Alex is a standup comedian and an actor. Besides this, he has strong interests in Tamil, Music and Yoga. In this article, he writes about how his last two years were. A Self-appraisal!
November is an important month. Two years ago, on this month, I left my 15-year long corporate career, in pursuit of happiness. I don’t mean to put down my corporate job. Neither do I under-appreciate my past. It’s just it took 15 years to get the clarity that I should do something else to enjoy life better. Stuff takes time, you know. As November brings my second year to a closure, it is my annual performance review time. As in the corporate world, I am starting with a self-review now.
Last November, the review was easy. All I had to tell myself was ”Hey..it’s just been one year. It’s too soon to judge anything. Let’s carry on what we are doing”. But I can’t say that for second year. End of second year is something else. Back in my Amazon days, finishing two years was something, for any employee. It triggers a discussion with the manager. As a general rule, you are expected to move up the ladder every two to four years. By the end of two years, you are expected to show some brightness, some sign of shine towards top right. If the bulb is not glowing yet, may be you are slower.. well nothing wrong about it…may be this job is too fast for you..may be you should find something else (stand up comedy, yoga etc) where you will enjoy better, hence working hard will be easier.
OK, enough of beating around the bush, answering the big question: Where am I after two years? Before that, the first question: what was my goal, to start with. My wife and I had to save for the no-income or low-income period before I quit. At my usual optimism, I said, “In one to one and a half years, we will break even”. My wife is a perfect manager. She took the bigger number 1.5, doubled it and said “Okay, it’s three years then. You quit after we save money for three years”. Now after two years, we are together meeting 70% of our expenses. Rest is still coming from the savings. (please note the ‘we’ there. it’s all teamwork, you know :) ). So, the answer to the big question, where am I after two years: At 70%. 70 is a good score, come on. Round of applause please!
Now, let me reflect on what got me to this 70..and what will get me to 100 or beyond. A bunch of things. Let me call them my tenets. Tenets of success. Success in doing what I enjoy doing. Hence, I am comfortable calling this article “How to quit your job and be happy”! I am guessing these tenets apply to all you my friends who are thinking of switching career or starting something new.
#TENET 1: Figure out your process
In these two years, I worked on two Tamil plays with ‘Theatre Zero’ group. Worked with director Vinodhini Vaidyanathan. Learnt so much of acting amongst many other things. She would often use the word ‘process’. The process includes writing, casting, giving cast the time to get into the script, trying various improvisation methods for the cast to bond, developing the characters, doing run throughs, reviewing, revising etc. Good long list. You are right, stuff takes time. You need to have loads of balance and stamina. But the beauty is, if you are truly passionate, you will be happy doing it and you won’t feel the fatigue. Even if there are things that make you uncomfortable, you will do your bit to fix. There may still be many things that are out of your control. Thanks to your passion, you will know how to be focused on what you set out to do.
Developing this process or routine for yourself is important. So, like in the theatre, as my director would say before the show time: ‘Nothing to worry guys. The process would take care of itself. Just go there and enjoy’. If you put your heads down and follow your process, it should bring the yields. Your process should look rock solid and you should follow that process.
I met director Karu Palaniappan once. I told him that I want to be an actor. He asked ‘what do you do now?’. I work in IT. He then said ‘If you want to be swimmer, you can’t be playing cricket all day, no?’. That summed it up. Create your daily/weekly routine where you are working rigorously on the core things you are passionate about. If you are a comic, you write almost every day or every other day. Get on stage as many times as possible per week. Some of the coolest comics in the country have the goal of getting on stage everyday. If you are an actor, you can’t wait for a good role to get to you. You face the camera everyday, act, review, iterate. And when you get your role, you shine through.
Recently, a few of my actor friends were discussing about ‘Aandavan Kattalai’, a Tamil movie. Some of my theatre friends including director Vinodhini are in the cast. We were discussing how some of them have gotten seemingly simpler roles, but they have done a stellar job by bringing in depth within the limits of the characters. Check out this movie, watch out for Vinodhini’s performance, that CBI cop amongst a few others. The lesson is to keep at your process and get your craft shining. So when you get even a slight opportunity, your process will take care of things.
