Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Putting food on the table

I am unemployed. There - I've said it. But let me rephrase that - I am temporarily, transiently, and totally voluntarily without work at present. I rephrase, because being unemployed has such negative connotations in this day and age - and regardless of how much I'll like to say I don't care what people think of me - I do.

Dad passed away recently and I decided to apply for an extended career break from my employer in Australia to return to Singapore and spend some time with my mother. And so my working life as I have known it has changed dramatically - no more annoying alarm clocks; no more stress about deadlines I know I cannot meet; no more meetings that I "have to" attend; no more business calls, e-mails and flights.

And whilst I appreciate this time to ponder, reflect, write a blog and of course, to spend time with mum - life without work is not as great as it sounds. I have often dreamed of leading a life of leisure - and just like everyone else, retiring young sounds fantastic. But - its not my turn. Like it or not - we spend more time at work than we do in our personal lives - and naturally you develop a strong sense of community with those that you work with. Like the geeky science club you joined in school to meet like minded people with common interests, the workplace is, by default, a social club gathering of people who have similar skill sets, education backgrounds, and professional interests. Its easy to make friends at work because you share a common thread - bosses you dislike, difficult clients, ridiculous workloads - heck, even common meal times.

But aside from the friendships that you form - working gives you a sense of purpose, direction and self importance. Nobody likes to admit that your work defines who you are - but it does. "What do you do?" has become the natural conversation starter once you get past the name of someone you've met for the first time. Don't get me wrong - I hate alarm clocks, deadlines and meetings as much as the next person - but there's something satisfying and fulfilling about having dealt with all of the above. That being able to overcome the obstacles and challenges of the workplace somehow makes you a stronger... even a more fulfilled person.

Of course - being jobless comes with a whole suite of unemployment benefits - or lack of. For one - there's the moolah. Yes, I confess that I am blessed in that whilst I am currently without income, I am financially comfortable (albeit for the time being) thanks to my savings and the lack of a mortgage or family to worry about. But I know, that too, in itself, is temporary. Expenditure on life's luxuries becomes more of a consideration now because somehow, it doesn't quite feel the same when you don't feel like you've earnt or are about to earn it.

And then there's of course the judgement. Regardless of what people say, my current employment status will always be viewed as less than admirable. Without a job that I can go to each day and inevitably whine about, I lack responsibility, ambition and there's that word again - purpose.

So next time you feel frustrated at your boss, stressed about your work, angry at your clients or just fuming mad at that darn alarm clock - be grateful that you have all those emotions that come with fulfilling your purpose. In the mean time, I will temporarily, transiently and totally voluntarily wait for my turn.


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