Over the last 10 years, after I left my job in Microsoft, I spent a great deal of time sorting out my internal life, reading and reflecting even as people around me were busy building careers, buying homes, cars and getting married. It felt at times that I was moving in an opposite direction, starting from scratch, unlearning and learning everything anew, in pursuit of what seemed like – quite certainly to everyone around me and sometimes even for me – a wildly foolish dream. I came up with my own set of guidelines to manage my life, finances and retain my freedom so that I can continue do what I love doing.
Wherever I went, I always offered to help people without expecting anything in return and in the process built connections and developed close friendships with some wonderful people. The generosity and kindness I received in return, especially from people with little means, was often overwhelming and moving. I consistently found that simple people living in humble dwellings with little means to be the most generous. I entered a variety of homes, communities and settings and put myself in their shoes and lived life as they did. In the process, I truly experienced a myriad of cultures, living styles and habits.
Along the way, I was often asked if I knew how to do some work and if I could do it for them. If I found it new and interesting, I said ‘Yes’ even if I had never done it before and didn’t know anything about it. Then I would back myself to learn about it, practice and do the work confidently with complete focus. No one would know that I was a rookie. This is how I learnt and developed a wide variety of skills over time. I would have never known what all I am capable of otherwise. Each skill I learnt added a new dimension to my life and made it exciting and alive.
I constantly looked for and picked up work that excited me. I pursued work that gave me an opportunity to learn something new, meet new people and travel to new places. I asked for work but never asked for money. I only asked for a place to stay and if possible, for food. Because, I was so keen and interested, and also not really bound by any role, I worked with complete enthusiasm. Most of the time, I did more work as a volunteer than the employees who were getting paid. As a result, I got job offers everywhere I went. “What role do you want? How much pay would you like? What would it take to join us?” – were frequent questions I encountered.
I cut down my expenses and spent only on what I absolutely needed. Never known for buying, I further simplified my life. It was done with a purpose and I never missed buying things. In fact, it was liberating in many ways, I didn’t need things to make me happy nor I ever compared what I had with others. It didn’t matter because I was already happy doing what I loved doing. Moreover, not possessing things I didn’t need kept me free mentally and physically.
I had saved a small amount from Microsoft days for emergency. After all these years, the amount in the account is still the same. A rule that I strictly adhered to was – I should earn more than what I spend. How did I earn when I didn’t ask for money? Firstly, I barely had any expenses other than for travel – food and accommodation was mostly taken care of and that was enough, I didn’t need anything else. Secondly, because of the work I put in, organizations would offer me money when I was about to leave or after I finished a project. I accepted the amount when I felt they were doing well financially and other times I refused. Other than that, I never bothered about money; it just came as a result of my work.
As I traveled extensively, I realized most people focus on external attributes. Depending on how much they know about where I come from, what I do or did before, what job position I have or money I have, their behavior towards me would change. I barely let it affect or decide the work I pursued. I learnt to become cognizant of others perceptions of me but not let those perceptions influence my choice of work. I went and did what my heart was drawn to – I worked alongside farmers, worked in construction projects, cooked in community kitchens, waited tables in hotels, washed plates in school kitchens. I volunteered for these and did them with great joy; I have fond memories.
Except for a couple of instances for a brief period of time, I never took a job. I always volunteered and that gave me the freedom to work on and learn things I was interested in. I knew I didn’t want a boss. However, I looked out for inspiring and wise people who did great work and offered my services to them. I spent as much time as I could, picking their minds, relentlessly asking questions and soaking in their knowledge, experience and wisdom.
I was often flattered by the admiration I got for my work and I must admit there was temptation of the comfort . I learnt not to get attached to and carried away by it. When I had nothing more to offer and learn and I felt I am no longer needed, I moved on even if it was difficult – again into some uncharted territory, to start fresh and do something new.
Although I never had any health issues, I quickly realized I need to ensure I remained in good health. I began exercising and changed my food habits to exclude all junk food and consumed only healthy stuff. Apart from keeping me healthy, this change brought new vigor and energy in my life that aided me in my work and let me travel extensively around the country.
I learnt to walk kilometers together and that too rapidly. I stayed not only in luxurious guest houses but also in humblest of dwellings, sleeping on grass in forests, floors in huts or under the sky. I learnt to live and adjust everywhere. That helped me travel to remote places with no transportation or accommodation and let me enjoy some of the most picturesque sights of nature that one cannot get to see even if one spends a lot of money.