For the last six months, I have been voluntarily unemployed. Here's a brief summary of how the last six months shaped my thoughts, and an abstract plan of what I intend to do next.
I needed this break a lot more than I thought I did. Being perpetually restless had been my state of being for too long. It felt good, to breath out.
When writing software, you reach a certain point where things start falling into place, the uncertainties are answered for and you can feel that the decisions you made were right. Those few seconds of invincibility spanned over several (not always consequent) days, because I felt it was me in control. Them I remember most cherishingly. It was a kind of high I intend to chase again in life.
Primary reason for which I quit my job was the curiosity about whether I can manage my ADHD now; or if I still need the crutches of accountability. On job, I could effortlessly perform well, in contrast to solo freelancing. My therapist had suggested it will get better with age.
I had more good days than bad, which is a win. Unfortunately I still don't have a definite answer to consider the matter resolved. More on this later (below).
When busy with material responsibilities, I used to fantasize that if I had more free time I could do so much more for people around me. When I had it, I tried to start with the place closest to my heart.
I tried to "help" my village by contributing to its small primary school, least politically charged of situations there. Well, not so much as tried to help as probed with a long stick to assess the willingness to be helped. I quickly found out that a significant involvement there is a luxury I can't afford just yet. Established power structures see everything new as threat, and eagerly sabotage what they can get away with.
So I chose a different avenue. One just as dear to me, but where I have more experience and room to maneuver. I decided to make another attempt to nurture a healthy tech culture in my city. It produced mixed results because I was not able to put in as much energy as it demanded.
Mistake of learning Common Lisp
I was running full speed building foolish things. Then lisp came calling.
I was working on Entropy, to build a software to help me do the leg work of building a tech community. Thought came that it is for hackers, so it should be hackable. Lisp is praised for how hackable it is. It is also praised for its expressiveness. Momentum is something I was finding hard to achieve with Rust, because of my inexperience and perhaps the nature of the language and problem I was trying to solve with it. At least checking lisp out seemed reasonable.
After 30 years of living with them, I have come to recognize desires of pivotal nature. In the face of these sublimely consuming whims, I can either do what they say, or not do anything at all (I am told it is common with ADHD, so not to beat myself too much about it).
I've learned that it is possible to suppress these urges by feigning blindness. My mistake was that of indecision. It is not possible to take a sip and not gulp. I chose to look at it, but took too long to engage. I got thrown off the build-mode.
I have observed that I operate in two distinct modes: build-mode and study-mode. Although building something is always a learning experience, and to learn something I gotta build something; it is efficient to treat them as separate. It is also easier on my mental peace.
This time, the transition between the two modes was not smooth. Getting involuntarily thrown out of the workshop left me with (mental) bruises. This incident is the reason I still consider the matter of my self-discipline unresolved. Although the fact that there were only 2 such incidents over 6 months is a win by itself (another was when I fell in love with a book, and spent weeks doing nothing else).
I filled the downtime during transition with another thing I wanted to do, and probably would not have done otherwise. I traveled.
I am not much of a site-seeing kind of guy. I find traveling exhausting, regardless of how beautiful the views or how fun the activities. Being a tourist is not for me. I like to stay and experience. I enjoy exploring/observing people (people watching?). Witnessing people go by their lives is soothing. There is a warm fuzzy feeling behind every smile, however mundane.
So I traveled the way I truly like, perhaps for the first time. For about 3 months trotting around the mountains of Uttrakhand, visiting people in their homes (home stays). Observing a way of life familiar yet strange.
It came as a surprise how eye-opening the experience turned out to be, despite being quite event-less. It was like learning a new language or studying math. I could almost feel my brain building new connections. This is one of the few feelings which still stays exciting even when the rat-race and hoarding have stopped being as stimulating. I did not expect to find an entirely new source of it in an experience like this.
It is also the easiest methods in terms of active participation, compared to all the other sources (most are a variations of intellectual exercises; solving a challenging problem, crafting an elegant solution etc). It does have its costs, but I believe they do not overlap with those of other methods; so they can be employed at the same time.
I take it to mean I can have twice of what makes me feel most alive, just by putting myself in a place 🤯
What comes next?
I can perhaps spend a few more months before I run out of savings, but the dimming safety net has already started making me anxious. I miss the tribe-like feeling of working in a team, so I am actually looking forward to join work for that.
Most freeing would be to start a business of my own; not because it will leave me with more free time, but because I can feel more like myself when working on something I find meaningful. But that won't be profitable right out of the door, so perhaps after a bit more grinding I can save up to give myself a chance.
The grind is decided, but I will not choose misery along with. I intend to chase the feeling of growth and fulfillment. With these constraints, some more decisions make themselves:
- I can't stay at home. Being home is extremely comfortable, but with comfort comes stagnation.
- I need a job which leaves me with enough time I can invest in something demanding like math
- I need to put myself in a foreign culture
Putting these into practice, I have decided I'll move to Berlin for a few years. The city makes itself a good place to be for me for a few reasons:
- Practically, it is perhaps the easiest to immigrate to for an individual Indian citizen, with a job in hand
- It has a good hacker culture, something I've always wanted to experience but have only ever read about
- German culture seem like a great fit for my personal tastes
- I get to learn a new language
- German work culture is praised (on the Internet) for respecting boundaries and giving a priority to life over money
- If I ever decide to seek higher education (which is likely), German education policies are good
Now that that is decided, what's left to figure out is how to go about it.
After 6 months of voluntary unemployment, I am the same man I was before it. Things I experienced and burdens I unburdened could be achieved by other means as well. Perhaps I've sown seeds to make me a different person in future, but they will take time to bloom. It is a guessing game, same as what might have happened had I done it differently.
As for the journey to be where I already was, I'll do it again if I can.