When people ask me about what I have done till date, I give them a run down of my two and half years in corporate, two years as a teacher, two years as an entrepreneur in the non-profit space, one year again in corporate (well, almost) and now back to non-profit in education. Typically, this is met with comments around how commendable it is that I have left the corporate world, a few nods around how it is the right cause and sometimes a chuckle followed by “that’s interesting”.
After my first corporate stint, when I decided to do the Teach For India Fellowship, many people told me I was really brave to quit and try something so different (also known as lowly paying). I had a bit of savings, I was supported emotionally by my family & friends and I was in the deep end of the pool. I didn’t quite get how I was being brave simply because I knew the state I was in, when I was leaving the corporate world, and to me it was an act of self-preservation and not bravery.
Almost two years into my startup, due to personal reasons I moved back into the corporate world. To me, coming back was a far braver decision than leaving it in the first place. I had found something I truly believed in and then given it up. During the eleven months I spent there, I noticed that looking down on the corporate life was the new cool thing to do. There were articles on YourStory, ScoopWhoop and the likes – where people proclaimed their suffocation and celebrated their new found independence in their garage office (in Indiranagar, of course!). Their efforts were lauded and well, of course their stories read like a novella.
But what struck me most was how little we speak of the bravery of those who stick it out. The stories of those who have commitments that they cannot forego – home loans, education loans, aging parents, school-going kids, medical bills or simply life. Well, of course when one writes about these things it reads like drudgery – but keeping things going and staying afloat is an act of bravery as well. Sometimes it is easier to escape by breaking the shackles than by staying on and doing a damn good job at it.
Today, I am back in the space that I believe in and want be a part of. But I am also deeply conscious that the decision to be able to leave the corporate world is a privileged one. It is a decision in many cases that is possible because at some point in time, someone else decided to put themselves on hold so that they can support YOU. It is someone else doing the heavy lifting, while you find your feet. Something about this tells me that, the badge of bravery in this case needs to be pinned on the other person’s lapel.
Of course, it feels good to read stories where someone felt like they were stuck and then they become unstuck. Also, who doesn’t being liked called brave? So I get how these stories are a win for all. But I also think we are getting a bit too loose with the word “brave” here.
If you are reading this and wondering how hard you struggled to get to where you are, how you jumped without a safety net to be able follow your dreams and how I am diminishing all your life’s work by writing this, then you should know that you are probably very brave and definitely don’t need me to tell you that.
But the voice in our heads knows us best. Once in a while, we need to look within and truly ask ourselves, is it brave to be able to do what we love best or is it brave to stick out doing something knowing you could be elsewhere. The surprising answer (or not) is that it is for you to figure out and not a badge slapped on by anyone other than you.