Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The make of a break

A few days ago, my mother said to me, “please go back to work … you wanted to be off work for some time … that’s more than done now”. “Why, now even your wife is talking like you do !”, she exclaimed. I asked her to elaborate on the matter about my wife, since we’d spoken about my return to work a few times before. “She’s also saying things like everyone should take a break, do what they would really like to, and things like that”, my mother grumbled. She added, “only the other day she was trying to tell me something like one can take a break … work after retirement … God knows what … I didn’t really understand”.

I laughed. Mothers can be bitter-sweet like only mothers can. “I haven’t messed up her mind, if it makes you feel any better … she was trying to tell you about a fascinating video we both saw recently … it was a speech by a successful designer from New York”, I said, choosing my words well to get her attention, and also that of my father, who was pretending to do something else while his wife was indulgently berating her son, but was in fact predictably eavesdropping.
It was the TED Talk by Stefan Sagmeister I referred to. Making periodic eye contact with both members of my audience, I explained in brief, “this man takes a break of a year after every seven years of working … to continue to create fresher designs and be happy about what he does”. “And he postpones his year of expected retirement by one year every time he completes his year of break … so if he manages to take five breaks during his career, he will work till he’s sixty-five and not hang his boots even if he can when he’s sixty”. By now my folks were quite interested and wanted to know more. I don’t know whether, at the time, they recollected the reason I quit work to take a break. It was to find a path that would engage me for longer … well past the age that I could see myself plateauing at in my career of the time.  
“The fresher designs get him some of his old clients back, and also some new ones, and they mostly agree to pay him better fees … that way he makes up for fees and clients lost during his break time … plus he adds a few more productive years to his total work-life”, I continued. Both my parents were smiling by now, and I knew that I stood vindicated, at least for the time being. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot to tell you, this man says that when he took a year off for the first time, he did lots of random, even if desirable and fun stuff, but the year passed by rather quickly and he didn’t make much progress with his goal of creating fresher designs”, I said, with the express purpose of soothing my parents’ nerves some more. They and I knew that my own past months of break had gone by similarly.
“Why’s that ?”, mum asked. “Because, as he admits, he didn’t dwell sufficiently and regularly on his objective of taking the break … he let the design inspirations from his new surroundings and experiences pass him by … but he did manage to make his subsequent breaks work for him with some more discipline, planning and scheduling”, I concluded. Not one to be left out, my father chipped in, “so you should dwell sufficiently and regularly on your reason for taking the break too”. I nodded in agreement and so did my mother.

I don’t regret it but I do wish that I’d heard Stefan’s talk earlier.

There’s another thing that I wish I’d come across earlier. It’s a line from the movie, ‘Iron Lady’, wherein a frail and reminiscent Margaret Thatcher is depicted as saying to her doctor, “back in our time it was all about doing something, nowadays it’s all about being someone”. If you look within and look about, you might agree with me that the observation is quite true. I can tell you that it’s never been truer for me than it has been during this break time when I have tried to dwell on finding a path into the future. Several things have struck me as those that I could do reasonably well, feel happy doing, and hence engage with for a long time. But what really comes in my way of dwelling sufficiently and regularly on any of these, and in the way of doing something about any of them, is the question, “will I be someone ?”.

Honestly, I always thought of myself as a ‘do something’ person. Or at least a ‘do something and thereby be someone’ person. Never has this belief been tested more. Because introspection and analysis readily give way to fantasy. And my fantasies these days quite often take the shape of ‘be someone and thereafter do something’. Rarely are they about ‘do something and thereby be someone’. And when they are, the ‘do something’ goes by in a rush, my ‘being someone’ happens in a jiffy, and then again it’s back to my inviting and gratifying ‘thereafter do something’ business in loving detail.

Surely, not everyone may require to take a break to get better at what they do or to change tracks or to begin a new chapter. But those that do, would, I think, do well to sufficiently and regularly dwell on the reason for the break and also to avoid frequent distractions of being someone. And do something.

What I really want to say is simply this.

One can always argue for and against a break. Like sometimes we run better if we have taken a break from the daily jog. And sometimes we run better because we have continued the rhythm of the daily jog.

Similarly, one can always argue for and against whatever reason for the break. Like someone may say introspection or rejuvenation is for losers and someone else may say there's purity of purpose in introspection or rejuvenation.

The thing is, one can miss a good reason for a break by frequently arguing against the idea of a break itself. And one can make the break purposeless by arguing forever against its reason.

If one is against a break, or doesn't need one, that's ok. Equally, if one is against the reasons for a break, or doesn't feel any, that's also quite ok. But if one needs a break and has a good reason, then one should take the break and should remember to stay put with its reason. That's to say, the break and its reason must connect in day to day action.

That should be the make of a break.