It was a chilly December night. My friend and I were standing near a tea stall outside the railway station – the only place in a small town where you could get tea at 1 a.m. The place was bustling with activity despite it being so late in the night, and two friends who’d met after 2 years had a lot of catching up to do.
As is customary, the initial minutes of the conversation were dedicated to how well we were both doing in our respective jobs. We couldn’t stop boasting about our milestones and achievements, and each of us was trying to one-up the other in that act of friendly camaraderie that all of us are so familiar with.
But winter nights and chai make for a killer combination, often drawing out the thoughts we tend to hide deep inside our hearts. The positivity we were fooling each other with couldn’t be sustained for too long, and before we knew it, the façade started peeling away and reality pushed through, determined to be acknowledged.
I do not know what happened exactly, but V.G (my friend) started getting worked up. He kept saying how he’d never imagined he’d be doing such a job for a living. He’d wanted to be a pilot all his life, and here he was working in a computer education firm as a trainer. After hearing him out for a while, one gripe flowing out after the other, I couldn’t help but ask him, “You’re in a good job, in a good company, making money that most people only dream of. And yet, after hearing you crib so much, why does it feel like you almost hate your salary?
“Yes, I do,” he said.
Even as I was taken aback by his response, he continued. “What is a salary? An amount of money that you get every month; an amount that taunts you because you think it’s less than what you deserve whereas your boss believes it’s way more than what you’re worth.”
I was intrigued. I wanted to hear more. And so, I did.
“Your salary comes in only 12 times a year, but it controls you for the remaining 353 days. You’re caught in a vicious cycle that creates an illusion that you are working hard for your dream. You tell yourself that with each passing day you are moving closer towards your dream inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile. You beat the morning traffic, you avoid your friends, you miss your daughter’s birthday, you go from flight to flight and don’t tell anyone that it scares you to death when the plane dives and shakes. You say nothing and continue in pursuit of your salary, month after month after month.
“And after you’ve done this for years, you pause a little to see where you are and how far you’ve reached. And you stand on tiptoe, unsteady, unsure, to catch sight of your dreams. There, right there, something in distance looks like a dream … your dream. All this grind was worth it after all. Just a few more years and your dream will be well within reach. Triumph. Victory. Relief.
“I wish you could have seen that what you were chasing was a dream, but not yours, someone else’s. It was the dream of the company you work for. In fact, it’s not even a dream, It’s an endless obstacle course of targets and goals and incentives. Aren’t those the words they use in management schools and corporates? Goals, Performance, Increment, Incentive, Perks, Remuneration, Targets. Did they ever use the word ‘DREAM’? So what have you been chasing all this while? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
My friend’s outburst shook me to the core. And though that moment passed, and we eventually resumed normal conversation, I revisited his words a hundred times over. could not help turning his words over in my head again and again. He’d planted that most dangerous thing of all in my head – and I couldn’t help playing with it over and over again.
A few months later, I received a phone call from V.G. The first thing he said was, “I am leaving India. I am going to the US to follow my dreams.”
I didn’t believe him in that moment. I’d heard this way too often, but how many people actually follow through? To my utter surprise, he was one of the few who actually did. He left India, put all his savings into training to be a pilot, and chartered a completely different course for his life.
A few more years went by, and one fine day, I received an image on WhatsApp … of a cockpit of an aircraft that was hovering over an airport. The pilot had made a V with his fingers. V for Victory. V for V.G. He’d made it. He was living his dream. He was flying his dream!
Now, the hero of this story is not my friend V.G. The hero of the story is the victory of a dream over a safe, well-cushioned life, the victory of courage over compromise. People feel that it isn’t possible for everyone to pursue their dreams because of issues like time, money, competence, responsibilities, or any of the hundred reasons life tends to throw at us. But that’s not the point.
The really, really important point is to trust your dream and never lose sight of it. Know in your heart that there will come a time when you will be living your dream. Maybe not today or tomorrow or the following year, but some day. And if you have to do a job at this time, so be it. Use this time to prepare yourself to take you closer to your dreams. Do the groundwork, do the research, make a plan, and eventually get out. But in the meanwhile, do not hate your salary, even if you hate everything you’re doing while you are getting one.