I will never forget that day. It was my first day at my first full time job in a bank. I started the day with a horrible commute to the office and was already feeling quite lost in the mazelike building. HR had sent me down to the branch to open my payroll account. I felt overwhelmed with all the forms to fill out, the line, the crowd and the general busy buzz of an office building.
There was a chapel right by the branch. I stole away for a few minutes and sought solace in the chapel. I prayed for guidance then. I told God I hoped I had chosen the right path, and asked for his help in navigating this strange new environment, then I cried. I was entering the rat race. I was doing what I had always told myself I wouldn’t do. I didn’t know what lay ahead. I didn’t know how I would do and how I would cope. I was going to spend half my waking life, most of daylight, in this building. I felt my world shrinking. I felt claustrophobic. I’ve always said I would leave the rat race at the age of 25; which was always met with humor by my college friends. That day, faced with the reality of it all, it really seemed impossible. Embarrassed, I fought back the tears, took a few deep breaths, stepped out of the chapel and with a heavy heart, walked to the elevator which would take me to the 9th floor, to my new life.
Fast forward to 4 years later. Looking back, I didn’t do too badly. I am in another, bigger, bank. I am earning more than 3 times my first paycheck. I just got promoted a few months ago. I’ve done a lot I can be proud of: launched several programs, navigated a few systems, I’ve learned the ropes. I am earning enough to treat myself to a few luxuries. I’ve traveled a lot, go out with my friends often and manage to keep up with car maintenance. My future is looking bright. Best of all, I’ve saved up enough to pay for a year’s tuition in Interior Design school. I am finally leaving the rat race. I didn’t think I could, but I did; and just in time too. I am 25 years old. God really does work in mysterious ways.
Within a month of starting my first job, I had already given up on my dream. Back then, I wasn’t thinking ID yet. I just wanted a job outside the cube farm. But I was getting used to the routine. I had begun enjoying the stability of knowing that I had a salary coming every two weeks. It turned out, I was good at this job. My boss liked me. I was coping, I was learning a lot and it looked like I could get far after all. It looked like it would take me decades before I earned my first million, but I was getting there slowly but surely.
That didn’t last though. Within a year, which included some of the most horrible experiences of my working life, I was getting frustrated. The politics burned me out. I didn’t like being judged because of my age, rank or experience rather than my skills and knowledge. The work was tricky and the process slow. I wanted out. That was when I discovered interior design.
I can’t remember what exactly started it, but I started reading design books, buying design magazines, even getting a subscription from my friends for my birthday. I gravitated towards furniture stores at the mall, drooled over nice chairs and day dreamed about all the furniture I would buy ‘when I become rich.’ I knew the next logical step would be to go to design school and pursue it as a career, but I was too in love with my bi-monthly paycheck to even consider it. “I don’t have money to pay for my tuition”, I always said.
Soon I transferred to my current employment. I got a bigger salary which made me even more in love with it and began to enjoy life’s little indulgences. I traveled a lot. I bought expensive bags and gadgets and shoes. I started taking over my cellphone bill and car maintenance, which my parents had been paying for. I loved my job (not just the pay). I liked the people I worked with and enjoyed the challenges I faced. I liked the busy buzz of the office, the sense of purpose, the fulfillment after finishing a task. I felt respected and accomplished. I felt I could do anything, accomplish anything. But despite all these, I knew this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
The thought of living in a cube farm for most of my day gave me shivers. No matter how many new projects I was given, I knew the process would always be the same. Soon, even the challenges would seem repetitive. I knew I didn’t want to find myself still in the same position a decade later. I knew that if I wanted to change my life, I had to get a move on.
But how? I had no savings. I was getting used to this lifestyle. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up anything to follow my dream. ‘Maybe when I get a promotion, or a salary increase, I can start saving up. . .’ I was lying to myself. Deep down, I knew that if and when I get a salary increase, I would just think of more and more things I wanted to buy.
When you take a big leap as I have just done, you have to really want it. You have to want it more than anything else. You have to let it rule your life. My journey started with a trip to Europe. No, unfortunately, I didn’t get to go on one, but my friend did. She left to study under a scholarship by a group of European schools. The program meant she took each trimester in a different school, often in a different country. Her first stop was Madrid. In five months she would move to Milan. “Come visit me” she said. “Help me move from Madrid to Milan in February. That way, you’d have a place to stay in two countries.” The prospect was tempting. I began to compute how much a Europe trip would cost me. Then I computed how much I would have to save each month so I would have enough in 5 months time. I figured I could cut down on lunches out, stop buying clothes and shoes and lay off the mid-afternoon snacking. I could actually do it. I could actually save up enough for a trip to Europe… ‘which would be about the same amount a year’s tuition would cost’ – said a nagging voice in my head. After a few moments pondering, I decided I would do both. I would go to Europe, then when I got back I would keep up the pace with my saving so I’d have enough for tuition too. I was going to get moving towards my goal. I swore that my job would be my last corporate job.
Of course, its so much easier on paper than it actually is. Alas, I could not reach my savings target. I didn’t foresee that car aircon repair, or those new tires, or that watch that I really wanted at 0% interest. Soon it became apparent that it would be impossible to do both Europe and school. I had to choose one. As much as I had always dreamed of traveling to Europe, it was an easy choice. Europe can wait. I chose interior design school.
I let that goal rule my life. All my major purchases, my major decisions were made with that goal in mind. When I had to replace my laptop “Should I get a Mac? There’s no autocad for Mac… There’s always Bootcamp”. When I bought a new camera “Its so hard to take photos of small rooms with this camera. I should get a wide angle camera.” When normally, I wouldn’t say no to a trip, I found myself turning down several invitations so I could stick to my goal.
It took me much longer than I expected and I my resolve was tested several times. Thrice, I was tempted by an exciting new job opportunity. Thrice, I turned it down. Thrice also, I was tempted to give it all up and enjoy a new major purchase, a watch, a new camera, a trip. Thrice, I didn’t give in (or did, but stuck to my savings target anyway). Three people questioned my decision and tried to make me change my mind, but three other people supported me wholeheartedly and gave me the strength and will power to continue. As a dear friend said –
“Don’t think of these challenges/opportunities as God’s way of telling you you made the wrong choice. This is just His way of checking if this is what you really want.”
Now, here I am, about to pursue my dream. Sure, I don’t quite have as much saved up as I would have wanted to. I did delay my deadline twice and the next two years are going to be tough, but the time is right. I can feel it in my bones. And, I’m 25 years old — right on cue without meaning to. God really is amazing.