we lived austerely. There were days we just scraped through. Costs were rising, and soon our son would have to be enrolled in school. We silently panicked, wondering if we had been foolish in assuming that I would find a job at will, and whether we had made a mistake in investing in this apartment we lived in.
Overnight, life, as we knew it, had changed
Ironically, the organization I had quit before I got married offered me the same position I had held, as marketing head for the State. It hurt to decline their offer, since the job involved intense travel, late hours and a long commute. I certainly did not want to miss seeing my son growing up or be unavailable for my Mom when she needed me most.
While I battled with my dilemma, my friends advised me to accept the high-paying job offered to me on a plate — and hire a housekeeper. My head said yes, but my heart said no.
We were struggling to manage our finances, trying to be as creative as we could, to make ends meet.
As we came closer to being broke, we began to liquidate the few investments we had made, so we could pay the bills. Our savings dwindled. We spent sleepless nights, worrying about how to cut down on our expenses. We had our home loan payments to make, along with other monthly commitments.
What were we going to do?
When would things improve?
My successful sixteen-year career and the six-figure income I had given up taunted me all the time. I was slowly becoming frantic.
To rub it in, I had ex-colleagues I was in touch with telling me I was an idiot to pass up the work opportunities that came my way. And I am ashamed to say that I allowed the nagging to get to me. I felt dejected.
Inadequate. Worthless. Guilty.
It is all very well to talk about focusing on the silver lining, but it takes more than that to pay the bills.
Life brought unexpected changes and threw curveballs at speeds that were hard to keep up with.
I had to find the courage to let go of expectations, opening myself up to new things and recognizing what I was capable of.
To keep my mind busy, I enrolled for a training and development diploma, hoping that the additional qualification would open up more opportunities for me. I had experience in sales and communication training and somewhere at the back of my mind was the germ of an idea. What if I could work as a freelance trainer?
And then two things happened
I got a call from a company that was looking for freelance trainers. Sounded like the answer to my prayers, right? I eagerly applied and got a 5-day gig as a soft skills trainer. That was it. They decided to “diversify” into technical coaching, which meant the end of that prospect for me.
Ugh! Back to square one, I wondered what to do.
A week later, opportunity knocked. Again.
We heard through a family friend that a friend of hers wanted someone to work part-time at their office. The pay was a pittance but determined to see the bright side, I took the job. The office was within walking distance from my place, which meant no difficult commute and no spending on transportation.
Although I accepted the job. My ego rebelled. I quelled it. At least it got me out of the house for a few hours, as my Mom pointed out. It made me feel employed.
Eventually, the organization grew in size, and I became their India Liaison for a consortium of US based companies that imported pharmaceuticals into the US. Slowly the role became full time, even though the money was still negligible.
I had ex-colleagues pointing out how stupid I was. Some were nice. Some, not so nice. Needless to say, I felt unhappy. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate.
There were days I wanted to quit my low-paying job, but I was afraid of being unemployed. I did not have any other avenues for a steady income — how could I lose what little I earned?
In 2004, my mother’s health began to fail. She was in and out of hospital. I finally worked up the courage to tell my employers that I was quitting. Not only were they kind, but insisted that I handled one arm of the business from home. At the same salary.
Oh, if only I had quit earlier, I thought, but who knew?
Hindsight is 20/20.
I was relieved to work from home.
As another year passed many things happened.
- I bought a computer at 41. Can you imagine?
- The internet came into my life. That opened up a world of possibilities.
- I explored work from home opportunities available at the time. After all, I had experience, and was miserable that I was not bringing home the income I was capable of.
I considered network marketing, but I didn’t seem cut out for that kind of business.
How about a career in writing?
I had often been told that my writing skills were good. I enjoyed writing stories and poetry, and had published quite a few with good reviews. I had edited the in-house magazines where I worked. My grasp of idiomatic English was good. So, I thought — why not give it a shot?
As if on cue, a friend, who was co-editor for a business magazine, invited me to join him as a writer/editor. One feature article made me more than a month’s salary at my current job. I had an enjoyable two months working — gasp! — as a freelance writer.
Unfortunately, the guy who funded the magazine decided to explore other investment opportunities and abandoned the project.
But this got me thinking — why not explore more freelancing opportunities?
I joined a couple of social networking sites and mentioned I was looking for freelance writing work on my profile. I confess I did not have much hope. But then what did I have to lose?
The next day, I received an email asking for writing samples. I responded right away, got accepted, and began to receive regular work. The money was still not great, but at least I had steady work. They were good people to work with, and paid on time.
Suddenly, I was looking at a brand new career — the career of my dreams. I was a writer!
I still wasn’t making a full-time income working from home as a freelancer. I needed to have better paying gigs. Also, I kept worrying.
- What if the work dried up?
- What if I didn’t know where my next project was coming from?
- What if I had long periods without work?
- Would I be able to survive like this?
The fear, oh the fear ! It was always watching for a sign of weakness and waiting to pounce on me!
I still got good job offers — offers I couldn’t afford to take up, or lose. I just felt sad about letting go of the opportunities to make life better. Sure, it made me feel marketable, but I cannot deny the twinge of regret I felt, and that hurt.
However, life is a great teacher and I learned that if we want something, and put in the effort, everything is possible. I am happy that I had the courage to walk into something completely different and make it work.
Things work when you do
I worked hard, hoping for that big break, that dream gig.
At the back of my mind lurked a feeling of gloom — I loved to write, but did not enjoy the kind of work I got. I did it anyway because I needed the money. I earned an average $10 per blog post.
