In our society, there is no easy way to say it and sure enough, when someone (in fact, quite often) ventures to ask you a question about what you do, you can’t help but hazard a look around the room in caution or fiddle with your drink to buy time before finally admitting that you’re a writer. “No, not employed anywhere. I work freelance”. The most you can expect from a person who does not mean to be hostile is a sympathetic look. “Yes, it’s hard growing up but you have to work full time, beta. I mean your parents spent a truckload of money providing you with opportunities to get a good degree.” And yes, if you have been in Pakistan long enough and gone to just the right gatherings, you know that all of that can be said in a look.
When you’re a child, you dream of becoming an adult wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase to work even though both of them have now practically become redundant. You have seen all the “important” people who are idolized in your family do so and you yearn to share the same limelight, bring your first paycheck home along with a smile that promises your mom a nice Pashmina for the winters, even though she will hate your guts for trying to put her in a burqa. You finally graduate and end up getting a degree and a half-baked resume that talks about how you plan to devote all your faculties and capabilities for the betterment of the organization. All the Allama Iqbal poetry urging you to be your own man can go to hell. You will do anything for that white collar.
You come home from the first interview all smiles and mithayi, not knowing that the downward spiral has just begun. You have made it. You have found your destiny and nothing else matters. That is, until the reality of the situation finally sinks in. As you get stuck in the daily 9 to 5 ritual of getting up, reaching your work place, sitting on your rear for eight hours every day you realize everything around you just starts falling apart.
First, it is the constant excuses you have to make to your friends for not showing up at brunches, hang-outs and then at their weddings. Later, it is the happening events that people keep sharing on Facebook to which you wouldn’t have gone anyway but would have liked the chance to at least click on “Attending”. What begins as a sacrifice of your social life ends in a personal grooming disaster so that by the time you have survived a year, you look like a seagull on its deathbed trying to articulate its dying wish that nobody wants to hear.
Back at work, the term “professionalism” is as conveniently used or dropped as religion in our society. Inhaling too loudly or swirling on your revolving chair can be totally unprofessional while copying copyrighted images for official publications or gossiping is an area where terms like professionalism and ethics gets shoved under the bug-eaten rug. Basically, being unprofessional is like being haraam, except that you are more likely to meet your fate the next day with the former. Your boss conveniently tells you that he/she expects you to be married to your work. Checking up on your parents in between your lunch break is suicide. They are the “in-laws”.
Sure enough, the paycheck keeps getting fatter as you progress but so do you. Your over-reliance on Sunday makes your behavior border on being psychotic and so help you God, if somebody even thinks of inviting you to a family brunch on ,the weekend because in between your Hulk-like angry outbursts, the only thing your truly astounded family can make out is “SUNDAY!!! … MINE!
Having financial independence is important but not at the expense of who you are as an individual. Times are changing and it’s time we learn to weigh all our alternatives instead of just following the “let’s get a job” bandwagon. Freelancing, working online, making smart investments and if you are adventurous, taking on a small business are some of the ways you can break away from the shackles of full time employment. Most of the workplaces you end up with make sure that they always figure at the top of your priority list, things that actually matter in your life tend to take a back seat or sometimes even gets shuffled out.
I worked full time for 3 years before finally quitting – not only the job but the entire idea of being “managed” by somebody. Now, I freelance, I juggle but I make ends meet, and my sense of direction in life is pretty much intact, thank you very much.