Watch the video here: Job insecurity in these times of corona

We are into the extension phase of the lockdown on account of the corona virus pandemic.

There is anxiety; there is restlessness. There is much to feel anxious about- the restriction of our free movement, the anxiety of an unexpected event or a medical emergency, the fear of contracting the disease, and the fear of the job scenario. The job scenario is perhaps the most talked about. Businesses are finding it difficult to sustain; people are being laid off. You hear about colleagues being laid off and you wonder if you are next in line. You are already taking pay-cuts. If you lose a job, your chances of landing another job are slim, given the market scenario. Your boss gives you additional work that has been outsourced to the company, and you cannot refuse because you cannot take a risk during this phase of uncertainty. So you are working round the clock, just so you can keep the job.

I have been through this before on many occasions. I cannot but help quoting Marie Curie here:

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Fear limits us while understanding empowers us as it makes us more aware. On every occasion I was out of a job, I tried to understand myself. What were my feelings? What was my fear stemming from? I realized that I was feeling worthless; I suffered from low self-esteem. I realized that I had to first start feeling worthy; I had to present myself with a task that would help me find meaning and purpose.

A question at the outset for you to ponder on.

What is career? What is a professional journey?

For most of us, a career is an assembly of success milestones. I did my MD in Physiology. So my conventional career path would be to start out as a tutor, be promoted to assistant professor and then associate professor, and finally, retire as professor.

However, life is not a smooth, straight line. It throws surprises at you. What if your work culture was very toxic, and you had to quit your job? What if you joined another organization, only to realize that things were no different here? What if as a teacher, I lost the ability to speak? What if because of the advent of technology, the need for teachers declined, and my job was taken away?

We need to prepared for such surprises. We need to be prepared for the unexpected.

How do we prepare ourselves?

The first time I was out of a job, I remember how worthless and desperate I felt. Desperate to prove to myself that I could be of use to the world even when I didn’t have a job. Out of this sheer desperation, was born my first book. The ideas for my book were conceived a long time ago, but I had never found the drive nor the time to translate it into action. Now was the time. I had quit a job and I wanted to do something that did not involve seeking an opportunity from an employer. I started to write and in three months, I had completed writing the book. Though the worry of joblessness was there at the back of my mind, it failed to weigh me down because for the large part, I was deeply absorbed in my book. I also had to read up extensively in order to write my book, and as I read pages and pages of textbooks on psychology and counseling, I felt I had gained knowledge that empowered me. Just as I set out to publish my book, I landed my next job. The timing couldn’t have been better.

What was my learning from that phase?

I had found newer ways of engaging with the world. I was a doctor, and I was now an author. I had made an entry into the domain of writing and if necessary, I could write on the side to evolve as a writer and carve out a space for myself. I had also picked up strong insights into psychology and counseling, and these skills helped me mentor and empower people, especially young people who were so in need of guidance on life skills. I met new people; I found new platforms and opportunities. 

I felt a sense of freedom, almost as if I had severed the knots that had shackled my mind and imprisoned it.

On another occasion that I was out of a job, I took up a course on language teaching. It was a certificate course and was called TESOL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). I had always loved language teaching, but never had the opportunity to take it up as a vocation. This was my opportunity. What was exciting about this course was that it was completely different from my domain which was purely science-based. I felt I was back to school and was learning. I was excited by all that I was learning. The course reminded me of the NIE (Newspaper in Education) workshops we used to have in school. I remember how inspired I was by the journalists who used to take classes for us; I used to love their innovation at teaching. Following completion of the course, I created some learning modules based on the memory I had of the NIE workshops, incorporating the elements that TESOL had taught me. I then approached a school for the role of a communicative language teacher, but the principal was not at all convinced by my inclination. He felt that I was probably experimenting an idea on an impulse, and would soon give up. However, he decided to give me a chance. He asked me to deliver a motivational speech to the students in the assembly. This was challenging to me because the students encompassed diverse age groups; there were students from the first grade to the tenth grade. I chose the theme of education since I believed it would connect with each student, and I took Malala’s book in my hand. I spoke on education, putting into the speech all my heart. I was overwhelmed by the response. I honestly believe it was the best speech I had ever delivered in my life. I was moved by my own speech. The principal walked up to me; he was short of words. He assured me that he didn’t need any further proof of my conviction.

What was my learning from that phase?

I realized that there was no limit to how much you could educate yourself and discover yourself. I felt the power of education; I felt the power of self-liberation. I felt the world was truly my playground. It was out there, for me to explore, experiment, and discover myself. 

I was now doctor, author, and language teacher. More importantly, I felt an affinity for public speaking. I decided to take up opportunities at public speaking. I feel speeches could be as motivating as books. I remember how a speech had been the dominant force that fueled the ideas for my book.

From that time on, I have been less fearful of phases of joblessness. I feel that diversification played a crucial role in empowering me. We are all people, and not machines. Our personalities have a broad spectrum that is meant to be explored and discovered. When we set out on a single path, we kill precious aspects of our personality. When we diversify, we feel more empowered as we have carved out a broad platform to engage with the world. We feel confident that there would be something that you can always find to serve the world and serve yourself.

The final message?

Diversify. Learn new skills. Some, related to your domain. Some, totally unrelated to your domain. May your passion and interests guide you in this journey. Discover the spectrum that is you. Discover the broad platform the world offers for engagement. Discover the opportunities that bring out your uniqueness.

“Own your craft. Total craft mastery is really about not seeing your work as work, seeing it as your craft.” –Robin Sharma

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