I couldn’t help thinking how 80% of my time was currently going into earning 20% of my income. I realized it was time to re-focus on attracting better paying work and in short — spending 20% of my time in work that brought in 80% of my income.
Then something happened that literally turned my life around.
I received an email from a prospective client via LinkedIn, asking if I would be interested in blogging for their business. I boldly quoted $100 per blog post. They agreed.
I mean, I had worked in the corporate world and had taught this, so why was I not practicing what I had preached?
I was obviously blinded by the haze of self-doubt!
I cannot overemphasize the value, and importance, of believing in yourself, here. Never assume that it is impossible to be paid what you are worth. There are enough naysayers out there, not to forget that Inner Critic which is always ready, inside our heads, to sow the seeds of doubt and water them constantly. Even peers will laugh at you when you express your expectations. Take all that advice with a pinch of salt. In short, do not hesitate to ASK.
I know how it is. We often get so used to the routine, that we unwittingly open the door to disappointment, and get stuck in a rut. In my case, I was too used to that successful career, excelling at what I did. So when nothing seemed to work, I freaked out and grabbed at straws without pausing to think clearly. It was a matter of survival.
But you know what they say, better late than never.
Luckily for me, it was sooner than later, and energized by this windfall, I forged ahead, with new hope.
Enthusiasm alone is not enough, though, as I found out.
The harder I worked, the luckier I got!
Also, I had the constant encouragement of my mom and husband. They believed in me.
Except, I was not always convinced I was enough. Disappointment can cloud our thinking, creating a wall around us, preventing us from seeing the sunshine of opportunity.
I now realized I had outgrown the content marketing agency I had been working with for almost 7 years now. I had discovered that it was possible to do work I enjoyed, and be paid well for it. Not really an epiphany and certainly not for want of trying . . . still! However, the good times had taken their own sweet time to roll in.
I did three things that transformed my working style, and this would eventually impact my finances positively.
● I made a list of things I wanted to do, the kind of work I was interested in. This included writing, blogging for businesses, editing manuscripts for publishers and revamping content for blogs and websites.
● I hesitantly put out feelers towards direct clients.
● I amped up my LinkedIn profile. Not the greatest example of what one should be, but definitely better than before. I listed the skills through which I wanted prospective clients to approach me.
This exercise alone was therapeutic. While I continued to work with the content marketing agency, work from independent clients began to trickle in. This was very exciting. Not because of the money at this point, since I wasn’t making a lot, yet, but because it opened doors I had not considered before.
Almost instantly, I had people get in touch with me with work offers. Not all of it was suitable, but I did connect with a few good clients whose work I enjoyed and it opened up a world of possibilities.
Another activity that kept me busy around the time I started working as a freelance writer was blogging. Although I started my first blog in 2003 when Google acquired Blogger, I only took it seriously when a couple of prospective clients contacted me via my blog.
Like a million others, I too dreamed of making a full time income from blogging but did not know how. Also, when I did the research, I realized I would need to invest time, a luxury I did not have.
Starting 2008, I began writing on my blog regularly, paying attention to what I posted. I consciously spent time connecting with my community, visiting other blogs, sharing their content on social media and attending blogger meets, being interviewed by major blogging networks — all of which increased my exposure in the online world
Lesson? No effort goes to waste. And every experience teaches something.
So, it looks like a nice success story, eh?
It would have been, but for the shock of my Mom suddenly passing away in February 2010, a day before my wedding anniversary. Life suddenly seemed to come to a standstill. Her death was unexpected and it shook me up emotionally. I found it hard to focus on anything other than the unavoidable routine of cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, caring for my son, who was only 12.
The days passed, and I knew I had to snap out of this inertia, this listless phase. I missed my Mom terribly. I missed her encouragement and humor. I had no one to talk to. I started a blog, a sort of tribute/memoir of life with my Mom and conversations with her. This helped me cope, and get back on my feet. It also encouraged me to focus on all the loving advice I had received from her and I limped back into my work routine.
I worked hard. Work was steady. Life seemed good. Little did I know there was another shock waiting for me around the corner.
A major health setback
It was February 2013. I went for a full health check. When my reports came back, imagine my shock at discovering I was diabetic!
I went through a plethora of emotions. Despair followed anger, denial and despondency. I thought of all the diabetics I knew, and I so did not want a life like that — always worried about what I ate, and developing all sorts of complications.
But continuing to feel dejected wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and so I pulled up my mental big girl panties and got to work. I made a diet plan, an exercise regime and changed my lifestyle overnight.
In 15 days, I achieved normal blood sugar readings, but with diabetes, that was a temporary victory. The challenge was to sustain it. I took this as a wakeup call.
While I do slip up occasionally, I am more or less successful in showing my diabetes who’s boss.
I started two more blogs at this point: one to share tips on living with diabetes, and the second to share life hacks for happiness that make life just a little better.
In life, coincidences are rare. I like to believe that things happen for a reason. When we embrace these experiences, and follow through with action, good things happen.
A blessed life
Today, I feel privileged to be able to give back, by doing a lot of gratis work and donating my blogging income to my local welfare home, supporting blind children’s education and sharing food/education/medical expenses for orphanages, in addition to sponsoring underprivileged children.
I have indeed come full circle, from starting my career as a trainee back in 1984, to rapidly rising as a corporate executive, to retiring early and then, having the courage to return to work in the career of my dreams.
While there have been many timely exits, the reentries have been amazing. I have grown as an individual and learned to have unshakeable belief in myself — and that nothing is impossible.
Thank you for reading.