In about six months I will be quitting a formal salaried job and will move into freelancing. In fact I think I could probably even call myself an entrepreneur given the new programs and workshops I am planning to develop. However, I have mixed feelings of excitement and fear as I prepare myself both emotionally and financially to take this step. On one hand I am super excited to be operating on my own – without any chains or constraints on my time, my ideas and my creativity. On the other hand I have to forego the secure comfort of knowing that every month a certain basic amount of money will tumble into my bank account.
I was chatting about this with a friend of my mine,Thejasvi who is incidentally an alumni of IIM Bangalore – which is where I teach currently. Just a few months back, Thejasvi had quit her career in marketing (where she had worked for the last eleven years in an extremely well paid job) to pursue her deeper authentic interests. I asked her how she had felt while giving up the comfort of a salaried job for the unpredictable adventures of freelancing. We are creatures of habit after all and like me she must have also got used to the comfort of receiving a regular paycheque every month. That was when she looked me straight in my eyes and asked me the question, ‘Ramya, are you addicted to your salary?’
I have actually been reflecting on this question now for the last three days and my honest self-appraisal is that over the years I have indeed gotten addicted to my salary. During my own process of introspection (in true academic style) I looked up a couple of different definitions of addiction and I do classify as an addict on the two main aspects related to addiction – (1) creation of dependency and (2) organizing your entire life around that one thing. Let me elaborate further.
Creation of Dependency
There are a bunch of different things that stimulate the reward centres in our brain and make us feel better about ourselves and/or our lives – and money is just one more of that. There is nothing wrong per say about the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals (as long as the action done to generate it is not causing harm to another person). However the problem of addiction begins to occur when the reward circuit in our brains gets wired into a pattern where we start to believe that unless we get that particular thing or activity we cannot feel good. Our brain wiring then starts to lead us to behave more like slaves and less like the free people we truly are. Our brain hides from us the infinite possibility of choices that we have in any moment, and shows us just this one pathway to gratification or happiness that it has already experienced (and through habit strengthened neuro-biologically). As a consequence of our modified brain circuitry we begin to feel and behave as if this particular thing is essential to our happiness (and sometimes survival as well). That feeling according to me is the key indicator of dependency. If the thought of no longer having access to that one thing makes you panic (or feel like your very survival is going to be at risk) then chances are that the circuits of addiction have taken root in your system.
For me, I can calculate rationally that even if I do not get a fixed salary for several months my survival will not be at stake. However the thought of no longer having a fixed monthly inflow into my bank account, does push my panic buttons and therefore this is a sign of addiction for me. How can I be so certain that this is a false fear generated by the circuit of addiction (or habit formation) in my brain and not my true survival related fear. My simple proof is that twenty years ago (before my brain had tasted it’s first salary reward) I had no such fear or panic. Today I am way more well qualified, experienced and capable of earning money than I was then. Quite frankly I am also in better health and have more energy than I had in my early twenties. I also have a much larger cushion of savings and investments than I did then. Yet, having gotten used to my regular predictable salary, the thought of moving away from that predictability leads my brain to create signs of panic and anxiety for me.
Organizing Your Entire Life Around that One Thing
The second main problem with addiction is that when people are addicted to something they begin to prioritize that thing over everything else in their lives (often in very non-rational ways). For example a person might really value things like spending time with their family, or pursuing certain hobbies, or working for a larger cause or mission – but if any of these clashes with the pursuit of the thing or activity that they are addicted to then they will feel reluctant to allocate time or energy for it. Over the years, one choice at a time, one decision at a time what happens is that they begin to organize their entire life so that this one thing that they are addicted to can remain untouched and unchallenged. This I have seen in the lives of many people I know and even though I myself have been fairly self aware in choosing the content of my work to align with my own personal values I realize that over the years my salary quietly became central in my own life and career planning. I realize with all humility that I have been painstakingly structuring the design and content of the courses and workshops that I teach to fit into the wider curriculum of IIM Bangalore and to abide by the norms that the courses committee sets. On one hand, I commend myself for my own resourcefulness in finding ways to align my personal mission with the vision of IIM Bangalore (or even management education in general), but at the same time I also realize that there are other aspects to me and what I want to create and teach that have got sidetracked and marginalized as a result. As long as I am addicted to the comfort of the regular salary that I can draw from IIM Bangalore I will find it difficult to give myself permission to expand the scope and landscape of my own offerings and creations.
Starting the Journey of De-Addiction
So my journey of de-addiction starts today, and I truly believe that awareness and recognition of the state of addiction itself is the first part of this journey. I am so glad my friend Thejasvi, asked me this question and brought me onto this path of honest self- reflection. I wrote this article so that each one of you has an opportunity to ask yourself this question as well? Are you addicted to your salary? You don’t need to answer right away – reflect on it for a few days. My immediate response would have been a ‘no’ as well but when I really started introspecting I could uncover the signs of addiction in two ways. First in the emotions that I was experiencing related to the transition I will soon undergo in my career (which are proof of signs of dependency) and second in the way I have organized my work, hobbies, travel and everything else in the last 10 years to all revolve around my job at IIM Bangalore. In fact a similar thing had happened with my friend Thejasvi over the years. She had been realizing how there was so much more that she had wanted to be and do, but the certainty and reassurance of a regular paycheck had led her to organize her life to revolve around her job.
In closing, I am not really stopping the current work that I am doing in the space of management education or leadership development for corporates. From July 2019, I will continue to do both of these as a freelancer and I will also continue to work as an adjunct faculty with IIM Bangalore. I believe in the potency of the work that I am currently doing and it makes me immensely happy and satisfied – I just wish to add to that portfolio of work by including creations that might go beyond the scope of management education and to reach out to audiences and students beyond those who come to IIM Bangalore. Please send me your wishes on this journey of de-addiction and personal expansion.
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