#TENET 2: Go frugal
When you quit, you will obviously enter into a no-come period. Then as things build, you enter the low-income period. The plan is to hit the break-even and then high-income period as soon as possible. Going frugal helps to get through the no-income/low-income periods with ease. Get frugal in style. We all know the perils of consumerism. So, going frugal is not considered stingy anymore. Feel cool about your frugality. You are consuming less. Be happy to do this little fasting in order to pursue your passion. It’s a small price to pay. Figure out how far you can scale down. I am forever comfortable driving my Alto 800. I am at peace with doing zero foreign vacations. If the back of my laptop does not show the Apple logo, I am not bothered. If I don’t use iPhone 7, I will still sleep happy. Be convinced about living more with less.
#TENET 3: Take team along
You need to take your team, your family along. In this age and time, people seem to understand the value of spending time together building good relationships rather than running after material stuff. Life needs quality AND quantity on the time first before materials. If you are spending good time with your loved ones, they will also be with you to make right frugal choices. Getting into some Yoga and spirituality brings in good conditioning. Don’t rush it, I would say. Your team needs time too!
#TENET 4: Save up for 3 years before you quit
I think they are right in the corporate world about that two years period. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, two years is a good time for you to show some sparks. If you are doing something with your heart and soul, it should start shining a bit in two years. You should see the graph trending up after one year. Keep another year or two for breaking even or getting to surplus. Stuff takes time. Gestation period can’t be fastened. One can argue that you have to get your craft all perfectly ready and then quit. Well, that puts a lot of pressure, man. You need time to get it ready.
#TENET 5: Brand yourself
I strongly believe that your work should be speak for yourself. However, you have the responsibility to take your work to the place where it can speak. Following your process to get your craft right is one thing. The other side is to take it to the right place so your customers/audience can see. We have an young man in my apartments who cleans all the cars every other day. Every-time he cleans the car he will leave the wiper blades in the upright position. On the days he has cleaned the car, as you enter your car, you can’t avoid but notice the wiper blades standing up. Yes, you will remember that the guy is doing his job. Hence, you will never tell him at the end of the month, ‘Boss, are you really cleaning my car? I have never seen you doing it”. Well, the wiper blades idea is too much. I don’t like it. I often sit inside my car and then notice the vipers, then I get up, go to the front, put them down, come back.. Uhhh…I am like “Dude, I get it. You are working. Please don’t do this”. May be he should figure out nicer ways like keeping flowers for example. :)
#TENET 6: Fall in love with square one
When you are trying out new things, especially in art, you are often at square one. Every time, I sit down to write a set on a new topic, it is a blank sheet. Uncertainty stares at you. You are at square one. Every time you enter an audition room, it is square one. But embrace square one with love and positivity. May be some master piece might come out of that new topic. Who knows. Stick to your process and let the big force work through you :)
#TENET 7: Go to Satsangs
In yoga/spirituality, they often talk about satsangs. Satsang is meeting like minded people to share and do things together. When you do the prayers together, there is a great vibe. In bhajans, though a good half the people sing out of pitch (despite the tunes being simple), it feels great! It must be because of the intentions aligning so well. Have your weekly satsangs for your work. It should be part of your process. Standup comedy has open mics. Have your mentors. Have your friendly fraternity to give you feedback. If you are not getting any feedback, you start it. It then starts flowing.
#TENET 8: Compete compete compete
Yes, compete but only with yourself. A lot of great men have said this enough. No two leaves are ever the same, they say. Uniqueness is built in by default in nature. Don’t try hard to be unique. Look into yourself and find who you are and bring that out. Competing with others and copying others just ruins the fun. There is so much out there to explore and so much of uniqueness inside to discover.
Yes, I too notice the descriptions getting shorter as I go onto more tenets. I guess we will stop here, then :). Thanks for your time. We will catch up next November for another review, hopefully with 100+ score. :). What?, okay okay.. that’s the goal. I commit.
Alexander Babu Arulanthu