A couple of months of ago, I mused to someone I had recently got to know that I have never really faced a professional setback in my life. It was an innocuous, thoughtless and stupid thing to say. Something that I should have never uttered or thought of or even entertained in my brain. It was not only an insult to everything that I have achieved but also an insult to every single person who has supported me over the years.

The thing is, recently, I realized setbacks in our lives are not isolated incidents. It isn’t just a break up or loss of a promotion or lack of appreciation or a hospital trip or losing someone we love, these things don’t happen as singular experiences. We don’t live life shuttling through various boxes, one at a time. We are simultaneously dealing with multiple things together. Switching on somewhere, switching off somewhere. Carrying some leftovers like emotions and thoughts and feelings. Affecting the personal with professional and professional with personal. According to me, it is something that makes us human. It feels like a hindrance but it isn’t always one. Every experience leaves us something. Maybe a lesson or a thought or an emotion that we’ve never felt earlier. It leaves with something that makes us stronger and more equipped to deal something that is coming. A part of me refused to believe that any negative or positive experience happens in isolation. Everything that has happened happens so that we are ready for everything that will happen.

A couple of months ago I quit my job. While I wasn’t very happy with it at that very moment, it was a job that I loved at some point. It was The Job for me for a while. I quit with a heavy heart even when I knew I was doing the right thing. My energy levels at the point of time were in negative. I had never been this physically or emotionally exhausted. It wasn’t a particular thing or aspect of my life that was bringing me down but I think the exhaustion of a lot of years. An accumulation of various negative experiences that seemed so huge that every victory big or small was diminished and seemed unimportant.  It was my dark cloudy sky and I was waiting for it to rain.

I spent a couple of months just regaining physical strength. Learning a new hobby. Doing seemingly miniscule things that made me happy. Buying groceries and learning to make perfect pasta. Figuring out how to remove water stains from my new shiny sanitary ware.  Flirting with strangers on Secret, enjoying slightly scandalous conversations. All hidden hobbies things I’d never admit to anyone if they asked me what I like to do.  Whiling away time, happily so. All of this while I was trying to deal with some small health issues. Nothing major. A frequent cold and an occasional cough. Stuff I’d ignore and carry on work if I was working. I never really paid much heed to it. There was no reason to. 

As much as I would have loved to just do these things and enjoy life, it was a fact that I have to work. I am not used to not earning. I love my lifestyle. I love being responsible. I started looking out for jobs. Approached some places that I’d like to work for. Gave some interviews. Somehow everything seemed just not right. Some places out right rejected me, some places I didn’t show too much interest, some places weren’t just meant to be. I came across something I liked, waited patiently for it to work out. And it did. Just as I was mentally preparing myself to bear the daily commute and get back to work life, the apparent small cold and cough became a serious matter. I took my medicines more diligently than I ever have in my life. I reached an okay state where I thought I could resume my normal life but in a day it was evident that just wasn’t possible. It was horrible letting go of something I wanted so much. Something I saw a future in. Something that made me want to get over my anxiety and work towards my normal life again. This was probably the first ever “professional” setback I’ve ever had.

A month passed by, an old opportunity came back. I estimated with a big buffer that I’d be okay enough to try again. Again a wrong estimation, unintentional but hurtful to myself.  Suddenly the cold became rhinitis, the cough became asthma and the tightness in my chest became high blood pressure. Very manageable, chronic but controllable things were (are) causing havoc in my life. Stuff that I never thought of and stuff that doesn’t come with a timeline. The most frustrating part of chronic conditions like these was (is) that there was (is) no estimation of how long before I can resume my normal life, how long before I can walk without feeling that my lungs are on fire or how long before my head doesn’t feel like it weighs a couple of hundred pounds. I bid my time, I take my medicines, and I wait to feel normal.

It took me a lot of time to look at this with some perspective. At some point I realized that if this was something related to work, I would have fought to fight a solution. Yes, I would have been emotional and frustrated but I would have tried to fix it. If it didn’t work out the first time, I would’ve tried again or asked for help. If it was something to do with my family, I would have tried my best to make things right. And I would have tried unconditionally. Then why is that I am having such a hard time to adjust and accept all of this? Is it just because this is something personal and intangible? Something that is beyond my control? Why don’t I allow myself the same allowances when it comes to me?

And this is when I realized that the way I look at things has been skewed for a very long time. It isn’t fair to us or others when we look at different aspects of life in isolation. No one can be happy with progress in one aspect and failure in another. I have always looked at my life as divided in different compartments. It has always helped me deal with things better. Switch on and switch off better. To (seemingly) stay unaffected while dealing with some part even when some other part is collapsing. It is just now that I realize that life can’t be that way.

Our setbacks don’t happen in isolation. Our victories don’t happen in isolation either. It is all a package. While, I do not mean to say that when something goes wrong, everything needs to go wrong and collapse like a pack of dominoes. What I mean is when something happens, it happens to us as a whole person. There is no such thing as personal or professional when it comes to setbacks. They affect you. They bother you. And they will have repercussions. While they require a targeted solution, the effects of solving a crisis will be universal. They won’t stay contained in one part of you.

And that is why I felt that my statement “I have never really faced a professional setback in my life,” is insulting. A setback is a setback. There is nothing professional or personal about it. The only time it should be looked in isolation is when you are looking at the broader picture and seeking a solution. Rest of the time, at least I have decided to, give myself enough leeway to deal with things as a complete person and not a compartmentalized machine.





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